Tag Archives: supplier management

6 Ways To Prevent A Negotiation Blow Up

There’s no denying that negotiations can be tough. And the best thing you can do to lessen the tension and prevent a negotiation blow up is to be prepared…

Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy…

No, it’s not the start of an Eminem song… (well, it is, but that’s not what we’re getting at!)

You’re preparing for a big negotiation with a group of key suppliers and you’re already anticipating a disastrous outcome.

Perhaps you already know the people you’re dealing with are difficult to work with, or you’ve heard about their reputation.

Or maybe you know your own negotiation skills leave a lot to be desired when it comes to crisis management.

Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that negotiations can be tough. And the best thing you can do to lessen the tension and prevent a negotiation blow up is to be prepared.

We joined a recent Negotiation Roundtable organized by CABL (Conti Advanced Business Learning), a firm that specialises in Negotiation & Influencing, on the topic of Emotions and Negotiation. We wanted to hear advice from a number of procurement and sales leaders on how to keep your negotiations sweet.

Giuseppe Conti, the founder of CABL, led the conversation by discussing how emotions can influence decision making during negotiations and the ways to increase effectiveness when this factor is taken into account.

  1. Practice mindfulness

If you enter into your negotiation like a coiled spring, chances are the spring won’t stay coiled for long. The calmer you are the calmer you’re likely to remain for the duration of the meeting.

Olga Guerous, VP Commercial – Mars,  recalled a confrontation she experienced early on in her career. A particularly difficult supplier, who’s emotions were “all over the place” became so angry that he was forced to “leave the room midway through a negotiation and remained in the corridor for fifteen minutes in order to calm down.

“He came back and apologised but the situation wasn’t redeemable and he didn’t get what he wanted. Losing his temper made him lose any power and control he had in the negotiation. Having full control of your emotions is a key benefit in negotiations.”

Paul André, Director Reduced Risk Commercial Supply – JTI agreed, recommending, low breathing and mindfulness to help create a barrier to your emotions.

  1. Practice what you’re going to say

If you’re nervous or apprehensive about an impending negotiation, there’s nothing wrong with rehearsing in advance, to ensure you come across as intended.

Regina Roos, VP &  Sales Segment Leader Mineral and Mining – Schneider Electric,  said: “In the morning in front of the mirror I smile and practice some conversations, particularly ones that help you respond to people that are angry.

“When you are talking you can’t see yourself.  When you look in the mirror you can practice your facial expressions so it is not ironic or sarcastic. I call it ‘the mascara moment’.”

Francesco Lucchetta, Director EMEAI Supply – Pentair, agreed asserting the ” importance of making people aware of emotions without showing them, making an effort to keep the exchange respectful and controlled”

  1. Be physically prepared

Regina Roos recalled working with a procurement leader who took a very unique approach to managing his negotiations. At the beginning of every meeting and regularly throughout he would direct participants to the bathrooms.

“The need to take a break, to go to the toilet can create problems and impact on emotions during a negotiation. It’s good to take a minute, recharge your batteries and re-enter the discussion with a fresh perspective.”

Olga Guerous agreed in the importance of taking regular breaks throughout the negotiation process, even if it’s simply a break in the current conversation.  “It’s a powerful technique, when emotions are running high, to completely deviate from that topic, particularly if you believe you are going to have minimal success. Switch to a less contentious discussion and return to the difficult point later, whether it’s in a few minutes or a few hours.”

  1. Prepare to be confident

Preparation before a negotiation is crucial to help regulate emotions because it gives you the confidence to calmly assert your position and communicate your key points.

Ifti Ahmed, Managing Partner – Titanium Partners, argued that the most important way to control emotions is through self-confidence. “Confidence comes from preparation. If you’re prepared – you’re confident. If you think you’re going to win – you’re confident. If you think you’re going to lose – that’s when the emotions come into it.

If it helps you, don’t be ashamed of preparing everything you have to say in writing and sticking to that script.

  1. Plan your stand-up routine

There’s nothing like a touch of light humour to diffuse an escalating argument. Alessandra Silvano, Global Category Director CAPEX & MRO – Carlsberg, explained that his favourite way to blow out tension during negotiations is to crack a joke.

