Category Archives: Procurement News

A Decade In Review: Procurement In 2020

Is procurement less, just as, or more important this decade than the last? Find out as we take a walk down memory lane…

It’s the dawn of a new decade in procurement, and goodness me, how things have changed. From the digitisation of just about everything, to the introduction of big data, 2020 looks vastly different than 2010 did. 

As a former CPO and now Principal Advisor at Procurious, I’ve been at the coalface at what I can only describe as seismic changes to our profession. 

But have all the changes we’ve seen been good changes? Are we now poised to deliver more value, or will we struggle to do more with less? And are we more relevant than ever, or is technology replacing us? Here are my key observations from the last decade – and what we need to do to stay valuable going forward:

We became captivated with compliance

The last decade started for me with a bang – I was promoted to a procurement leadership role and I was, for the first time in my career, excited to be able to effect real, lasting and meaningful change. I felt that procurement could achieve much more than pumping out stock-standard contracts and controlling third-party spend. 

Yet my excitement was short-lived. As I looked around me, I found that, as a function, the procurement community just didn’t seem interested in broader, value-adding gains. Their focus was still quite shortsighted; they seemed captivated by processes and fixated on compliance. Cost-savings, contracts and the financial bottom line seemed to be the only thing on their mind.

Data made us better advisors (but some of us are still catching up)

‘Don’t ever do a job a machine can do,’ said our grandparents, as they rejoiced at the invention of the calculator. Suddenly, this advice was ringing true in our profession – we had eProcurement, cloud computing, and AI to take away a lot of our administrative work. What came in its place was the ability to deliver new and intriguing insights to our stakeholders quickly, without having to spend hours on Excel.  

As emails replaced purchase order pads, eCatalogues replaced supplier brochures and the data started to flow through, we had the information to inform our strategies and priorities. As a result, our advice and cost savings rapidly improved. 

Not everyone was a fan, though. Many of us became concerned with job stability, and some believed that technology had created more issues than it solved.

From cost reduction to value creation

As the decade progressed, our relentless focus on cost reduction started to feel like a grind, not least for suppliers who, feeling bullied by our negotiation techniques, began to speak out and cry ‘no more.’ These changes meant that the expectations of our stakeholders started to move away from a focus purely on cost.

The good news was that our newly automated processes helped us to shift our attention from cost-savings to value creation. Before we knew it, we’d automated our entire P2P process, freeing us up to build strategic partnerships with both our suppliers and stakeholders. 

In uncertain business and economic times, the focus on value creation was exactly what our profession needed. It lifted us from a ‘necessary evil’ in some people’s eyes to a strategic partner. On the whole, though, that transformation is far from complete, and many of us still have some work to do in this regard.

It’s more about the people than ever

Behind the analysis, behind the processes, and behind the cost-savings, procurement has always been a people profession. And perhaps the best news of the decade is that with all the change, with all the uncertainty and with the new and heightened expectations, procurement professionals have shown themselves to be resilient, optimistic and future-focused. 

We’ve embraced digital disruption. We’ve welcomed, with open arms, technology that makes us more efficient, and we’ve also onboarded stakeholders and suppliers to use that technology, meaning we’re adding even more value. 

But we’ve also realised where technology stops and that is, sometimes, with communication. We now understand how critical our ‘soft skills’ are at work, and that technology can’t replace the influential conversations we need to have to convince an operational manager to change suppliers, or make a case to buy more sustainably. Technology is transformative, but then again, so is our ability to negotiate.

As for 2020 and beyond?

With digitisation and automation now happening at breakneck speed, many of us have embraced the change but fear what’s coming next. Soon, virtual assistants will abound, collaborative marketplaces will proliferate. What value will we add, then? 

The answer is plenty. One thing we’ve learnt from the last decade is that in uncertain times, human relationships prevail, and that’s where our strength and expertise shine through. Armed with our best people skills, the sky is really the limit for procurement. As a function, 2020 and beyond could see us having more strategic influence than ever before. 

What other changes have you seen in the last decade? Do you think that procurement is less, just as, or more important this decade than last? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Helen Mackenzie is a Principal Advisor at Procurious and a former senior leader in UK public procurement. Connect with her on LinkedIn and join Procurious to hear more of her unique insights.

Will 2020 Be Our 50-50 Year? How To Help More Women Into Leadership In Procurement

The business case for diversity is clear – diverse teams and leaders are more innovative, collaborative, successful and profitable. But when it comes to diversity in leadership, we’re not where we need to be. How do we get there?

Procurement as a profession has proven our ability to change, to adapt and to thrive. From order takers, to expediters, to deal and market makers, we have proven we know how to make the most of an opportunity to create value, and we’ve been able to do so in ways never done before. 

Yet to realise the true potential of our profession, there’s one thing I know we need to achieve that we haven’t as yet, and that is: gender equality in leadership. 

Across the board, procurement performs above average from a gender perspective. A recent survey from our recruitment partners, The Source, revealed that 38% of leaders and managers in procurement are female (compared to the 30% average across all professions). This is a great start, but we’re still losing too many women along the way – when you look at entry statistics, 48% of procurement graduates are female. 

If we’re doing well, then, why do better? Better diversity can help us better manage complexity and enhance profitability, as I’ll explain below. And in good news, there are (at least) five things you can do right now to help your team get there. 

Why is increased diversity particularly important for procurement? 

