Procurement Leaders Listen to Roxette!

How do you do (do you do) the things that you do?
No one I know could ever keep up with you
How do you do?
Did it ever make sense to you …

A recent article over on Procurement Leaders asks CPOs why do you do and notes that a recent exercise they’ve been carrying out has been to ask CPOs to share the value propositions they have in place for their function.

Procurement Leaders’ goal was to force extremely busy people to take a step back and think deeply about why they do what they do. What are the ultimate goals of those negotiations with suppliers? Why are they spending time building relationships with certain suppliers and not others? Where should scarce resources and investment dollars be spent? This is because while a value proposition for a Procurement department is not an easy thing to produce and even more challenging to agree and implement, the provocation can allow a Procurement Department to get back to strategy, think about how our decisions affect our stakeholders, suppliers and the communities we do business in.

And while a Procurement department should understand its value proposition, because it helps it focus and relay its value, getting everyone in the organization to agree can be a very extensive effort and extremely time consuming. Furthermore, when you consider the possibility that the “value proposition” ultimately agreed on could be such a mish-mash of different viewpoints and demands to the point that it adds absolutely no value whatsoever, just like a corporate “mission statement” when everyone gets to add their bit to it (and the end result is no different than what the Dilbert Mission Statement Generator used to generate).

However, if you look at the example questions Procurement Leaders’ quoted, you realize that while a vision might be a good goal, a better effort, or at least a better way to start, is to ask the C-Suite to outline it’s top goals for the year, and then for the Procurement organization to identify the best ways they can meet those goals. From there they can identify: which categories should be strategically sourced, which products or services are critical for them, which suppliers are likely critical, and then, for each project, define the value and the goal and not spend effort building relationships with suppliers who are supplying tactical products or services that can be just as easily obtained from the next three lowest bid suppliers and instead spend time developing relationships with suppliers who are critical, even if the overall spend is low. For example, control chips in cars and power regulation systems are extremely critical and often only (capable of) being produced by a few suppliers due to highly specific requirements or proprietary natures. Compared to the costs of the steel, the transmission, the engine and/or the batteries, and even the tires, the total spend might not even register when the chips are only a couple of dollars each — but if a supplier failure, logistics delay, or raw material shortage shuts down your entire production line because you didn’t see a shortfall coming and either work with your supplier to build up an inventory or work with the backup supplier to allow production to be ramped up quickly, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue could be at stake.

Furthermore, no effort should be spent “strategically” sourcing a product or category where the payback isn’t at least 3X the cost of the manpower required to do so. If an automated multi-round RFX with automated feedback or a reverse auction will get you 99% of the savings and the last 1% won’t even pay for 3X the salary and overhead of the buyer, it’s just not worth it if this prevents the organization from sourcing a lower cost category with a 5% savings potential through better analysis and negotiation. Know the value, define the value, and only put effort in where there is real value to be gained. Otherwise, use appropriate automation or redefine categories and projects. (Definitely don’t go nuts and RFQ everything, because even the squirrels will know you’re nuts if you do. But maybe do some overarching sourcing or negotiation that you can just cut POs or one-time orders against for a year. Sometimes just negotiating for 20% off of lowest list price in a 30 day window [and carefully tracking and documenting those prices to prevent invoice overcharges] is enough to automate catalog orders.)

And similar logic applies to all Procurement (related) activities. While machines can’t replace procurement professionals, they can take over the tasks where their intervention doesn’t add value. That’s the point. So think before you act, and act appropriately.

While Not a Significant Source, Some New Vendors are Contributing to the Procurement Stink!

There are many reasons that Procurement Stinks!

Some of them are due to the Marketplace Madness.

Some of the marketplace madness (a small amount, but non-zero), is aptly summarized as follows.

We’re pre-revenue, pre-product, and pre-idea.
So any help would NOT be appreciated!

(Which, to give credit where credit is due, is
a slight rewording of the tag-line to an Andertoon).

Those companies will likely be among the first companies to fail. When there is at least 50 companies that are offering every S2P module, and over 100 for most modules, there is only so much room for differentiation. This means that most of the new startups by the young 30-somethings that did NOT do their market research (but think they know it all because they are tech wizards who built a solution that did slightly more than the three inappropriate products they were stuck with at their last job) don’t really do anything different from a product perspective (and, in fact, usually do a heck-of-a-lot less — hence, “pre-product”). It might be a newer tech stack, it might look slicker, it might be a bit easier to use, but they all fail to understand that THIS IS PROCUREMENT.