“Of course it has to be tactful, considered and culturally appropriate but it can be a useful and powerful way to break the tension.  Be sure you are not offending anyone and perhaps keep it exclusively to jokes about yourself!”

  1. Pick your venue wisely

Location-choice can make or break the success of your negotiation. If you want to ensure all participants remain civil, calm and professional there’s nothing like a neutral or public space to guarantee best behaviour.

“I’m a very emotional person and I find it difficult to process,” said Alessandra. “The venue of the negotiation has a big impact for me. I try to pick a relaxing, informal setting, such as a dinner. In an office environment it’s easy to get angry. In a nice restaurant I’m more relaxed and it’s easier to joke around and control emotions.”

Eight Critical Actions for Managing Your Supplier Pool

Establishing a pool of preferred or pre-qualified suppliers is  a great idea as long as you are actively managing your supplier pool.  Here’s how it’s done…

Last year Government Technology published an article describing how the state of Colorado has turned to a process they call “mini-RFP’s” to streamline and expedite procurement in their IT category.

The author Jessica Mulholland reports the state performed a prequalification of vendors and awarded multiple contracts to address a “specific set of issues and implementations”.

This select group of vendors operating under pre-negotiated legal terms are solicited when new work comes up.  The lowest bidder is awarded leveraging their prenegotiated terms and conditions.

This is a concept that I have seen quite a few times before.  Many private organisations operate in this manner.  Essentially awarding MSA’s that include no rates or commercial terms, just legal terms.

It should be noted that the reason this is more expeditious is because it streamlines the contracting portion of the procurement process.  This isn’t a shortcut to procurement, you still need a scope of work, you still need a bid period, and you still need analysis.  The time saved is the time with legal.

Prequalification of suppliers isn’t anything new, but it is a unique approach in public procurement.  I’m no expert on the legality of this as a government practice, but I will address this from a private business perspective.

1.Agreements without Commercial Rates

Perhaps this is a nuance of the public sector and possibly the reason why the state of Colorado can have a closed bid, but in private business there is simply no good reason to have an MSA without pre-negotiated rates.  Nonetheless, I have seen this quite a few times.  If you are going to go so far as to negotiate legal terms, locking in rates and commercial terms should be a no-brainer.

2. Obstacles to inclusion

If you plan to add a pre-qualification process to your organisation, consider keeping the process simple and straight-forward.  It should not take more than a couple of weeks to complete the process.  Anything more than that and you may find that your process becomes an obstacle for inclusion.

3. Scale the Pool

Be sure to have a large enough pool to allow for multiple projects to occur at the same time without depleting your bench.  There is nothing worse than having an emergency project when all of your pre-qualified vendors are at capacity and you have no one left to award.

4. Diversify your Pool

Your pool of pre-qualified suppliers should be as diverse as the projects you contract.  When I talk of diversity here, I’m not speaking of minority owned businesses.  That is important too, but more than that you need to make sure your pool of vendors has large firms for the big projects as well as small firms for the small projects.  Don’t just include all the big guys or you may find you have no one at all.

5. Score Performance

If you are going to establish a pool of pre-qualified suppliers it’s important to score each performance.  Develop Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to evaluate how the suppliers performed and make sure to collect a report for each engagement.  This will give you actionable data to evaluate the performance of each supplier.

6. Aggregate and Report KPI’s

Grading the suppliers on each project is essential, but when you collect and aggregate that data across a year, now you have powerful data.  Anyone can have a bad project, but with a consolidated view of a vendors performance over a year, you can address specific problems, identify weaknesses, and generally grade each supplier objectively. With this data, you can elevate suppliers that perform well and downgrade those who perform poorly.

7. Evaluate your Pool at Least Once per Year

With your performance data in hand, you should meet with your suppliers annually and share the results of your scoring.  This may be a difficult conversation, but if you are basing your comments on facts, it will be easier.  In addition to reviewing existing suppliers, this is the time to look outside of your pool to identify new or up-and-coming suppliers to add.  You should also evaluate the state of your organisation to right-size your pool.

8. Update your Agreements

Above all else, don’t let agreement expire.  Track the end of all agreements and create reminders on your calendar to ensure you are proactively renewing, terminating, or renegotiating agreements before they expire.

Establishing a pool of preferred or pre-qualified suppliers is  a great idea as long as you are actively managing your supplier pool.  Keep on top of your contracts and you will soon see the fruits of your labor.