As Deloitte pointed out in their 2019 Chief Procurement Officer report, CPOs (and increasingly, all of us in procurement) have to be “complexity masters” to excel at work. As we know all too well, complexity is now coming in all shapes and sizes, including trade wars, climate change and new regulations (external complexities), stakeholder alignment (internal complexity), people, organisational models and business plans (talent complexity) and finally, digital disruption. Managing one aspect of this is challenging enough; managing all can feel overwhelming. 

But greater diversity can help us do it all. Firstly, with diversity comes multiple perspectives and enhanced innovation, which will help us identify multiple solutions to solve the complex problems we face.

Diversity also helps us with everything inside our own four walls. The more diverse we are, the more likely we’ll represent the interests of those we serve, including our organisation’s customers – who are ultimately our customers. And not only do we represent our customers and stakeholders, we also better represent our own staff when we’re diverse, as we’re better able to understand them and make decisions that enhance their wellbeing. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, given the expectation of strategic business partnering from procurement, diverse teams have been shown to be up to 35% more profitable. With procurement functions now often required to do more with less, diversity can be a key driver in increasing our value-add and securing resources to innovate and grow. 

How to increase diversity in leadership in procurement

The challenges faced in retaining women in leadership in procurement echo those of wider society: inequality with paternity leave, unconscious bias and a lack of flexibility. But there’s so much we can do to counteract these, even on an individual level, and you don’t need to wait for society or even your organisation to catch up. If you want to reap the benefits of greater diversity in your team, try the following:

1. Give (public) praise 

In order to reach a position of influence, you have to be noticed. And unfortunately, sometimes being noticed can be as much about announcing what you’re done as it can be about the actual achievement in the first place. 

This can be particularly problematic for women, whom research shows can be punished for advocating for themselves. To counteract this, try giving public praise to women you believe deserve to get noticed. Whether it be on Procurious, LinkedIn, in a meeting or in front of an influential executive, giving praise can help someone be recognised and hopefully promoted. 

2. Encourage others to have a go

Across the board, there’s a big difference in how women and men apply for roles. Men will apply for a job when they have 60% of the required skills and experience, whereas women apply when they’ve got closer to 100%.

Although this is a stereotype, there’s never any harm doing what you can to prevent it. So if you know a talented female and there’s a role going, why not encourage her to have a go? 

3. Mentor and sponsor 

Whether or not you’ve got diversity as an official target or KPI in your team, as a leader, you’re no doubt responsible for performance. Knowing that, it’s important that you mentor and sponsor other more junior procurement professionals – especially females. 

Your mentoring can be any arrangement that suits you and the mentoree – you may want to meet regularly but informally or alternatively, you might put a more formal development plan in place. If you choose to be a ‘sponsor,’ though, you should be more active – as a sponsor, your responsibility is to specifically advocate for the person you’re working with in the hope of securing them a promotion (like giving public praise, but with a very specific end goal in mind!). 

If you want to increase your impact, you could even mentor someone outside of your organisation. Procurious and The Faculty run mentoring programs in both the UK and Australia, get in touch if you’re interested.

4. Role model flexibility – regardless of your situation

If you’ve ever been in any type of leadership role, you’ll know that you can influence your people as much (or more) with your actions than with your words. One of the most important ways to influence your people is to show you trust them through giving them flexibility. 

Flexibility is fast becoming the norm these days and for good reason – employees offered flexible work are more than 20% happier and more productive, and flexibility is the number one benefit sought by all employees, across the board. Yet still, there can be a ‘stigma’ around flexibility and when it is offered, it’s offered mostly to working mothers, which further entrenches (unhelpful) stereotypes. 

But if you’re in a position of influence, you can change this. No matter what your situation – mother, father, or non-parent, if you lead by example by both working flexibly and allowing it, you’ll help remove the stigma and as a result, help create better diversity.

5. Campaign for equal rights and equal opportunities 

Although unconscious bias is still an issue, one of the biggest reasons that there are less women in leadership roles in organisations is that they have career breaks that their male counterparts may not have, by way of maternity leave(s). 

But if you’re in a position of influence, you can change this by giving fathers a much sought-after opportunity to be at home. Numerous big companies have all recently removed the terms ‘primary and secondary carer’ and instead offered equal leave to all new parents. Why not advocate for this at your organisation? 

In our profession, a lot can change in a year. So why not make this year the year we all rally together and create a change we can be proud of? Our profession is complex, but helping more women into leadership doesn’t need to be. Diversity benefits us all, so let’s all do what we can to help propel more women into leadership. 

Tania Seary is the founder of Procurious and a passionate advocate for gender equality. If you’re interested to learn more about how to help women in leadership, tune in to our podcast ‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job – Your Path to the Top’ webinar on January 23rd, 2:30pm BST. Register for it here.

Why Buying From Social Enterprises Is As Easy As A, B, C

If you’re looking to boost the sustainability of your category plan, try seeking out social-enterprise suppliers. While we all know change can be challenging, and some buyers are reluctant to shift from tried and tested suppliers, this simple A, B, C approach empowers you to make things happen – and support social enterprise with buying power.

Do you want a quick and easy way to get more sustainability into your category plan?

How about an approach that’s focused on suppliers rather than the scope of what you buy? The answer is to ‘buy social’ – purchase from a supplier that is also a social enterprise.

