Tag Archives: cost reduction

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.

Why It’s Time To Grow Beyond Strategic Sourcing

If the CPO wants to have a seat at the table, they must move beyond delivering cost reductions to deliver solid and sustainable business value where it really counts: top line growth and business
innovation.

I recently worked on a large-scale program of strategic sourcing transactions across multiple business and technology functions. The strategic sourcing team produced a considerable volume of contracts and notably delivered significant cost reductions along with contractual obligations for supplier-led innovation.

While the strategic sourcing effort followed a mature process and produced great results there was a gap in the process for ‘hand-over’ from the externally sourced strategic sourcing teams to transition the contract relationship to the category management function. The hard-earned gains and concessions of the negotiations phases needed to be understood by the category manager and then further nurtured and managed through ongoing supplier relationships.

The gap in the process was understandable as the business was in a state of disruption after their acquisition and the brand-new procurement function was immatureand still finding its feet. Notably they were starting to implement a strategy for category management, so no doubt the situation will quickly improve for them.

However, this first-hand experience of this gap did highlight for me the impact on the procurement organisation if they are unable to transition from strategic sourcing view to category management.

Category Management is a way of driving and delivering value, growth and innovation and yet most companies struggle with the transition from Strategic Sourcing to effective Category Management.

Category Management includes strategic sourcing but it is much broader than that. The Faculty defines Category management as: a rigorous, fact-based, end-to-end process for proactively collaborating with stakeholders to develop and implement strategies that generate significant value that stakeholders recognise, from an organisation’s external spend.

It sits above and guides both the content and the sequencing of the lower level methodologies such as (not limited to): spend analysis, demand management, strategic sourcing, supplier relationship management and benchmarking.

What is a category?

A category is a grouping of materials or services that have similar supply and usage characteristics to meet business objectives. Managing by categories is a strategic approach which organises procurement resources to focus on specific areas of spend categories.

This enables category managers to focus their time on the business requirements, conduct in- depth market analysis, supplier capability and performance analysis to fully leverage their procurement decisions on behalf of the whole organisation.

Many CPOs understand that implementing and sustaining an effective category management process can deliver great benefits, it usually leads to:

  • Raising the profile and competency of the procurement function within the organisation
  • Significant savings typically 10-30 per cent
  • Reduced risk in the supply chain
  • Improved stakeholder relations
  • Improvements in service levels, quality, availability and value for money
  • The revelation of other sources of value and innovation from the supply base
  • Re-usable processes to leverage across other categoriesCategory management allows you to source more effectively and then to get even more value from constantly optimising the resulting contracts.

How to get started and maintain an effective Category Management function:

• Ensure that you have an effective and seamless transition process from strategic sourcing outcomes to the business-as- usual category management function

• Develop the logical categories for your business by bringing together products or services that have the same features and are bought from similar supply markets.

• Build an in-depth understanding of the organisation’s plans and business strategies and ensure that the categories are aligned to business goals

• Develop category benchmarks so that you can more easily identify additional improvement opportunities

• Use big data and business analytics to undertake continuous analysis of spend, (direct and indirect), market data and performance against benchmarks

• Undertake a program of constant price analysis on local and international markets and the monitoring of trends in the category

• Invest in a process of gathering supplier performance data for more quality and service improvements

• Monitor and track all the savings that have been achieved through substitutions, better compliance or contract negotiations

• Engage with your stakeholders! and have continuous discussions and reviews to ensure that all stakeholders are involved in decisions on the category.

The bottom line for the CPO

Category management will be a continuous improvement process that should form the basis for all future successful strategic sourcing initiatives. It requires the right level of attention and a good training program Category management will deliver a range of benefits such as being able to work with suppliers to speed up the time between initial adoption and full implementation. At the same time, also providing a layer of continual strategy adjustment once a new supplier or contract has been initiated.