Do you have prenegotiated or prequalified Suppliers in your organisation?  If so, do you follow these recommendations?  Are there any best practices you recommend?  Tell me your stories.


This article was originally published on Luis Gile’s website. Check out more of his content here. 

Sign up for today’s webinar: Clean Up Your Act! Category Management AI-Style. 

How Not To Break Up With Suppliers: 5 Tips From the Movies

What can Hugh Grant, Will Ferrell and Homer Simpson teach us about ending important relationships in procurement?

Credit: PolyGram/Working Title Films, Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Knowing me, knowing you (a-haaaa)
We just have to face it
This time we’re through
Breaking up is never easy, I know
But I have to go…

ABBA – Knowing Me, Knowing You (1976)

I’m not the first to draw a parallel between romantic break-ups and ending a relationship with a strategic supplier. The similarities are many: the relationships may have existed for years (decades in some cases), you’ve been through both good times and bad together, and sometimes your two companies are so interwoven that there can be no hope of a clean break.

But… all good things must come to an end sooner or later. Without going into the tell-tale signs of when it’s time to let a supplier go (that’s an article in itself), I’d like to concentrate on how not to end a supplier relationship. And – once again – let’s look to Hollywood to provide an illustration for each point.

1. Don’t make a shock announcement

“Ricky – you and I – we both know this marriage has been over for a long, long time.”

“I honestly did NOT know that!”

Don’t be like Carley Bobby in Talladega Nights. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a shock break-up, it’s incredibly unpleasant for the person who was hitherto living under the assumption that things were going smoothly.

Giving your suppliers no hint that the relationship isn’t working is both unfair and unprofessional. Break-up “shock” can be avoided by holding regular and ongoing catch-ups where KPIs are tracked and red flags discussed, along with honest communication about your organisation’s willingness to continue the relationship into the future.

Don’t be fake! If you’re deeply unhappy with your supplier’s performance but you’re all smiles and encouragement whenever you meet, it really won’t help the situation as the supplier will see no reason to make changes or improvements.

And who knows? If you’re able to have an honest discussion with your supplier about why you won’t be renewing their contract, it may become the catalyst for a change in behaviour that ends up removing the need to break up altogether.

2. Don’t be blasé

“Welcome to Dumpsville, population: YOU.”

Don’t be like Homer Simpson. After it’s revealed that Bart has tricked Edna Krabappel with a series of fake love letters, the Simpson family rally around to compose a final letter that will sensitively end the relationship without further breaking the heart of poor Edna. Homer, unfortunately, just doesn’t get it.

Don’t be flippant. Be serious – the decision to change suppliers can potentially impact people’s careers and livelihoods. In the case of small suppliers, it may even bring them to the brink of bankruptcy if your business makes up a high proportion of their income.

Make time for a proper conversation. Schedule a face-to-face meeting if possible, or a phone call as the next-best option – but don’t hide behind an email.

Similarly …

3. Don’t be cold

“Rhett! If you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

After Rhett Butler delivers this zinger to Scarlett O’Hara in the closing moments of Gone With The Wind, she collapses sobbing on the stairwell. Scarlett is heartbroken, and clearly needs help – but Rhett has already gone, striding determinedly off into the heavy fog.

The equivalent behaviour in procurement would involve calling a supplier to end the relationship, then hanging up without giving them an opportunity to debrief and discuss. It’s entirely possible that the supplier won’t want to talk (and might even hang up on you), but if they do want a discussion you need to make yourself available.

To share a story from my FMCG days, I remember sitting next to a procurement colleague who had the unenviable job of ending a relationship with a small supplier over the phone. The call lasted about one and a half hours. After the initial, difficult part of the conversation, the supplier asked her for advice on what they should do next – and that’s when the whole tone of the conversation shifted to that of a positive coaching session. By the end of the call, the supplier was still understandably upset but also armed with plenty of advice for the future.

One last thing to keep in mind is that business requirements are cyclical. Although you may not want to work with a particular supplier any more, who knows what the situation will be a few years down the track. If you ended the relationship coldly or otherwise unprofessionally, it’s going to be very difficult to pick up from where you left off.

4. Don’t do it at the wrong time

“Do you love someone else? Do you, Charles?”

“… I do.”

