Category Archives: Marketing

Have We Been In The Dank Basement So Long That We Don’t Care If the Fish Stinks?

the doctor has to ask because when Jon The Revelator asked if you would eat a piece of fish that has been in your freezer for 10 years? 5 years? 1 year? not many of you spoke up and it seems you are quite okay with old, smelly fish, which, in this case was a metaphor for provider case studies, as this was a follow up to The Revelator‘s post that asked Should Solution Provider Case Studies Have a Best Before Date.

A question, which was in turn sparked from a comment by Duncan Jones to his preceding inquiry on what can 2005 tell us on why most AI initiatives fail in 2024, which is a question that was partially sparked off of a post the doctor himself made on how we need to hasten onshoring and nearshoring — the drivers will pound those who don’t into the ground! (Part 2).

While this sounds like a long, meandering, pointless introduction, it’s exactly the opposite. The purpose is to demonstrate that not only are many parts of Procurement and Supply Chain connected, but they are connected in complex ways that require sufficiently broad, as well as sufficiently deep, solutions that address the complexities being experienced by the organizations a vendor is trying to sell to.

Furthermore, this means that for an organization, or a consulting partner, to select the right solution, they need deep information on what the solution does, where it’s been used, and what it has been proven to do. Traditionally, this would mean that they would require product sheets and demos, customer references, and case studies to make a good decision.

However, centering in on this last requirement, not all case studies are created equal, and not all are even “case studies” at all. What once was the domain of third party analysts, consultants, and professors (who would do proper due diligence, data collection, and impartial write-ups for educational and investment purposes) has now become the domain of marketers who get happy customers, often still wearing the rose-coloured glasses that came free with the install, to tell a story that they write-up and promote using very little, and often unverified, data. Those are not useful at all. Furthermore, if you don’t know what version of the software, what stack the customer ran on, and/or, and sometimes most importantly, when the study was done (and the time period it was done over), is it even still relevant at all?

This prompted the critical question from The Revelator about whether or not studies should have a best before date. the doctor leans towards no on best before date, because just like different types of fish have a different shelf life, different case studies will have a different shelf life, but votes a most definite yes on a packaging date.

To elaborate on the comment he made when asked, the following is absolutely critical to be included in the case study:

  • when the case study was written (packaging date)
  • the time period it was over (processing dates)
  • the precise metrics that were tracked and how they were computed (labelling compliance)
  • the extent of organizational data that was used (ingredients)
    [as well as the full extent of data available (may contain)]
  • the products, and versions, that were used (processing)

In other words, a feel-good story with a few random numbers is not case study! (the doctor would say any marketer trying to pass such off as one should be ashamed, but any marketer who did would obviously be without shame, so there’s really no point in saying it.) A case study has rigour in definition, methodology, data collection, and exposition and contains all the information that would be needed if a third party wanted to repeat it. (The same way a scientific study provides enough detail for an independent team to verify it.) Anything less should be considered unacceptable.

And, most importantly, since business processes, products, systems, and stacks continually change, a study (processing) date and a publication (packaging) date MUST be included so that a buyer can make an informed decision as to whether that study is still relevant to them (as they decide just how much stink they are willing to tolerate).

More Valid Uses for Gen-AI … this time IN Procurement!

Some of you were upset that my last post on Valid Uses for Gen-AI weren’t very Procurement centric, arguing that there were valid uses for Gen-AI in Procurement and that the doctor should have focussed on, or at least included, those because why else would almost every vendor and their dog be including “AI” front and center on their web-site (about 85%+)!

Well, you’re right! To be completely fair, the doctor should acknowledge these valid uses, even if they are very few and very far between. So he will. Those of you following him closely will note that he mentioned some of these in his comment on LinkedIn to Sarah Scudder’s post on how “AI is a buzzword“.

AI is a lot more than a buzzword, but let’s give Gen-AI it’s due … in Procurement … first.

With Gen-AI you can:

1. Create a “you” chat-bot capable of responding to a number of free-form requests that can be mapped to standard types.
This is especially useful if the organization employs one or more annoying employees who always waits too long to request goods and then, after you place the order, insist on emailing you every day to ask “are they here yet” in reference to their request, even though you flat out told them the boats are coming by ship, it takes 24 days to sail the goods across the ocean once they are on the ship, typically 3 days to get them to the port, 3 to 14 days to get them on that ship, 3 to 7 days to get the ship into a dock, 3 to 4 days to unload the ship, and 3 to 4 days from the fort, for a minimum delivery time of 35 days, or 5 weeks, and asking week one just shows how stupid this employee is.