B2B social enterprises are increasing in number both here in the UK and globally. They’re a great way to promote sustainability because:

  • Social enterprises have a positive social or environmental impact at the heart of their business model.
  • Their scale is significant – they make a contribution of £60 billion to the United Kingdom’s GDP.
  • Social enterprises are more diverse in their leadership and workforce, and we all know that diversity is proven to help businesses succeed and grow.
  • Building social value into your supply chain can help your business attract and retain talent, enhance your brand and access new sources of innovation.

And the good news is that buying social is as easy as A, B, C!

A: Analyse Your Spend

Given that there are more than 100,000 social enterprise suppliers in the UK alone, there’s every chance you’ve already got them in your spend. Make sure you analyse spend before you start to source new suppliers – and get your Buy Social KPIs off to a flying start.

Once you have identified that existing spend, why not amplify the impact by highlighting these suppliers to your buyers and getting even more spend with them if you can?

Sometimes you will find them in unusual areas. One of my teams identified that we already used a local social enterprise for kettles and other household goods. We decided to direct more of our buyers to that cause, which meant increased revenues for that supplier – and all it took was an email from our procurement team.

B: Baby-Steps Approach Gets Quick Wins On The Board

Sometimes changing suppliers is a difficult thing to do. People can be reluctant to shift their spend away from suppliers they’ve used for years. So a baby-steps approach could help by giving your team an early success story to build momentum. Try starting with a low-risk category of spending.

Janette Evans-Turner, Head of Sourcing & Procurement at Zurich Insurance, quite literally took a ‘baby-steps approach’ when engaging with the social enterprise From Babies With Love. Members of her team identified a social enterprise they could use in a low-risk category of spend to ensure that there was a minimum of fuss – and they were able to redirect their spend from a mainstream retailer to a social enterprise.

‘It was easy to approach the buying department as the change didn’t seem that big,’ Janette reports. ‘When we explained to our colleagues in human resources the double whammy of benefits that the change to buying social with From Babies with Love could bring, they were chomping at the bit to get started!’

C: Commit To A Challenge

The final step in the process is a commitment to a target that you want to achieve. Companies such as Amey have put in place ambitious targets to increase their spend with social enterprise and the results have been impressive.

They signed up to the Buy Social Corporate Challenge, developed and delivered by Social Enterprise UK, to support this:

  • The Buy Social Corporate Challenge programme, launched in April 2016, is designed to make it as easy as possible to buy from social enterprise suppliers.
  • There are 24 high-profile businesses signed up to the Buy Social Corporate Challenge representing a broad range of industries – including built environment, financial services, technology and communications.
  • More than £65 million was spent with social enterprise suppliers by Buy Social Corporate Challenge partners in the first three years of the programme.
  • 100% of Buy Social Corporate Challenge partners in the UK rated the quality of their social enterprise suppliers as comparable or better than existing suppliers.

So why not follow this A, B, C process and see if you can start buying from a social enterprise or increase your spend with one today? Find out more about the Buy Social Corporate Challenge here.

Shifting the Balance of Power when Negotiating

Sometimes it’s hard to shift the balance of power in long-term relationships. But 10 negotiation experts have some tips on how to do this.

balance of power
Photo by Loic Leray on Unsplash

This article was based on research conducted by Conti Advanced Business Learning (www.cabl.ch), a Swiss training company that specialises in Negotiation & Influencing training.

The relentless assessment and recognition of “who’s got the power in this discussion” plays a vital role in the success of your negotiations. In a roundtable discussion featuring 10 senior Sales and Procurement experts, we explored a number of strategies that aid in tilting the scales in your favour. The six key dimensions we singled out are investigated below:

1. Having the mindset to create leverage

As Laurence Perot, Head of Global Supply Chain Procurement at Logitech, highlights, “we need to create leverage if there is none.” She explains that an effective way to do this is by working at different levels throughout the organisation.

“In my past experience in Logitech, we needed to negotiate a contract with a much larger company however they did not want to have a contract in place. To counter this, we worked internally with our R&D team that had a close collaboration with the supplier. Then we got the approval from the CPO and the Executive Team to our strategy: “No contract, no new designs”.

The supplier was reluctant at first, however, after consulting the R&D and executive teams at Logitech, finally took us seriously and we could agree a contract within two months.”

2. Building Alternatives

It was consensus among the procurement and sales professionals during the roundtable that the balance of power in negotiations shifts when there are alternatives.

Giuseppe Conti, Founder of Conti Advanced Business Learning, added that ‘moving to performance specs or removing a technological barrier may help us to enlarge our portfolio of alternatives.”.

Joerg Steinhaeuser, Vice President Global Sourcing at General Mills, added that “sometimes negotiators use bluffing, but going down the road of bluffing can significantly and negatively damage the trust between the two parties.

Building real alternatives is always much better although you may not need to completely implement your BATNA if you are aligned well internally.” Fundamentally speaking, lasting relationships with liars and bluffers is not possible and long-term business relationships fail when there is no trust.

3. Effective Preparation

Regina Roos, Sales Transformation Manager at Marketing & Innovation Group, emphasises how preparation and bringing a “can do” attitude when negotiating can make all the difference.

Salespeople usually take much more time for preparation than Procurement people and tend to have a better knowledge of the market. Francesco Lucchetta, Procurement Director EMEAI at Pentair, adds that preparation includes choosing the right supplier.