Don’t be like Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. While he ultimately makes the right decision, his shocking timing earns him a much-deserved punch to the face from his jilted bride.

In a way this advice contradicts what I wrote above about keeping your suppliers fully informed about how the relationship is going, but you do need to use some common sense when it comes to picking your moment.

Suppliers who value a relationship will often go the extra mile, whether this means putting more staff onto a project, or working additional hours without passing those costs on to you. It pays to keep in mind that once a supplier knows they’re soon to be let go, they may not perform with quite so much gusto in those last few weeks or months of the contract.

Another parallel to help illustrate this point is when someone in your team is working out the last few weeks of their employment after taking a redundancy – you’re never going to see their best work in that period.

5. Don’t send mixed messages

“Please don’t go.”

“I am not spending the rest of my life with a loser. I’m gone.”

 “Good, then get the hell out of my life! Who needs you? Beat it! Leave me alone! … [2 seconds later] “I’m sorry baby, I didn’t mean that either…”

Adam Sandler is at his best in this scene from Happy Gilmore where he’s alternately screaming abuse and crooning love songs into his apartment building’s intercom. While he desperately wants to stop his girlfriend leaving, he’s also consumed by a schizophrenic desire to get in the last, angry word.

Suppliers want to know where they stand with you and your organisation so they can plan for the future and invest in your relationship with confidence. Again; good communication, honesty and transparency are the way to go. Crystal-clear KPIs will help you clearly delineate where suppliers are performing well, and where they need to improve if they want their contract renewed.

The other factor that can muddy the waters of supplier relationships is misalignment within your own organisation. This can involve the supplier receiving contradictory messages from the different parts of your organisation that they work with, pulling them in different directions and ultimately harming their ability to meet your company’s overall requirements.

Do you have another example from cinema that illustrates one of the points above? Share a link below!

3 Ways To Take The Pain Out of Contract Management

Managing supplier contracts is one of the most fundamental and, arguably, simple tasks undertaken by procurement teams. But for many it’s also a major source of anxiety. So why does procurement find it so difficult to successfully manage supplier contracts?

 

Given the ever-improving technology landscape and growing popularity of cloud-based SaaS solutions, one would assume that effective contract management is now commonplace among procurement professionals. Almost a hygiene factor, surely? Not in our experience.

The key challenge is maintaining contract repositories with rigour and to the high standards required. But even where organisations have well-embedded enterprise resource planning systems, this alone does not guarantee that contracts are being successfully managed.

This is rarely about a lack of willingness to improve the process – in fact, most teams are hugely concerned about it, with the majority actively looking for better ways to manage contracts.

Why so hard?

Supplier contracts provide a detailed overview of the pipeline of current and upcoming projects within an organisation. Without this line of sight, the procurement function is likely to be on the backfoot when projects end and contracts terminate. This is of particular concern in areas such as telecoms and software, where significant penalties are charged when contracts automatically roll over.`

Much of the problem lies with how contracts are filed, stored and updated – often in multiple systems or, even worse, in individual desk drawers across many different departments depending on who ‘owns’ them. As a result, procurement can potentially have zero visibility over many contracts, creating significant risks if suppliers are not being managed effectively throughout the contract lifecycle.

Given that up to 70% of spend is repeated year on year, failing to have visibility over contract expirations and extensions in sufficient time to fully leverage all the strategic sourcing levers available means vital savings opportunities are likely to slide under the radar.

Easy as 1, 2, 3

A well-maintained and up-to-date contract repository can provide a complete overview of all contracts in operation – from those in a supplier cluster, e.g. a central supplier contract with several sub-contracts to those that function company-wide.

The key is integrating contract management into everyday processes so that it becomes part of what procurement teams do rather than an afterthought. Three quick steps to achieving this are to:

  1. Make your team accountable – Include contract KPIs in your procurement team’s objectives. All buyers and category managers should be responsible for ensuring that they hold signed supplier contracts for the categories they work on. It should be their responsibility to gather them from other departments, even though they are not the ‘owners’, and to upload them into a contract management solution.
  2. Capitalise on the results – Procurement leaders should routinely review their teams’ compliance with keeping contract management solutions up to date and actively use the output to drive better category planning and organise quarterly workloads.
  3. Choose the right technology solution – Using a standalone contract management solution is helpful, but on its own it can get neglected very quickly. Select an integrated procurement technology solution that links contract management with other modules such as spend analytics and supplier performance management. An integrated solution that connects different modules together provides more insightful output that can inform better decision-making, e.g. linking spend analytics with contract management allows procurement teams to track supplier contract compliance and ‘spend under management’ – key indicators to how well procurement is doing within the wider organisation.