Your category managers will be the ones responsible for all things related to a given project or managed service (gather requirements, collect bids and negotiate contracts) and their time will be freed up for engagement with the business to focus on their jobs and deliver better value.

Establishing the single points of contact means better co-ordination and this will streamline communication in a way that will vastly improve stakeholder and supplier relationships.

This Little Procurement Pro Went To Market…

How do you know when you should  go to market? ThomasNet discuss strategies for three common sourcing scenarios.

Haso/Shutterstock.com 

Strategic sourcing is all about generating a return on investment for every sourcing initiative. However, different sourcing scenarios require different levels of investment – in terms of time, effort and resources. Therefore, it’s important to approach each situation differently as well in order to produce the best results.

Here are three common sourcing scenarios, along with proven advice you can use to ensure an optimal return.

Scenario 1: Reducing Costs With A Strategic Partner

Your current supplier is deeply involved in the design, engineering, and process improvement of your product. You rely on them for the success of your day-to-day operations, and they have invested heavily in technology to ensure the success of your product. However, you are exploring ways to reduce costs.

When your incumbent supplier already acts as a strategic partner, the potential return on investment from pursuing alternate suppliers is significantly reduced. In fact, pursuing alternative suppliers can actually yield greater risk than reward. That’s because the supplier has provided you with capital investments that they have engineered and maintained, and the transition costs are likely to exceed the cost savings opportunities available with an alternate vendor. In addition, your current supplier has a comprehensive understanding of your product design, so they are less threatened by outside competitors who are likely working with imperfect information, and therefore less likely to reduce their pricing.

The Strategy

Rather than pursue alternative suppliers, you should engage the incumbent supplier in direct negotiations. Leverage the value your business brings to their operations; be upfront with your desire improve pricing; and be transparent about your procurement goals. Should negotiations prove unsuccessful, that may be a flag that your supplier is too complacent in the relationship, and alternate options can be explored at that time.

Scenario 2: The Unsolicited Proposal

Before reviewing a purchasing category, you reach out to suppliers within that category to notify them about your initiative. One supplier responds with an unsolicited proposal that reduces costs or otherwise increases value.

As a Supply Chain Project Analyst at Source One, this is a situation I encounter often. After a supplier realizes that their spend is being reviewed or a sourcing initiative is being considered, they attempt to get ahead of the process by offering up a proposal. The proposal typically includes a cost reduction in exchange for a longer contract or additional business.

The Strategy

The supplier is aware that their costs are not market competitive and are adjusting accordingly. However, while it may be tempting to award your existing supplier and reap the savings, it’s better to conduct a full sourcing initiative through an RFP, eAuction, or even an RFQ. At worst, you will have alternative bids to use as leverage with your incumbent supplier. At best, you can save a substantial amount of money. In fact, in my experience, the savings you can realize from alternate suppliers is often greater than the cost reduction proposed by the incumbent.

Scenario 3: Tactical Versus Centralised

Your business has been purchasing tactically in a particular category. The overall market basket is high mix, low volume, with very few recurring purchases to leverage for specialized pricing.

This is a common occurrence in indirect categories such as industrial supplies, industrial hardware, safety supplies, and office supplies. Employee preferences and unique company needs can influence purchasing, and standardization of products is nearly nonexistent.

The Strategy

 In this scenario, the continuation of tactical purchasing may seem like the most appealing option, as prompting a centralized supplier to bid on such an immense market basket would likely result in poor pricing and participation. However, it’s almost always prudent to conduct an RFP. Invite suppliers that can cover all required geographies and product categories. Focus on leveraging the overall value of the market basket to establish discount structures, rather than having suppliers exhaust resources pricing out an extensive product list.

To gauge the potential savings available, examine a random sampling of products and ask suppliers to apply the proposed discounts to those items to compare to your baseline price. If you do eventually move to a centralized account, lean on the supplier to drive product standardization and compliance. This will give you the opportunity to further refine pricing and terms down the line.