For instance, “do we have some power with this supplier over the total business? Can we choose not to give them future business that is attractive to them?” It is easy to focus on keeping the business momentum moving forward but if you overlook the future implications of your decision, the gains today may be overcome by the loses tomorrow.

4. Exploiting the Power of Emotions

Daniele Giorgi, Director of Procurement at Ferring, recalls a past negotiation with a supplier much bigger than his company while working in Pharma in a single source supply situation. He then talked about the impact this project would have on the patient and on families, colleagues, friends or other members of society like themselves.

“Using the emotional side and talking about “how we can help couples have babies” is a more powerful argument than dry facts.” Our counterparts have the same set of human needs that we do, and connecting with them on a human level will strengthen your ongoing working relationship.

5. Using a Fear of Loss

As Ifti Ahmed, Managing Partner, Titanium-Partners explains, “the fear of loss is significantly more motivational to get someone to move from their position. If the other party feels that they will lose something valuable, they are more likely to move in the direction you want.”

This echoes Kahneman & Tversky research outlined in their 1979 book Prospect Theory: An analysis of decision under risk. They go into detail about how people are more likely to take a risk to avoid a loss than they are to take a risk for an equivalent gain.

Conversely, in a long-term partnership or relations, we should also take into account the impact that this has on the relationship and the trust between the two parties.

6. Penetrating the Other Party’s Organisation

As Marco Martelli, Vice President Procurement at Tetra Pak, underlines “Negotiation is a power game. If you sell, you try to understand how to penetrate the other organisation. You try to understand the structure, the decision makers, and more specifically, you play on the lack of internal alignment. The ideal goal is to sell to Engineering and get the bill to be paid by Procurement.”

Giuseppe Conti adds that the effective Seller is able to differentiate himself via innovation/technology/business model/branding so that the buyer’s organisation wants to buy only from them.

These answers were collected by Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner of Conti Advanced Business Learning (www.cabl.ch), a consulting firm that specialises in negotiation & influencing. This article is part of a series aimed at collecting real-life negotiation experiences from Procurement executives. Explore other negotiation topics on the Conti Advanced Business Learning YouTube Channel or visit the website, www.cabl.ch.

Contract Management: What Does ‘Good’ Look Like?

By necessity, Contract Management has moved on from the old days of paper copy and filing cabinets. But what does ‘good’ really look like?

contract management
Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

We recently published a piece about what ‘good’ strategic sourcing looks like. After all, if you are one of the many procurement organisations in the vast middle of the market, good is more likely to be your goal than total dominance.

In any area of a business, the difference between okay and ‘good’ may be the presence of a few extra steps, a little more attention to detail, or a bit more creative energy. This as is true for strategic sourcing as it is for contract management.

Contract management has evolved substantially since procurement started applying technology to expand its impact. It used to be that ‘good’ contract management meant your filing cabinet was complete, paper files were maintained in some sort of recognisable order and the drawers didn’t squeak too loudly when you opened them!

Legacy contract management was completely hard copy and based on the premise that procurement would be handled by a team co-located not just with each other, but with the stakeholders they supported. 

Today contract management has the potential to be one of the most critical and impactful activities conducted by procurement. This is partly due to the many changes the modern workforce has gone through. Companies and teams now span the globe, working in distributed offices or even from home. A filing cabinet full of dusty paper doesn’t stand a chance of being considered “good” today.

So what does ‘good’ contract management look like now?

‘Good’ contract management…

Has escaped the filing cabinet and gone completely online

Going beyond the filing cabinets of the past is essential given today’s new workforce trends. But the benefits of taking contracts online are far greater than just accessibility. Out of sight, out of mind as the old saying goes, and if there was one thing filing cabinets did almost without fail it was to ensure that contracts would be forgotten.

Now that contract management is conducted in the cloud, expiration and renewal dates can be set to alert the appropriate points of contact. The same is true for purchase volume thresholds associated with discounts or alternate terms. Contracts are regularly referenced and actively leveraged between signature and expiration, partly because they can speak for themselves, thanks to ‘good’ contract management technology.

Makes legal just as happy as procurement

While procurement and legal may not always see eye to eye or have the same priorities for contract management technology, it is absolutely essential that both teams fully adopt the chosen solution. The maximum value is achieved when red-lining, signature, storage and reporting all happen in one place, and for that to be a reality, legal has to support the solution.

This probably played the greatest role in contract management solutions growing beyond repositories. Quick access to standard language, a clause library and the ability to support eSignatures gives legal meaningful reasons to embrace contract management.

Is an active process that supports additional enterprise efforts

Procurement can achieve so many things through contracts, far more than just designating approved suppliers and specifying prices and service levels or delivery timelines. Companies can invest in, and benefit from, their small and diverse supplier programmes, ensuring that certifications and accreditations are both up to date and documented.

While strategic sourcing and contract management both have a process component and a technology component, the tie is much stronger with contracts. Given the needs of distributed accessibility and centralised data, contract management can not exist without effective technology, let alone aspire to be ‘good’. If all spend brought under management is covered by contracts, then all of procurement’s work should be conducted under, and informed by, contracts.

Supply chain risk can be monitored and mitigated, as can complex regulatory oversight and compliance. Better still, contracts can become a launching pad for innovation and collaboration projects with our most strategic supply partners. All of this is made possible when actively managed contracts create a safe, protected space for business to happen in.

If you would like to know about about Ivalua’s Contract Management Solution, please visit the Ivalua website.

