Are Your Suppliers Ripping You Off?

A recent post over on the public defender‘s blog asked if suppliers [are] still ripping us off. And it’s a good question, because it’s a common, constant, fear that is never talked about. Not only is it often the biggest elephant in the room, but it’s the biggest herd of elephants as there’s typically one in every room of every buying organization.

But rather than asking an array of speakers what their thoughts are, we’re going to get right to the point and give you the answer, which, surprisingly, can be summed up in six words.

That depends, are you letting them?

While your job in Procurement is to get the best damn deal you can, keeping costs as low as possible while keeping the benefits high to maximize value, the sales person’s job who is selling to you has, as their job, to get the most amount of money for the least amount of product and service, maximizing their profit and, more importantly, their bonus (which is typically 100% tied to the order value).

If you don’t do your homework and establish the true market price or true should cost price, then its likely that they can convince you that a 3% decrease on their current price (which is 30% over should-cost) is a savings and you walk away thinking you won when you are still being ripped off big time. We have to remember why so many suppliers were, and in some case, still are, resistant to e-Auctions — because these expose fat in supplier margins faster than any other sourcing exercise when you invite new, hungry, suppliers who will lower their margins just to win business.

In certain verticals, such as electronics and office supplies in particular, most suppliers make their profit by charging you as much as possible, which they do by offering you great prices on a small set of products and markups on a large set of related products that your users are just as likely, or more likely to order. For example, an office supplies vendor will give you the best deal on the 5 park of laser cartridges but the 10 pack will be 3 times the cost of the 5-pack, and the office manager, wanting to minimize orders, will order the 10-pack not knowing the 5-pack is the preferred product. And in electronics, they’ll give you a great deal on system configurations that sound good, but are sub-optimal, and then make money on upgrades a year later. For example, a desktop with the brand new processor, lots of space, and a HD screen, but only 4 MB of RAM when they know the default usage means that the machine should really have 8 MB of RAM. But there are only 2 slots, so both chips will have to be replaced at full retail rates down the road (as no special pricing was negotiated on upgrades, only full system replacements).

But it’s not just your indirect and MRO suppliers that will pull a fast one, any sleazy salesperson who sees an opening with a buyer who didn’t do their homework will pull a fast one. So if you don’t do your homework, and negotiate fact based, your organization is probably getting ripped off. Even if the costs are close to what they should be, chances are lack of hard fact-based negotiation means you missed out on value adds.

In summary, This Song’s Just Six Words Long, and whether or not you get ripped off is entirely up to you.

Vendor Scorecards DO Work – But Only if They are Done Right!

A recent guest post over Spend Matters by Andy Kohm, founder of VendOp, provided 4 reasons why supplier scorecards don’t work, which is a terribly inaccurate and a disservice to the procurement space because

  1. They Do Work if done right and
  2. what he was describing was internal vendor surveys, NOT scorecards.

Even worse, if he had said internal vendor surveys don’t work, SI would have totally agreed and hailed the post because, frankly, internal vendor surveys don’t work. Expecting enough people to fill out enough long surveys to get statistically reliable data when everyone is overworked, underpaid, and tired of doing everyone else’s job (because no one has time to do their own) is just ludicrous. It’s not going to happen, and when it does, the data and answers are not going to be that good or reliable because the surveys will be filled out in a rush. And all the reasons provided by Mr. Kohm will hold true.

But you see, a scorecard, at least a proper scorecard, is not a survey, or a summary of soft, qualitative feedback survey scores, but a summary of hard, quantitative metrics built up from hard data over time. A scorecard summarizes hard performance metrics, KPIs, and unarguable (undisputable) incident counts, not subjective scores on reliability.

We have to remember that just like anchoring can be a problem in negotiations, it can be a problem in subjective ranking. If the last couple of interactions with the supplier were problematic, the recipient is likely to fill out a fairly negative score even if the 20 interactions before that were great and, overall, the supplier is batting 800. Similarly, if the last few interactions were particularly good (because the supplier knows their review is coming up and making extra effort just to score enough to pass), the recipient may rank the supplier very positively even though 8 out of 10 requests are ignored on average. In short, for reliability, surveys suck.

