Procurement professionals need to think in more innovative ways about how we can drive competitive advantage and shareholder value for our organisations.
In my recent article, I talked about “the Art of Procurement”, and suggested that the time is right for procurement to move beyond our traditional focus on transactional improvement and basic cost reduction. Whilst remembering those are still important aspects of the role, we need to think in more innovative ways about how we can drive competitive advantage and shareholder value for our organisations.
Revenue growth is one key factor that determines shareholder value and organisational health generally. While profit is of course important, and the procurement goal of cost reduction plays a key role here, “you cannot cut your way to growth” (or ultimate success), as the saying goes. Growth is vital, and stock markets arguably value growth more than absolute profit levels or even margins.
So, firms can grow revenue through a variety of activities, for instance;
- Finding new customers for existing products
- Improving existing products (so the firm sells more)
- Introducing new products – either totally “new”, or line / range extensions and additions
- Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of sales and marketing activity
In every case here, it’s clear that procurement has a potential role to play. Even in terms of the “improved sales / marketing” route, there are possibilities – maybe procurement can work with the marketing team to find innovative suppliers in areas such as digital marketing?
For one European bank, the capability of their internal procurement team has become a customer benefit that is winning new revenue. Potential business customers – particularly small and medium sized firms who may not have much internal capability – are offered access to a set of procurement tools, templates and good practice guidance developed by the bank’s procurement team, who are also available for telephone consultation if the clients want that too. In a market where the core banking service on offer from every competitor is very similar, this has proved to be a differentiator that has won new business for the firm.
When it comes to improving existing products (or services), suppliers are often better placed than the business itself to identify opportunities. Procurement can really come into its own by supporting that supplier-driven innovation and improvement. But in many cases, it is not simply about identifying the innovation or improvement – it may well be that the firm gains revenue and advantage through the speed to market compared to the competition.
That was highlighted in a recent webinar I enjoyed, which featured my old friend and ex-colleague Jason Busch of Spend Matters as well as KPMG and Ivalua. But the highlight was hearing from Mark Gursky, Director of the Procurement Center of Excellence at Meritor (a $4 billion global manufacturer of automotive components). He explained how procurement in that business was contributing towards ambitious targets for growth via new product launches.
The key was (and is) enabling more effective working between Meritor and key suppliers, who are supporting the drive for growth. That change in the whole working relationship between buyer and suppliers, needed to support Meritor’s goals, has itself been supported by technology (that’s where procurement technology firm Ivalua comes into the picture).
It struck me that the technology achieves two goals. First of all, to really make the most of what your suppliers can offer, you need to manage the basics of supplier management well. That means supplier master data management; spend and contract analytics; risk management and so on. Putting it simply, if you don’t have a grip on who your suppliers are, what they’re doing with you, where in your organisation they are already working, and how they are performing, then impressive sounding “supplier innovation programmes” will be built on sand.
Then, having got the foundations in place, technology can support the actual collaborative development work. Gursky talked about using the Ivalua platform to manage all the work between the firm and key suppliers. Information is captured in one place rather than emails flying around between lots of different people. Complex requirements can be quickly translated into bills of material, then suppliers can respond rapidly to requests and questions. Projects can be tracked, data and information exchanged securely between the parties, and outputs tracked and monitored via the platform. Information is easily shared, but proper controls are managed too, important when we’re talking about potentially innovative new products.
You can still access the webinar here to find out more about the Meritor story; it’s a great example of procurement looking beyond the norm, and really contributing to those wider goals such as revenue growth. And at the Ivalua Now “Art of Procurement” conference next month, I’m expecting to hear more examples like that of procurement moving beyond our traditional heartland of cost control and transactional management.
You can book for that here, and join the firm, key clients such as Total, Suez and Deutsche Telekom (and me) in Paris for what should be a stimulating couple of days – maybe see you there!
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