Four Reasons Why Value Is the New Procurement Normal

We’re all talking about delivering value these days in procurement, aren’t we? But with so many definitions around, how do we maximise its impact?

value
Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

We’re all talking about delivering value these days in procurement, aren’t we?  Value is now the new normal.  And everyone has their own take on what delivering value for the business really means.  There’s no single definition.

So Procurious were delighted when our November Roundtable sponsor Ivalua asked us to use value as our theme. Here are some of the great insights that speakers shared with attending CPOs on the day.

Stakeholder Value – an idea whose time has come?

In August, Business Roundtable CEOs made the announcement that value is about more than just shareholders. It’s this idea that we should be focusing on going forward.

And they were clear that value, rather than maximising return to shareholders, is now “the essential role corporations can play in improving our society when CEOs are truly committed to meeting the needs of all stakeholders.” 

But what does this mean in practice for procurement? And how can we demonstrate stakeholder value? Stuart Woollard has been at the forefront of pioneering work in this field for many years, assessing the measurement of factors beyond cost. 

Stuart had a warning for the CPOs too that, “being purpose driven is not enough”. He urged a move away from a focus solely on output metrics, and encouraged them to take a balanced multi-faceted approach. 

Stuart and his organisation, The Maturity Institute, has a tool that they’ve been using to achieve this balance for many years. But just because there’s a method of measuring value doesn’t mean this shift will be easy.

Finally, Stuart reminded the CPOs that, “Without support from the CEO and your Board, you may not achieve the shift to value that you need”, bringing home the point that buy-in is needed across the leadership team and beyond, in order to ensure success.

The value in your supply chain comes from people

If changing to a value-based model will require a mindset change at the top is there anything CPOs and their teams can do right now?

Nadia Youds, from UK retailer John Lewis & Partners, told our CPOs that an approach targeting employees is a great way to deliver value back to the business. “Job design in our supply chain is as much about the business relationships procurement has put in place as it is about the suppliers themselves.”

Nadia is clear about the connection between the buying organisation and the way employees in the supply chain are treated, and the work they’re expected to deliver. 

Although Nadia and her team have developed an assessment process that moves away from the standard suppler audit, she was keen to stress that the process needs to move away from compliance as a ‘tick box exercise’.

Using an approach that focuses on people and jobs, particularly in the manufacturing industry, can help suppliers develop and retain their workforce. This will lead to them ultimately being more competitive in the market.

Winning the war for talent – could value be the key?

Many CPOs are facing huge challenges in talent recruitment and retention. Procurement is still keen to learn from the best. And so a chance to see what the Tech industry does to source and retain the right people was an eagerly anticipated agenda item. Andrew MacAskill, from Career Jump and Finlay James was the person for the job (as it were!).

“We’ve still got a long way to go to attract the brightest minds in the industry,” Andrew mused. He reminded CPOs we can learn a lot from the Tech industry where “talent has become the customer”.

One tactic Andrew urged CPOs to consider is to build their own online personal brand. Many of his candidates select roles based on a leader, not a brand. “They’re asking themselves the question – do I trust this person to take my career forward?”

The issue of whether the talent wants to work for us led Andrew to suggest a reverse interview process:

  1. Sell your vision to the candidate – why should they want to work for you;
  2. Conduct a balanced interview – make sure the process and discussion is equal between recruiter and candidate;
  3. Open up the floor – give the candidate the chance to sell themselves to you.

Andrew shared that testing for the candidate’s attitude, cognitive aptitude and habits is the norm in tech recruitment processes. He urged CPOs to consider this when they’re recruiting team members to help them deliver their vision for value.

Value remains the same throughout history

Looking back through history shows that data gives procurement a head start when it comes to delivering value. Ivalua’s Stephen Carter has studied the impact from medieval times right up to the present day.

“There’s a lot we can learn from history about how we can exceed our stakeholder expectations” explained Stephen, “and a good overview of your data can provide the key.”

Even in the late 17th Century, procurement used data to provide insight into what their stakeholders needed. Looking at past spending trends, conditions and requirements, military campaigns were won due to the foresight of procurement in providing equipment not in the client’s original scope of requirements.

From history to the modern day, the value that procurement can deliver comes from insights that organisational data provides. It’s clear that whether our focus is strategic or operational, within our team or in our supply chains, delivering value is fully embedded as the new procurement normal. 

And as we set ourselves a new target to deliver value, there are no better words than those of the final speaker on the day, adventurer George Bullard.

“Research your goal, make sure you are prepared and fix a time to start.” Words to live and work by.

In 2020, we will be holding CPO Roundtable events in London and Edinburgh. If you are interested in attending one of these events, please contact Laura Hine by clicking here.

The Loss Leading Approach to Savings

Challenging, controversial and, for small organisations, potentially crippling, but for many, Loss Leading remains a popular strategy. Is there a sustainable way procurement can use this strategy to deliver real savings?

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

Loss Leading is the practice of selling products at, or just below, cost price, with the aim of bringing consumers into a store and then selling add-on items to the original product, or encourage impulse purchases. And when the average consumer spends $5,400 per year on impulse purchases, you can understand the attractiveness of this.

If you have been shopping for groceries, a new mobile phone, electronics or even a new car, the chances are fairly high that you have encountered a Loss Leader pricing strategy. So common are these deals across a whole range of goods and services that it’s probable you have encountered this strategy without even realising it.