2. Similarly, you can create a “you” chatbot for RFP Question Response.
More specifically, you can create a bot that can simply regurgitate the answers to sales people who won’t read the spec and insist on emailing you on a daily basis with questions you already answered, and which they would realize if they weren’t so damn lazy and just read the full RFP.

3. Create meaningless RFPs from random “spec sheets”.
Specifically, take all those random “spec sheets” the organizational stakeholder downloaded from the internet just so you can check a box, send it out, and make him happy. (Even though no good RFP ever resulted from using vendor RFP templates or spec sheets.) Which is especially useless if you have a subscription with a big analyst firm that includes helping you identify the top 5 vendors you are going to invite to the RFP where you will focus on the service, integration, implementation, and relationship aspects as the analyst firm qualified the tech will meet your needs. (After all, sales, marketing, human resources, and other non-technical buyers love to be helpful in this way and don’t realize that just about every “sales automation”, “content management”, and “application system” has all of the same core features and you can usually make do with any one of a dozen or more low-cost “consumerized” freeware/shareware/pay-per-user SaaS subscriptions.)

4. Or, do something slightly more useful and auto-fill your RFPs with vendor-ish data.
You could use the AI to ingest ALL of a vendor’s website, marketing, and sales materials as well as third party summaries and reviews and auto-fill as much of your RFP as you can before sending it to the vendor, and then approximately score each field based on key words, to ensure that the vendor is likely capable of meeting all of your minimum requirements across the board before you ask them to fill out the RFP and, more importantly, spend hours, or days, reviewing their response.

5. Identify unusual or risky requests or clauses in a “ready to go” contract.
Compare the contract draft handed to you by the helpful stakeholder to the default ones in your library that were (co-)drafted by actual Procurement professionals and vetted by Legal and don’t have unusual, risky, or just plain stupid clauses. For example, an unvetted draft could have a clause that says your organization accepts all liability risk, you agree to pay before goods are even shipped, you’ll accept substitute SKUs without verification, etc. (because the helpful stakeholder just took the vendor’s suggested one-sided contract and handed it to you).

6. Automatic out-of-policy request denial.
Program it to just say “denied” for any request that doesn’t fall close to organizational norms.

7. Generate Kindergarten level summaries of standard reports for the C-Suite.
Got a C-suite full of bankers, accountants, and lawyers who don’t have a clue what the business actually does and need simplified reports translated to banker-speak and legalese? No problem!

Of course, the real question is to ask not what Gen-AI can do for you but what can you do without Gen-AI because the doctor would argue that you don’t need Gen-AI for any of this and that the non-Gen-AI solutions are better and more economical!

Let’s take these valid uses one-by-one:

1. You could hire a virtual admin assistant / AP clerk in the Phillippines, Thailand, or some other developing country with okay English skills to do that for 1K a month!
Furthermore, this full time worker could also respond to other, more generic, requests as well, and do some meaningful work, such as properly transcribing hand-written invoices (or correcting OCR errors), etc. And give your employees the comfort of a real, dependable, human for a fraction of the cost of that overpriced AI bullsh!t they are trying to shove down your throat.

2. Classic “AI” that works on key phrases in the hands of the admin assistant will work just as well.
It will find the most appropriate data, and then the admin can verify that the question can be answered by the paragraph(s) included in the RFP, or that the sales person actually read the RFP and is asking for a clarification on the text, or a more detailed specification. The sales person gets the desired response the first time, no time is wasted, and you haven’t p!ssed off the sales person by forcing him to interact with an artificially idiotic bot.

3. When they said the best things in life are free, they weren’t referring to vendor RFPs.
In fact, those free RFPs and spec sheets will be the most expensive documents you ever handle. Every single one was designed to lock you into the vendor’s solution because every single one focussed not on what a customer needed, but the capabilities and, most importantly, features that were most unique to the vendor. So if you use those RFPs and sheets, you will end up selecting that vendor, be that vendor right, or wrong, for you. The best RFPs and spec sheets are the ones created by you, or at least an independent consultant or analyst working in your best interest. No AI can do this — only an intelligent human that can do a proper needs, platform, and gap analysis and translate that into proper requirements.

4. Okay, you need AI for this … but … traditional, now classic, AI could do that quite well.
Modern Gen-AI doesn’t do any better, and the amount of human verified documents and data you need to sufficiently train the new LLMs to be as accurate as traditional, now classic, AI, is more than all but a handful of organizations have. So you’re going to pay more (both for the tech and the compute time) to get less. Why? In what world does that make sense?

5. Okay, you need NLP at a minimum for this, but you don’t need more. And you barely need AI.
All you have to do is is use classical NLP to identify clause types, do weighted comparisons to standard clauses, analyze sentence structures and gauge intent, and identify clauses that are missing, deviating from standard, and not present in standard contracts. And, as per our last use, do it just as well without needing nearly as much data to effectively train. Leading contracts analytics vendors have been doing this for over a decade.