But hard scorecards, built on on time statistics, reject rates, incident counts, billing accuracy, and so on are unbiased, anchored in fact (and not fiction), and work. They allow both parties to zero in on true issues, problems, and disagreements, and work collaboratively to fix them. They are the best supplier relation management tool the average organization has at their disposal and should not ever be discounted. Proper scorecards are the solution, not the problem.

Future Trend 34: Digital Transformation

How did SI miss this one in it’s two in-depth series on the future of procurement and it’s follow up future trends expose???

This anti-trend is as old as the internet!

But let’s back up. Recently, the procurement dynamo published a piece on the digital transformation of procurement where he asked if it was a good abuse of language. In this post he started off by noting that the digital transformation expression is an overused buzzword — which is an understatement.

Secondly, as the procurement dynamo notes, no one has a proper understanding of what it actually means. the procurement dynamo attempts to rectify this by giving a clear definition of the term with respect to the also overused digitization and digitalization terminology. According to the procurement dynamo

  • digitization is the conversion from analog to digital … atoms to bits …
  • digitalization is the process of using digital technology and the impact it has and
  • digital transformation is a digital-first approach that encompasses all aspects of business

… and, in particular, digital transformation is a digital-first approach to the extent that digital can be applied.

And this means that this is yet another anti-trend in Procurement as leading organizations have been doing this ever since the adoption of e-Auctions. The best organizations have been adopting, to the extent possible, new technologies since the e-auction hit the scene 20 years ago. RFX. True e-invoicing. Supplier Information Management. Contract Management. Decision Optimization. And so on. The leaders (which are very, very few) have pushed for, and embraced, digital transformation for the last two decades.

And, to be honest, when you get right down to it, the concept of digital transformation is, as a farmer would say, hogwash. You’re either continually adopting and using the best tools and processes available to you, or you are counting down to the days your doors close. The organizations that have survived decades have embraced multiple technological revolutions. They’ve went from carbon paper to copiers to digital transmission. Digital transformation is just the latest technological revolution, and may not be the last. (If quantum tech gets perfected, you’ll have to move to technology based on qubits … a blend of atoms and bits.)

So don’t fall for the latest fad — keep focussed on the goal. Better business building.

Enhancing MRO Supplier Value through Contract Service Levels

Today’s guest post is from Jennifer Engel, a Senior Supply Chain Project Analyst at Source One Management Services, responsible for executing strategic sourcing and process improvement initiatives.

Despite the convenience of boilerplate language and pre-approved templates to expedite execution, contracting is never a one-size-fits-all process within any silo of a business. Contracts for professional services tend to require a focus on performance expectations, and rarely have a need for protection against pricing volatility, lead time requirements, and fuel costs. Diametrically, contracts for the tactical purchase of goods focus not on service levels, but on maintaining pricing, ensuring product availability, and outlining delivery terms.

A trait often unique to the Maintenance, Repair, and Operation (MRO) space within a business is that many suppliers are providing a combination of both goods and services that support overall operations. As a result, contracts within this space are difficult to mold to a single template, and constructing agreements without taking into account the business needs to cover each area can be detrimental to the overall relationship goals. When undergoing contracting with a new or existing supplier, there are a few key principals to keep in mind that will benefit both parties as well as drive best value in pricing and service levels.

#1) Fully assess the risks associated with the goods and services separately

When negotiating terms, it is important to prioritize the areas that could most drastically impact the business should a change occur. If the pricing of a good is tied to a volatile commodity index or may be subject to interruptions due to raw material availability, protecting exposure to these factors should be at the forefront of the agreement. If the service associated is more critical than the actual good, for example a specific sanitation chemical being less critical than the completion of the actual sanitization process, then the level of service needed to ensure the business can continue to operate at or above standards should take priority. This primarily holds true to categories for which product substitutes are widely available, however the end result of the service is critical to business continuity.