It’s the notion that this strategy is somehow underhand that, in spite of its popularity, has led to controversy. It’s even been banned in half of US states and some European countries. Why? Because there is a widely held belief that the practice doesn’t promote competition and may harm consumers in the long-term. 

Reduced Competition?

The fact that the strategy has been banned in half of US states suggests that the practice has more negative connotations than positive. In most cases, the belief is that Loss Leading actually reduces market competition to the detriment of the consumer. 

Large organisations, the likes of Amazon, Walmart and Apple for example, have broad product ranges and the ability to withstand losses from these products by having a greater profit margin on others. Smaller organisations don’t have this luxury and either choose not to stock a product or sell it for more, reducing consumer choice.

It’s not all positive for organisations either. Savvy consumers may only look for the introductory offer or the products at the loss leading price, and not buy add-ons. This is termed as ‘cherry picking’ and may cause financial issues for even large organisations in the long-term. There may also be a knock-on effect in the supply chain as manufacturers may be required, or feel the need, to keep prices low so that loss leading strategies can continue.

There are positives for organisations and consumers though. Organisations may use it as a strategy to increase sales or engage consumers on a new product, with consumers benefiting from better deals and lower prices. 

Could we then be looking at a situation where unsustainable loss leading is the issue, where the strategy is actively used to reduce competition or drive other organisations out of business? And how does all of this relate to procurement?

Sustainable Loss Leading

For procurement, introductory pricing and negotiated discounts are commonplace. Across all industries and sectors, suppliers will try to get a foot in the door with an organisation, offering lower prices, demonstrations and even free samples. While regulations and transparency should stop this having a direct correlation to contracts awarded, there is benefit that procurement can derive from this.

Where suppliers can accommodate lower prices, a loss leading strategy on price plays right into procurement’s hands. As the profession looks to drive down costs in both direct and indirect sourcing, procurement strategies are looking for greater innovation and strategic buying initiatives to achieve this, without just chipping away at profit margins.

The Power of GPOs

Let’s say, hypothetically, that procurement professionals are looking at loss leading strategies without knowing that this is what they are. A good procurement strategy would focus on ensuring that no matter how low the price is, it is sustainable for the market and the supplier. After all, it’s no use driving prices down and putting your supplier out of business. 

What if there was a solution in the market that would enable sustainable loss leading prices over the longer term, which procurement could take advantage of? The good news is that there is in the form of Group Purchasing Organisations (GPOs). Linking up with a GPO doesn’t diminish procurement’s role, rather it enhances it. Supplier consolidation activities can be aided and it’s not a ‘race to the bottom’ in pricing, meaning that required quality levels will be maintained.

GPOs will assist in gaining the best prices possible through sourcing at bulk rates, without the individual organisations having to increase their purchasing volumes. The GPO can then guarantee that these prices stay low, at the ‘loss leader’ level for the life of the contract, through the use of pre-negotiated contracts and the fact that, due to the volume, even the smallest organisation is treated as a key customer for the supply base.

Turning the Negative Positive 

As you can see, when done sensitively and sustainably, a loss leading strategy for savings can actually be a positive for procurement. Not only that, but by taking the route of the GPO, the strategy is open for the first time to smaller organisations, without the potentially fatal risks attached to it. As procurement strategies go, it’s a strong one, allowing for wider input and not undermining strategic supplier relationships. 

Who knows, you might even earn your organisation a slice of that impulse spend. Now that would be a good outcome, wouldn’t it?

Want to know how to gain the benefits of sustainable loss leading without any of the negatives? Then contact UNA today and join their growing network.   

The Time Paradox of Contract Management

When you’re busy it’s easy to let things slide and ignore contract management in the procurement process. But the idea that you’re saving yourself time by doing so is a paradox we would be well-served dismissing.

By andrey_l /Shutterstock

You’ve taken your time meticulously following the procurement process from inception of the idea through to contract award. You’ve spent all the time you needed getting your ESPD right and crafting some good contract documents to get the necessary competition and achieve best value. Your contract award reports have been signed off and you’ve even managed to fit in time for a lessons learned document.

But you’ve got another tender sitting waiting to be evaluated. And another that needs sign off from the stakeholders before you can publish. Not to mention that phone call you’ve just taken or email you’ve read assigning you a new project or asking for your input.

So you think to yourself, “It’s ok, I’ll arrange the mobilisation meeting and then the Operations side of the business can take it from there. After all, it’s an easy contract – it’ll take care of itself…”.

Stop. No really, stop. Why, after putting all the hard yards in to begin with, would you then choose to step back at such a critical juncture? Are you sure that without your input, all those savings and benefits you agreed with the supplier will be delivered? And can you prove you are getting what you asked for?

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Let’s take a step back from this and stop blaming ourselves as individuals. Time is not on procurement’s side (as I have said in the past) and there’s not always time to perform all the necessary tasks as part of the procurement process. When push comes to shove and there are tenders to be published, one of the first things to get dropped, alongside training and development, is frequently contract management.

Why? That’s a hard one to answer. In many public sector organisations, the issue comes down to an unholy trinity of reasons.

  1. A lack of resources in procurement departments, be that head count, budget, or similar;
  2. A lack of time, which has been covered extensively in the past; and
  3. A high churn of tenders, meaning that getting the contract signed has become the priority.