This means that, at a minimum, any “product” they want to sell has to satisfy the following:

  • they have to demonstrate a significant ROI, within a decent return within the first 12 months before the CFO will even consider cutting a cheque
  • but before that, they have to show how they will generate long term value before they will even get budget (if the value is one-time like a spend analysis project, especially at Big X quotes of seven figures, not likely)
  • they have to show that it fits in with the current tech stack or IT will object
  • they have to show that it is compliant with regulations or Compliance will object
  • they have to show how it will also decrease overall procurement or supply chain risks, or risk management will steer the budget elsewhere
  • they have to demonstrate they will be able to do more and protect the brand or the CEO will object

Procurement tech is not about cool. That’s consumer tech. Procurement tech is not about the most modern stack to power the business. That’s IT tech. Procurement tech is about VALUE. Procurement is expected to cut costs, NOT increase them!

Until the new generation of founders learns that, and learns there is no way that Procurement will NOT be able to make a case for their 𝘯𝘦𝘸 𝘩𝘰𝘡𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘴 that literally does nothing different than the 𝘰𝘭π˜₯ 𝘣𝘢𝘴𝘡𝘦π˜₯ tech that came before, the old Procurement Pros aren’t going to buy it. And these start-ups won’t hit break-even as a company, and if they don’t get acquired, they will go belly up as the investors realize how over-crowded the space is and any further investment would be throwing good many after bad into the bottomless money pit.

You NEVER Have to Go Crazy on 3 Bids and a Buy!

This is a follow-up to last Friday’s article on RFP Everything? Are You Mad? Even The Squirrels Will Think You’re Nuts!,
which was in response to a LinkedIn Post where a consultant noted that a remarkable example of AI was autonomous tail spend RFP’s generating over 15,000 RFP’s annually through a programmed bot. the doctor‘s response to this was that it was absolutely terrifying. Sales professionals who are already over-inundated with ever more demanding RFQs where they know, statistically, they will only get 20% to 33% of the business if they are on par, and less of the business if they are not, are going to be so overwhelmed that they are going to have two options:

  • pick favourites and stop responding, or selling, to clients that over-inundate but under-buy or
  • acquire an auto-responder and counter auto-generated RFQs with auto-generated bids from their catalog, which may be good, bad, or pointless

Neither is good for the buying company. The counter to this was that there is a category of services which is one off and needs the collection of a number of competitive bids. The value of these services in the €10-100k bracket needed a tail spend management program for which we developed the automated β€˜3 bids and a buy program’ … and there is no better way to organize it.

Which is totally not true, because the doctor saw a better way successfully implemented 16 years ago. Back in the day, Iasta (acquired by b-pack, renamed Determine, acquired by Corcentric) identified that one of the BEST uses for strategic sourcing decision optimization was services procurement (when most firms were still using it for indirect or fledgeling direct).

What they did was:

  1. identify all of the services their large mid-market clients would contract over the course of a year with typical durations
  2. collect bids from national, regional, & local providers
  3. build a huge optimization model which would identify the lowest cost providers for each service in each area and then make an annual award to a mix of national, regional, and local providers guaranteeing a certain volume / $-value of services across a certain number of service categories / roles across awarded service areas as long as the provider locked in the rates for a year

It was ingenious because, when the service was needed, the company simply sent the requisition to one of the chosen providers (lowest-cost first if available, or second-lowest if not or if they weren’t sending enough business to the second-lowest in other categories to meet the commitment).

ONE single RFQ event. One year of quotes negated. The approach regularly identified up to 40% savings, and realized up to 30% savings. David Bush and team were geniuses!

The morale of the story is this: if you think you need to send 15,000 auto-generated RFQs to get tail spend under control, you haven’t done enough thinking about, or analysis of, the problem!

Solution Smash-Up! PROPHETic Vision or Magic 8-Ball!

A few weeks ago, THE PROPHET, who noted he was often asked about which disparate providers and/or solutions might work well together (as part of his strategy and M&A work), said that the answer(s) always depend on hard dollars and common sense in a recent article on LinkedIn.

He noted that there were questions that could be asked to help make the determination between any two specific providers and/or solutions, which included:

  • From a TAM perspective, will it increase the TAM beyond 1+2=2?
  • Does it add additional ideal customer profiles or elevate the solutions to the C-Suite?
  • Does it open up additional GTM strategies and channels?