The way forward

Embedding contract management best practices into the procurement function and then incentivising the team to keep the repository up to date is crucial. Centralising information storage and assigning responsibility for maintaining it takes the guesswork out of who manages which contract within a large business – vitally important when managing multiple contracts.

Once this is in place the procurement function can then use the combined data to define company-wide procurement initiatives spanning numerous projects, managing risks and spend in a way that would not have been possible before. Now that’s not so hard is it?

Download The Source for our latest insights in procurement and supply chain management.

Improve Contract Compliance by Thinking Like Sales…Not Procurement

Call us crazy but we reckon Procurement would be better off looking at the Contract Management process the same way sales does…

Forest Foxy/Shutterstock.com

If you’re anything like me as a procurement practitioner, you think of our end-to-end process in a linear fashion. It usually starts with spend analysis or some other source of information (budget, ERP, BI system output, etc.) and ends with Contract Management and/or Supplier Performance Management. For us, this is completely logical because the sub-processes that we view as the most “active” portions of procurement – strategic sourcing and negotiation – have been dealt with at this point.

In Contract Management and Supplier Performance there is something of a phased handoff back to the budget owners. After all, the spend we bring under management is rarely associated with a procurement need; we are often just temporary custodians of someone else’s spend.

Unfortunately, the procurement phase that covers implementation and ongoing Contract Management includes the following two milestones:

  • The majority of the supplier’s value is created for the business.
  • Weaknesses and disturbances come to light, threatening to diminish total value and reduce contract compliance.

Procurement may see the contract phase as the end of the project, but our internal stakeholders (and in many cases, our suppliers) see this as the beginning of the effort. Everything up to this point has been theoretical, now it is real.

Contract compliance: think like sales

As crazy as it sounds, procurement would be better off looking at the Contract Management process the same way sales does. The day after you sign a contract is the first day of a new sales cycle. Your contract win is a prospect once again, maybe not for the same product or service they just bought, but for expanded coverage, increased volume, a longer commitment, or an alternate type of offering. This is the worst possible time to go hands-off, especially if you think there is the potential for more business.

Procurement may be guaranteed “more business” from their captive clients (a.k.a., internal stakeholders), but if those clients aren’t satisfied with the services and support they receive, they have no incentive to be loyal; to procurement or to the contract. In the alternate scenario, procurement stays involved to ensure a smooth transition to the new contract and serves as an advocate for the business as well as the supplier during the agreement lifespan. In this case, spend is far more likely to stay on contract where it lowers risk, increases savings, and delivers the desired value.

Here are a few examples of how procurement’s proactive investment in contract compliance can build loyalty for the future:

If the shirt fits…

In a sourcing project for driver uniforms at a freight company, several business divisions were combining their demand for the very first time. Each division brought their supplier and their current service levels to the table. Although being an incumbent was an advantage, the mandate was to select one provider for the whole company. This would inevitably lead to someone losing their incumbent so another division could keep theirs. After the selection was made, procurement redirected the team members who had been responsible for the sourcing effort to manage the rollout at the division transitioning to the new supplier. This not only minimized disruption to the business, it prevented the rise of resentment – something that could easily have lowered compliance and become a barrier for future sourcing efforts.

Have your supplier’s back

Sometimes you can tell that compliance is going to be an issue before the ink on the contract is dry. During a reverse auction for “35% water-added ham” at a wholesale grocer, procurement discovered that the category owner was secretly telling their incumbent supplier what they needed to do in order to win. After much drama, the supplier was excluded from the business because of their willingness to undermine the negotiation process. That left us with a guarantee of a new supplier and an ANGRY category owner. No supplier selected at that point was going to have an easy time with implementation. Knowing that contract compliance would be an issue, procurement took extra time to include metrics and SLAs in the agreement and worked with the new supplier to ensure that they would be able to report their performance back in detail. This effectively created a framework where they could quantitatively prove their performance. The wholesaler got the product they needed and the supplier was protected from unfair, costly complaints about their performance. Orders for “35% water-added ham” were placed and fulfilled with no disruption to local grocery chains. Yum.