Unfortunately, the reality is that the public sector is falling victim to the paradox of contract management. It might be felt that there isn’t sufficient time to manage contracts effectively, but without a procurement focus, how are organisations going to realise savings offered by and agreed with suppliers.

In some cases, from personal experience, procurement isn’t even charged with the on-going contract management. In many organisations, both in the public and the private sectors, once procurement has put the contract in place, it’s passed to contract managers or end users for its duration.

Not Rising to the Challenge

Look for the importance of contract management and you don’t have to go far to see why and where it drives success. In the past 12 months there have been stark examples of where contract management has fallen down to disastrous and altogether spectacular effect.

The collapse of Carillion and the endless budget overruns of HS2 are just two examples. A bit further in the past, the National Programme for IT for the NHS, which cost £6 billion more than it should have and has, to date, only delivered a third of the predicted benefits, is another.

However, on the flip side of that there are examples of where good contract management has made a tangible (and quantifiable) difference in public sector projects. The new Queensferry Crossing over the Firth of Forth actually came in £100 million cheaper than initial estimates suggested, with credit being given to the overall management of the project.

The NHS Wales Informatics Service project has set up digital systems to aid patients with prescriptions and staff with communication, aimed at creating greater efficiencies across the strained health sector.

And if you’re unsure about procurement’s involvement in these projects, both have been nominated as regional winners for national awards at the GO Awards, which recognises best practice in public sector procurement across the UK.

Getting Mavericks Out of the Danger Zone

Let me start this section by contradicting much of what I have written before. Procurement needs to actively take on contract management, irrespective of the time commitment. And not only this, but it needs to be a priority on the same level as market analysis and tendering. As has been shown with the example above, good contract management can deliver savings and value, but it also extends beyond this too.

Improved compliance, standardising processes and procedures, spend and performance analysis and spend visibility are all key benefits. On top of this, it can help reduce maverick spend (a procurement favourite!) by taking away a route to using a non-contract supplier, or non-contract items.

And, as a final benefit, it’ll help you save time when it comes to retendering, extending or renewing contracts for existing services, as you’ll know far enough in advance to do the full procurement process properly. Not so much spend (money) to save (money), but more spend (time) to save (time). And maybe we can clear up a couple of paradoxes on the way!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

Weaning Stakeholders off the Procurement Welfare Programme

Where does procurement’s remit start and end? As these lines get more and more blurred, it might be time for procurement to take charge and start the painful weaning process.

By RGallianos/ Shutterstock

Time and again the procurement profession has asked for a “seat at the table” and the opportunity to be seen as a strategic business partner. In some cases, requests have been accepted and change has been forthcoming. In other cases, change is proving more difficult to put in place.

However, in this ever-shifting landscape of change and, perhaps in its eagerness to be accepted, procurement may have stepped outside of its remit. That’s not to say that this is a bad thing, but there is strong argument to suggest that what procurement has done is create a rod for its own back.

Public procurement, and procurement as a whole, already has its hands full with the myriad tasks it takes to get a good tender out to the market. Research and analysis, supplier engagement and internal stakeholder management all take time. And that’s not to mention the contract management that should be carried out post-award too.

But there’s a sneaking feeling that the lines around procurement’s remit are becoming a little too blurred, and that stakeholders are getting a little too used to the procurement ‘welfare programme’. And it’s perhaps time to start the painful weaning process.

The Welfare Programme

It’s worth examining in a bit more detail what we mean when we call it a ‘welfare programme’. Traditionally, procurement has been viewed as a transactional function, responsible for the preparation, issue, evaluation and award of tenders. It was a process-driven role with little or no strategic responsibility.

More recently procurement has been moving to become more of a strategic business partner, with objectives aligned with organisational strategy. More importantly, the function also has a role in setting these overall strategic objectives. However, this is where the issue lies.

As procurement has stepped up and been involved in strategy, its remit and responsibility has spread in line with this. And unfortunately, this has led to situations where professionals are undertaking tasks that have never resided in the procurement sphere.

Procurement should absolutely be getting involved with the writing of specifications, ensuring they are fit for purpose and allow for openness and transparency in the process. But the role should be one of challenging specifications, not actively writing the whole document. The same goes for short-notice or last minute tenders. Why take on all the time pressure ourselves when we’re presented with a requirement that we know, from the start, cannot be completed in the appropriate timescales?

The Budget Burden

From a personal point of view, this issue has been keenly felt in the public sector. Budgetary issues should come as a surprise to no-one (have you been living in a cave?!) and have pretty much been talked to death. The issue doesn’t just lie within procurement, but across the whole organisation. With resources stretched, departments will look to manage their workloads and focus on the most important and strategic tasks.

This means, inevitably, that certain tasks get passed around like hot potatoes and other tasks get left until the last minute.

Procurement, keen to be involved and to remove the (most would say ridiculous) notion of being a roadblock, has become like the school kid desperately trying to get in with the ‘cool kids’. For assignments, lunch money and extra credit read short-notice tenders, reining in non-contract spend and writing specifications. In the willingness to be a partner, the profession has lost its ability to push back on these tasks.

The question is, how does public sector procurement start the difficult process of weaning its stakeholders off this support programme?

Weaning your Stakeholders

The answer isn’t an easy one, but it does actually have a positive outcome all round. It stems from being able to push back, but in a positive way. For example, for specifications, rather than an outright no, ask what help your stakeholders need, whilst making it clear that the responsibility is still on them to write the document.