#2) Adjust the terms of the agreement to form a mutually beneficial relationship that does not expose either party to significant risk.

Explicit service levels and pricing escalators and de-escalators inherently protect the business from any supplier shortcomings or market changes. As long as commodity increases are tied to a verifiable index, are accommodated by a manufacturer’s letter and advanced notice, and de-escalate at an equal rate should pricing decrease, the supplier is protected from becoming insolvent and the customer is protected from realizing an increase not driven by market conditions. For goods not driven by an identifiable index, pricing increases should be capped at a reasonable rate and subject to review and mutual agreement of the involved parties.

#3) Leverage rigorous service levels as another tool to drive negotiations and ultimately satisfy both parties.

As long as supplier expectations are detailed, measurable, and tied to a condition of termination with cause, there is less business risk to include contract language that may be viewed as more favorable to a supplier than the customer. A common point of disagreement in most MRO contracts is term length. Businesses are hesitant to engage in two or more year agreements with fear of dissatisfaction in a supplier’s performance. From a supplier standpoint, these lengthier terms allow them to invest more heavily in a specific customer without risk of being replaced in the near term. As a result, suppliers are often more likely to give more favorable pricing and terms under these extended agreements. Another point of leverage that incentivizes suppliers to offer more competitive terms is exclusivity clauses or volume commitments. Both can be high risk for a business to include, however are easily protected under strict service levels and quality expectations outlined in the agreement.

When putting together such agreements, stakeholder involvement should go beyond the legal department and relationship owner (department manager and/or procurement). End users, and those more closely aligned with the day to day operations should be consulted to outline critical functions of the supplier and bring to light any historical or future potential issues that will impact the integrity of the relationship or daily operations. Contracting should be viewed as opportunity to maintain and strengthen the relationship from both parties, and not seen as a necessary evil of back and forth on general language until legal departments reach consensus. Dedicating the extra resources necessary to construct a detailed and forward thinking agreement will prove beneficial in the long term, as company standards will be maintained without sacrificing cost competitiveness.

Thanks, Jennifer.

What is the Future of the Procurement Function? (Webinar)

In the beginning, there really wasn’t much of a Procurement function. When someone needed something, they either went to the local buyer (who was either the office manager or the designated purchaser) or the local boss and got permission to buy it themselves if it was small. Assuming it was large enough, then it would go through the buyer who than bought either from a catalog, a local vendor, or a contracted supplier for products he or she couldn’t get locally.

Volume leverage was small, time was short, and deals weren’t that great. It was typically the lowest price from some semblance of 3-bids and a buy. And any deal found by one location typically wasn’t shared with another.

As organizations grew and began to realize these inefficiencies, they decided to centralize the purchasing function to achieve volume leverage and better deals, at least for common categories, and in turn decrease the manpower needed for common buys. This also allowed best practices to be created and shared and archived in a knowledge center, but the centralization came with its own problems. Uncommon or unique categories to one or two locations were often sourced with worse results (as the centralized buyers couldn’t exploit volume and didn’t know the local market), local knowledge was lost, and manpower wasn’t reduced that much as inventory managers and designated “buyers” still needed to be at each location to order off of the master contracts and manage inventory.

So, these organizations moved to a center led model. Common, strategic, and/or high dollar categories were centralized, but uncommon, non-strategic, and/or low dollar were managed in a distributed fashion. This, presumably, would achieve the best of the decentalized and centralized procurement worlds with no disadvantages. Right? Wrong.

As center-led organizations matured, a number of cracks in the shiny new armor appeared. This model, like every model before, had its own disadvantages which leaders are now grappling with.

Another evolution is needed. What is that evolution?

A Virtual Procurement Center of Excellence.

What does that look like?

Join THIS THURSDAY’s free webinar (registration required), sponsored by Pool4Tool and featuring the doctor, and find out.