6. Even first generation e-Procurement platforms could encode rules for auto-approval, auto-denial, and conditional workflows.
In other words, you just need the rules-based automation that we’ve had for decades. And every e-Procurement, Catalog Management, and Tail Spend application does this.

7. Any semi-modern reporting or analytics platforms can allow the templates to be customized to any level of detail or summary desired.
And if you have a modern spend analysis platform, this is super easy. Furthermore, if your C-Suite is filled entirely with accountants, bankers, and lawyers who don’t understand what the business does, because they fired all the STEM professionals who understood what the business actually does, then your organization has a much bigger problem than reporting.

In other words, there isn’t a single use case where you actually need Gen-AI, as traditional approaches not only get the job done in each of these situations, but traditional approaches do it better, cheaper, and more reliably with zero chance of hallucination.

At the end of the day you want a real solution that solves a real problem. And the best way to identify such a solution is to remember that Gen-AI is really short for GENerated Artificial Idiocy. So if you want a real solution that solves a real problem, simply avoid any solution that puts AI first. This way you won’t get a “solution” that is:

  • Artificial Idiocy enabled
  • Artificial Idiocy backed
  • Artificial Idiocy enhanced
  • Artificial Idiocy driven

As Sarah Scudder noted on “AI is a buzzword“, AI is a delivery mechanism which, scientifically speaking, is a method by which the virus spreads itself. This is probably the best non-technical description of what AI is ever! And the best explanation of why you should never trust AI!

It’s Conference Season, so Marketers are Marketing Like Mad!

And, as usual, some of it is driving the doctor a little bit nuts.

So, dear Marketer, if you’re reading this, here’s a few tips when trying to sell to someone actually in the market for a Procurement solution, vs. just looking for a good excuse to get approval to go to a conference for a good time.

They don’t care about your story
Yes, PR people love stories. Yes, journalists love stories. Yes, company storytellers like stories. But guess what? People who are drowning in their job and need a system that can actually help them be more productive only care about what you or your product does, and how you or your product will do it, not what circuitous route got you to the point where you decided to start a company.

They don’t care about your passion
Yes, Investors do. They want people driven to work hard to solve a problem with a solution they believe will make them a lot of money. Yes, Executives use it as a check box, and it will differentiate you from the other collared shirt when you make the final three and get to present your case. But someone who is going to have to use your solution and follow your process day-in and day-out in the Tower of Spend isn’t going to care about that in the slightest until they see that your solution might actually help them.

They don’t care about your clear and regular communication, great service, commitment, follow-through, willingness to do what it takes to hit the implementation and integration deadlines, your ease of use, great UX, shiny new offering, or disruptive value proposition either (or any of the dozens of ways you can say this with effectively the exact same lack of meaning).
This is because this doesn’t say anything about your solution, the problem it solves, and how it is different from the 20 to 200 other solutions they could also choose. (And if you think the doctor is exaggerating, please refer back to the Source-to-Pay+ Mega-Map with 666 unique clickable logos for your research pleasure.)

In fact, during conference season, about the only thing most of them actually care about is if you have a booth, what Brand Ambassadors are going to be there, and if you’re giving away free booze, culinary delights, or unique (cool) swag.

Also, before we end this, just a little FYI that the analysts, consultants, and social media influencers (unless, of course, in the latter case, you have a cool booth with free booze, food, and SWAG and give them an all expense paid trip to the booth to show it off on TikTok) that you want to cover you probably don’t care about any of the above either!

Half of Procurement Leaders Expect Their Budgets to Increase. Are They the Kings of Wishful Thinking?

A recent article over on the Supply Chain Quarterly (which launched about the same time as an article on the Supply Chain Management Review) quoted the newly released 2024 State of Procurement Data Report from Amazon Business (whose PR team was working overtime) that was revealed at Amazon Business Reshape. The report, which surveyed 3,000 buyers, procurement decision makers, and organizational leaders, had a number of interesting statistics.

The ones quoted by Amazon Business on their site included:

  • 95% of decision-makers acknowledge that there‚Äôs room for procurement optimization
    (which says to the doctor that 5% of decision makers are clueless and need to be replaced)
  • 85% of respondents say the difficulty of sourcing suppliers that follow sustainable practices prevents their company from setting or achieving strategic sustainability goals for procurement
    (which is totally logical because when there is a national demand for something that is in extremely limited supply, most companies will fail; it’s like demanding gender equality in STEM organizations in North America; on average, women are 25% of STEM workers; this means that for every STEM organization where they manage to fill more than 25% of their positions with women, there is an organization of equal size that won’t)
  • 81% of respondents had mandates to buy from certified sellers, which might include sustainable, local, or disadvantaged group-owned businesses
    (and it would be nice to know what percentage achieved those mandates; the doctor would be surprised if more than 25%, at most, succeeded)

The SCQ and SCMR picked up on different statistics, and you can read the articles to find out, but the most interesting to the doctor is:

  • 53% of business respondents in the survey expect their budgets to increase in 2024.