… but also noted that you can go beyond just payments with AP (traditionally Treasury and Accounting), and provided five examples of solution smash-ups that were a bit more “radical”. In a nutshell, with only minor paraphrasing, these were:

1. Intake Management, “light” e-Pro, and GPO.

This makes perfect sense — there’s a reason intake pre-dates stand-alone intake solutions (Zycus launched iRequest back in 2015, almost nine years ago), and that’s because intake and e-Pro go well together; adding in the GPO allows the organization to take advantage of better prices for regular purchases and makes sense.

2. Contract Management and Price Compliance.

The whole point of contracts is to lock in commitments, which are useless if not realized. Integrating contract management into a price monitoring solution, be it part of e-Pro or AP or payments, is a great choice.

3. Third-Party Risk and Working Capital Management.

Before a cash outlay, or an agreement thereto, it’s a good idea to understand the risk.

4. Spend Analytics and BOM/Part-Level Management.

Well, this already exists in some specialists — mainly in electronics (think Levadata and SupplyFrame), but other players are popping up in other verticals as well. (Sievo and Scalue do a great job of doing direct material or part analysis; and Scalue’s material categorization is great for direct management.)

5. Solve Supplier Supervison Sheol

A few companies are starting to make good progress here on “on-boarding, 3PRM, cyber, GRC, and ESG in one place”. Think Brooklyn Solutions, for example.

So, 3 for 5 on new ideas for solution smash up.

The real question is, what solutions could we smash-up that that, on an initial analysis, shouldn’t increase the TAM, elevate the sale, or open up obvious new GTM solutions … because that’s the smash-up no one will see coming, that we won’t see twenty new entrants next year (where ten will ultimately fail), and that will create the new unicorn. And for this, we’ll need to extend Source-to-Play further into the enterprise.

Here are three smash-ups that might seem strange on the surface, but if look deep, and innovate, you can see how they might just be one of the next break-out solutions.

A. Payroll, Benefits, CLM, SOW, and Sourcing Optimization

Manage all people-related spend in one application to balance employees vs. contractors vs. services firms to balance cost vs. risk (of knowledge walking out the door, resources not being available, etc.)

B. WIMS, Distributor Marketplace, and central e-Procurement Catalog

Optimize not only inventory balance between the local office/warehouse/retail outlet, central warehouse, and distributors and guide the buyer to the right inventory at the right time, auto-replenishing as needed.

C. MRP, Assembly Line Control, Quality Control, and Order Management

Continuously monitor materials coming in, used, defect rate, and intelligently re-order against an existing contract as needed.

Of course, if you want to be the next magical unicorn, you’ll have to get even more radical. Anyone have an idea for a solution smashup that makes almost no sense on the surface but, if you get radical, could revolutionize the space? (If so, and you need a prescription to help flesh it out, you know who to call.)

Dear Fellow Analysts: It’s Time to Step Up And Deal with the PROCUREMENT STINK!

Because if we don’t, no one else will!

What am I talking about?

As per last Wednesday’s article, PROCUREMENT STINKS and we just can’t deny it anymore. In a nutshell, and this is just the tip of the garbage heap:

  1. Case studies are ranker than expired fish in a microwave on high.
  2. Approximately 85% of companies are AI-washing everything.
  3. The Gen-AI claims that it will deliver Procurement to the enterprise are FALSE.
  4. Intake/Orchestration is totally useless on its own.
  5. Consultancies are often more in the dark than the Procurement departments they are claiming they can help.
  6. DEI is being misused to push agendas and sometimes to Do Extra-legal Initiatives,

But this isn’t even the worst of it!

THE REVELATOR recently conducted a poll on who do you trust, and the results were more than a little disturbing as far as I am concerned.


That’s right. Only 50% of practitioners trust analysts to help them make the right decision when selecting technology. 36% would rather a consultant, who likely has a very strong incentive to either recommend a preferred partner solution (where they are guaranteed to get the implementation contract) or the solution that requires the most implementation effort (to add months, or years, to the engagement), and, even worse, 14% would rather trust a marketer or salesperson, who gets paid for leads or sales, not for solving a customer’s problem!

As far as the doctor is concerned, anything less than 75% is appalling. While he will happily admit there are some independent consultants at smaller firms without vendor partnerships who will be truly objective and will offer valuable advice, this is not the norm at most of the larger firms that are preferred partners or implementation providers for the bigger players in our space (where the majority of consultants reside), so the fact that the consultant trust is so high is a little off-putting. However, he’s simply aghast at the fact that 14% would rather trust a salesperson or a marketer for solution advice. Frankly, this means we are definitely failing the market.