Compliance credit where it’s due.

If procurement goes hands-off during Contract Management, we get no credit for value creation, but full credit for having created the circumstances leading to buyer inconvenience and frustration. The amazing thing is, that effective Contract Management is borne out when projected savings become realized savings – or not. And actual purchases become managed spend – or not. Without active Contract Management, there is a good chance that procurement’s efforts will be undermined and we’ll inadvertently create a tense relationship with internal stakeholders who we will, no doubt, need to work with again in the future.

In a Determine webinar featuring Spend Matters’ Jason Busch, Contract Compliance: Why It Matters to Procurement, he stated that contract compliance is more important than procurement performance. Strong words, but there are many components to that truth — and it’s a must-watch on-demand video.

Contract compliance and procurement’s role in ensuring it are a big and growing topic. You’ll find information on the subject in Determine’s extensive library of resources, or contact them to schedule a personalized demonstration of the Determine Cloud Platform.

This blog was orginally written for Determine by Kelly Barner .

Procurement Is Everywhere But It Wears Hundreds Of Disguises

When procurement wears a mask, layers of stage make-up or one of its other many disguises, you might find it tricky to identify. But, as Daniel Ball explains, procurement is everywhere and in all of our organisations- it might just be presenting itself in a different way…

Alexander Raths/Shutterstock.com

It’s fair to say that, as a concept, procurement tends to be associated with large businesses.

However, any organisation from the smallest to the largest buys things that they need from chosen suppliers. And, however small the organisation, they face much of the same procurement challenges that we all do. So why do we not consider them all to be ‘in procurement’?

The many disguises of procurement

In reality, the entry point starts when a business begins and evolves in sophistication and complexity with their growth. Although we think of procurement in terms of an established function, role or set of rules, much of the practical procurement going on out there is actually in a formative or evolutionary stage, depending on the maturity and needs of the organisation in question.

This is a vital insight for those of us working to support the procurement profession. We have to remember that we’re not dealing with a perfect procurement-badged world, nor one which conforms to all of the industry buzzwords and ‘best practices’.

In most cases, we’re dealing with people in a state of flux, who might well not call themselves procurement professionals; after all, there are hundreds of different guises in which procurement presents itself. This is particularly prevalent in high growth mid-sized businesses who are feeling the pain of change or ‘growing up’ more severely than most.

What challenges do mid-sized companies face?

Wax Digital wanted to find out what kind of challenges mid-sized companies are faced with during expansion.  We asked 200 senior business management and procurement professionals at fast-growth, mid-sized UK businesses about the pain points they have experienced as their organisation has grown.

Without giving too much away, here are 3 of the key highlights our research uncovered; demonstrating the kinds of procurement-related issues hampering their ability to support business growth.

  1. 83 per cent of respondents surveyed said they didn’t challenge their suppliers on cost or performance adequately, whilst 78 per cent struggled to control spend, citing departmental purchasing autonomy as a problem. Three quarters also said that they don’t have sufficient purchasing technology or systems in place to keep up with the pace of growth.
  2. UK mid-sized businesses have a broad range of growth challenges that are all linked back to both upstream and downstream procurement needs. Even though they’re not yet talking procurement these businesses are dealing with procurement’s problems and need a solution.
  3. In fact, mid-sized businesses are perhaps the segment of the UK economy most in need of professional procurement practice. Their reasons for, and rate of, change are so extreme they must get their house in order before it becomes too unwieldy and difficult to control.

The results of the research will be revealed in full next week via Wax Digital’s website.

What are your media consumption habits?

Wax Digital are conducting a quick survey to understand more about how procurement professionals use media for work. If you’ve got a few minutes spare to tell us how you stay on top of latest industry news and trends, we’d love to hear from you!  It’s just a few simple questions on your media consumption habits. And, to say thanks, we’ll put your name into a draw to win a £200 donation to a charity of your choice.  Complete the survey here.

Why “Free Help” With Buying Decisions Costs More

As consumers, we’re wary of so-called “free” products and services as there’s always a hidden cost. Why, then, are procurement teams willing to accept free help with supplier selection?