Go West, Young Man, Go West and pan for the gold! As far as the doctor is concerned, you’re the King(s) of Wishful Thinking. And, if you really want to, you can call me a bitch like it’s a bad thing for suggesting you’re so far out of this world that you’re a space oddity, but it doesn’t change the fact that you need to sit back, have a deep think, and accept the reality that it’s not going to.

Before you find new offensive adjectives to describe the doctor, ask yourself: When was the last time you received a significant budget increase that was above inflation? And when did it include even a dollar more than what was needed for the new hire(s) you fought nine months for or the system that your CFO decided he or she liked best? And if so, was it enough to actually acquire a new system or an extra hire you didn’t have to fight nine months for? In other words, when was the last time an increase you received was truly significant?

Procurement needs to remember that, in most organizations, it is still looked at as a cost center even though it may be the only profit center a company has left in an inflationary economy with declining consumer demand. As a result, with budget scraps are few and far between, those budget scraps are going to continue to go to sales and marketing hoping that the closers and the mad men will save them, and we all know that’s not going to change anytime soon in most companies.

Expectation is not always reality. And wishful thinking is just that. To succeed, don’t plan for any increases beyond specific increases for specific headcount or CFO friendly systems you have already hard fought and negotiated. This way, you won’t feel let down and you’ll be setup for success.

And while my gloomy glass more-than-half-empty outlook on the situation may not be very gladdening, remember that you are Procurement Pros, you always have sour lemons (and nothing else), and when challenged, you still find ways to make the best lemonade. Prepare for tough times and, on the off chance they are a little less tough, you are guaranteed to succeed.

Consumer Dynamics are shifting like never before. But how does that affect Procurement?

Beyond the obvious, of course. But let’s backtrack.

A recent article over on Fortune noted that consumer dynamics are shifting like never before while purporting to give us some insights from Executives from Instacart, Atlassian, Nordstrom, and Black & Decker [who] share their strategies. However, the insights it shared related to the challenging technology environment the companies, and teams, face daily and not the consumer market in general, which is a very important topic not covered much by most of the publications and analysts that focus on how great the technology (especially AI-backed technology that may or may not work at all) is, but not how it helps you address the consumers that your organization is in business to serve.

Now, it’s easy to track change in demand if you have a good POS system, a good inventory system, at least weekly (if not daily) synchs, and a good DiY (Do-it-Yourself) Analytics system with baseline trend analysis capabilities that can signal changes in demand, the need for rapid reorders to prevent stock-outs, and increasing changes in demand as a result.

It’s not always as easy to track why. Sometimes there’s a strong correlation between the sales and a particular campaign, between the sales and a sustainability initiative, between the sales and recent price decreases in the product line or price increases in a competitor’s product line, or between the uptick in sales and competitor stock-outs, and in this case it can seem obvious, even if it’s not. For example, the campaign may have had nothing to do with it, it could have been the result of a single influencer promoting the product. The sustainability initiative may have had nothing to do with it, as customers may have known it would only impact the next generation of the product. The price decreases may have had little to do with it because it may have already been one of the lowest priced products available at the time as well as the one with the best brand reputation. The competitor stock outs may not have had anything to do with it because those might have been the higher priced products that were only stocked in low quantities anyway.

Moreover, even if you can determine the why with some statistical confidence, that still does not identify the underlying root cause as to why customers reacted to the campaign, the sustainability initiative, the price decreases, or the stock-outs. Are customers shifting towards your brand, adopting a preference for certain products, responding to certain messaging, or just veering away from certain competitors (or at least certain competitor products).

More importantly, how can you predict these trends early, when they are just starting, so that you can make the appropriate Procurement decisions in time to meet the shift in demand better than your competition. Certainly predictive trend analysis (using traditional machine learning fine-tuned to your problem domain) will help, but only if you can identify the right data sets and indicators, which will also mean being able to detect shifts in early sentiment early. So sentiment analysis (not overblown generalized error-prone Gen-AI) will also help.

But that’s just the beginning. Technology indicates possibilities, maybe even probabilities, but not guarantees. For that, you will need a human based assessment of the situation. And possibly an anthropological one. If you want to get ahead, you will need to think ahead of the crowd.