Basically, if we can’t be the unbiased experts and independent voices of reason that the Procurement practitioners can always trust for good, unbiased, advice, then what good are we?

So what can we do to regain the trust? the doctor is sad to say he’s not exactly sure and hopes that

  • some other analysts will echo the call to action to deal with the PROCUREMENT STINK,
  • analysts will collectively take the lead in cleaning it up and restoring our reputation, and
  • offer up suggestions on what we can do to make it better!

Now, while the doctor doesn’t have all the answers, he does have suggestions on where we can start.

1. Be fully transparent on whom we do and don’t include in maps and logo charts, why, and the business situation in which our recommendations are, and are not, relevant.

This is quite obvious, and most of us are getting pretty good at being very explicit about the inclusion requirements for our maps and studies, but we don’t always take the time to clarify what this means for the market and, more specifically, which types of organizations the reports and maps are targeted at, which types of organizations will get the most value, and, most importantly, which types of organizations are unlikely to get any value because they don’t fall in the size/verticals/etc. the map or report is targeting. As far as the doctoris concerned, now more than ever we need to double down and get it right on both sides of the equation — who is being included, and why AND who should, and should not, be reading the report, and why, when we release something to the market. (Like the doctor did with his mega map.)

2. Stop glamourizing hype cycles and start busting them when there is no perceivable value to Procurement.

Procurement is supposed to be about solutions that deliver enterprise value, not cool technology. Leave that to the Consumer Electronics Show. When we promote tech for the sake of tech, we’re not helping anyone. We need to promote solutions to business problems with measurable ROI, regardless of what the underlying technology is. It’s irrelevant how many vendors embrace Gen-AI, when it has yet to demonstrate even a single use case that offers value beyond traditional tech, and the majority have failed to deliver any value.

3. Stop taking our cues from vendors as to where the space is going and start leading vendors to where the space should be going.

For example, intake-to-orchestrate is the craze, vendors are popping up faster than rabbits in a carrot field, and it’s likely only a matter of time before we see a map covering the intake-to-orchestrate space. (Especially since the doctor has been led to understand that one major analyst firm is already considering such a map, and where one leads, others will follow.)

However, in the doctor‘s view, this SHOULD NOT happen. Because, as stated above, and explained in detail in our article on why PROCUREMENT STINKS, there is NO VALUE in intake/orchestrate on its own. NONE. Intake is nothing more than pay-per-view on your data and orchestrate is just pure SaaS-based middleware, and middleware is something we’ve had for decades (and the need for such is negated completely if all the applications you use have complete, open, APIs as they can then be connected directly). The only value in these offerings would be in any additional functionality they embed to enhance the value of the applications they are linking together so that 1+1=3.

It would be understandable if they all embedded additional functionality that was comparable, valuable on its own, and formed a new application category that made sense to evaluate separately. However, right now, many don’t embed sufficient functionality; those that do are, for the most part, not comparable (as they all tend to specialize in something different, such as easy self-serve Procurement, services management, statements of work, etc.); and there has been no application thereof that wasn’t designed to enhance, or, most of the time, just make existing applications accessible. A standalone map would be senseless. (Instead, the intake and orchestrate requirements that are necessary for success should be included in the definition, and measurement of, Procurement, Sourcing, Supplier Management and other existing applications that can deliver enterprise value.)

3b. Start calling vendors out on bullsh!t when they start chasing, or putting, cool tech before practical solutions with actual ROI.

Privately at first (of course), unless the vendor insists on marketing it through a bullhorn. Then we may have no choice but to publicly call them out on it. Vendors may not like it, and may get upset when we burst their tech-centric bubble, but we’re not helping anyone when we don’t. Not us, not the procurement professionals we claim to support, and definitely not the vendors if we don’t try to dissuade them from throwing good money after bad on tech that won’t solve actual problems and ultimately won’t sell once their potential clients see the lack of value that comes with the price tag. This space has always been about ROI, we need to remind vendors of that, and guide them to where the ROI is just as we guide the practitioners. We need to be helpful to both sides to mature the space.

the doctor‘s not sure it’s enough, but it’s a start, and if other analysts make an effort to figure out how to restore our reputation, maybe we’ll find the answer, provide the unparalleled value that only we can provide, and get back the trust we should have.