Businesses often seek help with their buying decisions, especially in complicated categories such as telco or energy. Preparing an RFP requires a willingness to trudge through data swamps, while analysing supplier responses requires more than a strong coffee to do properly.

When a third-party broker says that they’ll help – for free – the temptation is to say yes, if only to avoid data swamps and caffeine addiction. However, you need to keep in mind that the people who help “for free” are still going to get paid, just not directly by you. They’ll collect their pay from your suppliers who are willing to pay a commission to get the opportunity to service your organisation. In turn, those suppliers recover commissions from their customers (you), either as a line item on the bill or through higher prices. In the end, you’re still paying for the service, just not up-front.

For large businesses with lots of cost centres, this can be a good way to share the cost of getting help. Branch stores pay their bills and, without realising it, pay for the help you received through higher prices. Procurement managers who use this approach can look like heroes because they claim savings and a successful outcome without having to win broad company endorsement for using expensive 3rd-party assistance.

Selecting suppliers for the wrong reasons

The danger of commission payments is that different suppliers pay different amounts. Some commissions contain a ratchet mechanism with longer contract terms, while higher contract values generate higher commissions.

Unfortunately, brokers who offer their services for free are incentivised to select the suppliers who pay them the most, rather than those who deliver the greatest value to the customer. The usual outcome is long-dated contracts with a single source supplier. At least the billing is easy, but your business will end up paying more in the long-term due to lack of value.

Up-front payments

Paying brokers up-front changes their incentives. Instead of focusing on supplier commissions, they now focus on demonstrating their value to you in a bid to win further business from your organisation. “Brokers” go upmarket and call themselves “consultants”, working harder to realise the greatest-possible savings and service levels. Customer and consultant incentives align.

The positive consequences of fee-for-service payments are shorter contract terms and more suppliers. Shorter contracts reflect a balance between testing market prices with the logistics of changing suppliers. Having more suppliers means you are able to split your requirements across the lowest priced suppliers to get the best possible price for your portfolio of demand, rather than being herded toward a single-source supplier.

“Free” services in IT

For software companies, “free” represents a gateway product, or a way of demonstrating the value of a software product to the customer. It means the software provider doesn’t have to employ a slick-suited sales person and can scale the work of their t-shirt clad developers. Salesforce, one of the leading dealers of enterprise SaaS, costs their customers on average $45,000 per annum. The entry level CRM package is $5 per user but customers quickly pay more to satisfy their needs, getting more value from the base CRM product as they buy additional features and capability.

Our approach at Kansoly is the same. We’re a cloud-based telco procurement platform for businesses running RFPs and reverse auctions. Our base product is free, where we offer to run a telco RFP for you for nothing. What’s in it for us? We gain customer insights and supplier engagement, both vital for making our product better and delivering more value to our larger, fee-paying customers. Our free customers get competition for their services and cost analysis that they would otherwise have to invest in.

Brokers and consultants have always been part of the procurement landscape, but their incentives are defined by the way they’re paid. However, the development of Saas procurement platforms increasingly means that free offers aren’t always related to low-value outcomes.

Bruce Macfarlane is the founder of Kansoly, a telco procurement platform for business. Kansoly runs RFPs and reverse auctions for data, mobile, or fixed line.

Five Reasons Supplier Diversity Matters

We’re often told that supplier diversity is important for any business. But are you able to articulate exactly why this is?

Ink Drop/Shutterstock.com

Here’s a cheat-sheet to help you next time a business stakeholder asks why your organisation needs a supplier diversity programme.

1. Supply managers created a lack of diversity, so it’s up to us to fix it

There’s now a level of recognition that the historical underutilisation of diverse businesses is the fault of supply management professionals.

Contributing factors include a narrow focus on cost over other value, restrictive criteria for suppliers, inflexible and non-scalable policies. Underpinning these is a tendency for big business to be most comfortable working similarly sized entities.

A 2009 study from Pew Research has found that while minority-owned firms made up 41 per cent of all companies in the U.S., they only took in 10.9 per cent of overall revenue.

Here’s the good news. Procurement and supply managers are leading the charge to address the issue, with diversity spend now firmly on the agenda and rising every year.

Reversing the contributing factors above has led to a more inclusive focus on overall value (including social benefits) over cost, flexible and scalable policies and criteria for suppliers. There is also a recognition that the strongest business relationships are often made with smaller, more diverse suppliers.