Other Strategies


Granted, not all sourcing events will fall into one of these three scenarios. However, there are some principles that can be applied universally:

  • Closely monitor the relationships with current suppliers
  • Don’t be afraid to shake up the status quo if a competitive event can yield cost savings or product improvements
  • Maintain clear and consistent communication between procurement and other departments
  • Above all, remember that the strategic sourcing process does not begin with the identification of an initiative, it thrives on the constant analysis of the current state of purchasing

Jennifer Engel is a Supply Chain Project Analyst at Source One Management Services, responsible for executing strategic sourcing and process improvement initiatives for Fortune 1000 clients.

This article was orginally published on the ThomasNet blog. 

Procurement Faces Balancing Act as Business Uncertainty Rises

According to new research from the Hackett Group, procurement faces a balancing act in 2016 thanks to rising business uncertainty.

  • Key issues research shows budgets and staff expected to rise slightly in 2016
  • The Hackett Group recommends that to improve agility and reduce cost, procurement must harness the value of Big Data and control tail spend

According to new Procurement Key Issues research from The Hackett Group, Procurement leaders expect operating budgets and staffing to increase slightly in 2016. This comes at a time as they attempt to balance the need to reduce costs, with the desire to become a better strategic business partners and other priorities. 

Increased business uncertainty and risk are driving a resurgence in traditional cost reduction strategies, according to research. At the same time, the research identified critical development gaps in four key procurement strategy areas:

  • Becoming a better strategic partner to the business.
  • Increasing spend influence.
  • Improving agility.
  • Tapping supplier innovation.

These are seen as important targets for capability development.

Harnessing Big Data

To improve agility, The Hackett Group’s research recommended that procurement organisations become more information-driven and harness the value of ‘Big Data’. Unfortunately, the research found that over half of the study respondents currently lacked a formal market intelligence program, or were only in the earliest stages of adoption.

Study respondents also identified predictive analytics and forecasting as the trend with the greatest transformational impact for procurement over the next decade.

Finally, The Hackett Group’s research recommended that, to unearth new sources of savings, procurement examine tail spend. This is­ the 20 per cent of spend that is spread thinly across up to 80 per cent of suppliers.

This is an area where most procurement organisations have not focused heavily.  But with effort, The Hackett Group estimates that savings of 3-5 per cent for less mature sourcing organisations is possible, in part by identification of high-dollar maverick spending that should have been strategically sourced.

A complimentary version of the research is available for download, following registration, here.

Cost Reduction Pressures

According to The Hackett Group Global Procurement Advisory Practice Leader, Chris Sawchuk, “For 2016, companies are expecting to see business uncertainty and risk increase, along with greater struggles to grow revenue. So the pressure to reduce costs is increasing. At the same time, procurement leaders need to balance this with other more strategic priorities, like becoming a better strategic business partner.

“This is challenging, because for 2016, procurement operating budgets are expected to increase by just 1.1 per cent, and staffing will only grow by 2.2 per cent. So procurement can only afford to fund its highest-priority initiatives. One clear differentiator we saw in the research this year was the recognition of the value of improved market intelligence.

“Procurement leaders are realising that higher-quality information can help them drive greater business value. Big data has been a game changer when it comes to customer analytics, offering an unprecedented ability to quickly model massive volumes of structured and unstructured data from multiple sources. But procurement’s lack of maturity in market intelligence is a significant obstacle that must be overcome,” said Mr. Sawchuk.

The Hackett Group’s 2016 Procurement Key Issues research  is based on results gathered from executives from nearly 180 large companies in the US and abroad, most with annual revenue of $1 billion or greater.

Chris Sawchuk is a keynote speaker at the Big Ideas Summit on April 21st. Chris will be talking about how procurement is applying key agile capabilities in the areas of leadership, talent, service placement and information-driven performance.

If you’re interested in finding out more, visit www.bigideassummit.com, join our Procurious group, and Tweet your thoughts and Big Ideas to us using #BigIdeas2016.

Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.