To assist with resourcing, put monthly (or more regular if required) meetings in the diary to discuss upcoming requirements. Procurement will be able to bring information to the table in the shape of work coming up for retender, plus what procurement resources are likely to be available.

For the most part, it’s about helping strategically define the best route for the organisation to get what it needs. There are stakeholders who still aren’t fully au-fait with the available procurement routes and how they can potentially save time. Not every procurement exercise needs to go through a full tender, taking the 6-9 months it can do to deliver an outcome. The public sector has the ability to use things like Prior Information Notices (PIN), Contract Notices and frameworks to help reduce timelines AND still deliver a good procurement outcome.

It’s neither rocket science nor a quick fix, but it’s vital to get it right and strike the right balance between helpful and put upon. Procurement may have a seat at the table now, but it’s now up to us to earn the respect we deserve for sitting there.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the upcoming series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

It’s Procurement’s Own Fault That The Business Thinks We’re Only About Price

If you’re forever complaining that all your stakeholders want from procurement is cost reduction, consider this: maybe it’s your fault. Here’s how to fix it.  

Over the years I have seen and agreed with a tendency in the area of procurement and supply management about the movement to become a broader function; one that goes beyond comparing prices only, and becomes a business strategist.

At the day-to-day level, the organisation has goals that when cascaded to Procurement could be understood as “only” about cost reduction. One consequence of this is that Procurement’s work and recommendation revolve much of the time around pricing. And this makes sense, as it is the most intuitive strategy to bring benefits to the company, and it is also the easiest way to measure impact (at least to the eyes of our stakeholders).

Considering that we as a function are trying to evolve, a consequence is that we feel that we get classified as professionals that can only talk about the prices from suppliers. This situation puts a glass ceiling on what Procurement can do, making it harder to gain relevance in the wider organisation.

But, which came first? The chicken or the egg?

It’s our fault

My theory is: could it be caused by us? Could it be that we ourselves are continuously reinforcing the cycle in which we always talk about price and then the organization talks with us only about price as well?

Competitive pricing does not appear from thin air, especially in organisations with mature procurement functions. These organisations require that the Procurement Manager (the agent that needs to make two different organisations “talk and function together”), make use of levers such as strategy tools, supply chain tools and people tools (mainly) to achieve what is regularly expected: a lower cost.

And how many of those levers are about price only?

If Procurement wants to become more relevant in the organisation, it needs to build over time the tone of the conversation, steadily broadening the decision analysis and variables and incorporating into the recommendation more business broad perspectives: create a competitive advantage, consider impact to society and environment, supply chain efficiencies, changing the category structure, and so on.

To understand if you are a Procurement professional who is capable of growth in the organisation and who will one day become a business strategist, growing at the same time the value of Procurement as function, take the first step: make a self-assessment.

Looking beyond price

Take your most successful procurement recommendation, and delete all the components that are price specific, or are directly linked to price (e.g. spend levels, price savings, price structure, price benchmarks, etc.). How much is there left?

If there is not much left, it means you have work to do to steer your business conversations into broader business impact topics. I present below a couple of ideas that could be used to initiate and maintain the transition to procurement contributions with strategic added value to the business:

  • The first one is not an actual recommendation because it is playbook: do the procurement homework. Create the procurement framework for your category including supply market strategic analysis, decision/evaluation matrix, category analysis and positioning, and all relevant topics that revolve around a strategic process. To change the game, you need to be aware of how is currently played.
  • During your competitive procurement processes, conduct a negotiation round (or at least a supplier meeting) without talking about the price (or similar); challenge yourself to identify the differences between suppliers and to identify the value buckets that are hidden behind the price tag. By simply broadening the topics in conversation, the chances for a successful negotiation increase (as you may increase the negotiation topics). As a result your procurement mindset will kick in and will guide you to new and better strategies.
  • When making presentations, ensure the information you present relates directly to your strategy: it clutters your work if you present supplier total revenue, number of employees or location, if these are not directly related to a component of your strategy. At the same time, use graphics to build momentum to present your recommendation; if the intention is to present which supplier is bigger (assuming that the aim is to communicate that bigger is a proxy for better), then presenting a code or a ranking of the “bigger supplier” could suffice to communicate your idea (details could always go to annex).
  • Show others how you expect the variables of your presentation to play out in one years’ time. This means: Do you expect the same supplier to still be the most competitive at contract exportation?  What level of technology compared to peers do you expect the supplier to own at contract expiration? Would the supplier be better prepared to collaborate with the organisation? Which supplier may have a change of ownership or acquire new assets?

Business mindfulness is created over time. By initiating an own process of “thinking  business” instead of “thinking price” while producing our daily procurement outputs, not only are we capable to implement more resilient and value adding solutions, but we enhance the mutual benefit relationship of our function with the business, moving away from that “price manager” tag that Procurement may have, and eventually opening up the space to create more opportunity for procurement professionals.

To give Procurement a seat on the table we also need to be leaders that develop people. It is important to say that these ideas of “talking about everything except price” is a technique that should be used not only with self, but with suppliers and with junior team members. Giving them the challenges as proposed here becomes a tool for their development, challenging suppliers to be better, and help your people become more rounded business professionals.

We should embed in our mindset that every Procurement project is an opportunity to improve as a business professional for the benefit of the business. I expect the ideas shared on this piece to trigger the process of transition from price managers to business strategists.