There’s an impressive array of conferences and organisations dedicated to improving supplier diversity, including:

2. Customers are increasingly expecting diversity

Simply put, your customer base is diverse, so your business needs to be diverse as well. Partnerships with diverse suppliers will give your business a competitive advantage when facing changing customer demographics.

For example, if you operate in an area with a rapidly-growing minority population, your key relationships with minority-owned suppliers will become more important than ever.

While the public relations aspect shouldn’t be the prime reason for having a supplier diversity programme, it’s still important to track, measure and report on your diverse supplier base to win recognition from your customers for the work you have done in this area.

3. Diversity drives innovation

A study by CHI Research determined that small businesses generate 13-14 times more patents per employee than large firms. Since diverse suppliers tend to be small businesses, many companies use their supplier diversity programmes to tap into new and varied creative resources and the innovation that is occurring at these firms.

The fierce competition for business amongst diverse suppliers is another driver for innovation. Essentially, diversity brings a number of different backgrounds and life experiences into your supplier mix to overcome homogenous thinking with fresh new perspectives.

4. Diverse suppliers are often more flexible

Similarly, because most diverse suppliers are small businesses, they are usually able to offer greater flexibility, better customer focus and lower cost structures than larger businesses. Smaller, diverse suppliers are less likely to be tied down by restrictive policy, red-tape or innovation-stifling bureaucracy.

5. Well-known organisations are leading the way

Finally, some of the world’s leading companies are moving ahead with impressive supplier diversity programmes. Microsoft, for example, has recently exceeded $2 billion in annual spend with M/WBE businesses.

Another technology giant, Google, launched a best-practice supplier diversity programme in 2015. It brings key partners into the Google Academy for shared learning opportunities that will drive further innovation.

AT&T celebrate their suppliers as one of their “four pillars of diversity”, the other three being the organisation’s employees, community and marketing.

If your organisation’s supplier diversity programme is still only in its infancy, it’s important to increase your focus on this area or risk being left behind.

Interested in learning more about Diversity in Procurement? Register for ISM Diversity 2017, taking place March 1-3 in Orlando, Florida.

Carving Out a Niche in the Supply Market

Large organisations are no longer a closed shop for small, niche suppliers. In fact, they are now being actively sought out for their skills.

Carlos andre Santos/Shutterstock.com

Procurious is at ProcureCon IT in Amsterdam this week. Stay up to date with what’s happening on Procurious, and by following us on Twitter.

The procurement profession has started to come to the conclusion that bigger isn’t always necessarily better. This is particularly the case when it comes to suppliers. Larger suppliers may be able to offer lower costs, and greater security but when it comes to agility and innovation,  niche suppliers are the ones for the job.

Traditionally, these smaller suppliers have been bunched into the ‘tail spend’ classification. However, procurement has realised that by allowing the tail to wag the dog, as it were, opportunities are being missed. Niche vendors have creative and unique methods of communicating and innovating that procurement should be tapping into.

Identifying and managing niche vendors was the topic of a very informative panel discussion at ProcureCon IT this afternoon. Chaired by Procurious founder, Tania Seary, the panel also included:

  • Soren Mølby Henriksen – Head of Procurement Innovation, Danske Bank
  • Claire Tapping, Head of Sourcing & Commercial – IT and Business Process Outsourcing, Rolls Royce
  • Samantha McCarthy, Global Procurement Manager IT, Reckitt Benckiser

Niche Suppliers a “Source of Innovation”

The question for procurement often isn’t finding smaller suppliers, but how to engage them. Traditional procurement processes are set up for larger suppliers, and it’s a much too onerous process for suppliers without similar resources.

But, as the panellists pointed out, large organisations are now turning an increasing amount of attention towards niche suppliers and adapting their contracts accordingly to be less risk averse.

Soren Mølby-Henriksen  noted that, within five years, banks won’t exist. The future of banking is digital, and it might take niche vendors to help this evolution.

Danske Bank recently stepped into the start-up market to source innovative suppliers. Mølby-Henriksen discussed why start-ups were such a big focus for Danske Bank’s procurement team. The set up in the procurement team is to address specific “pain points”. The bank has brought together a variety of suppliers, including start-ups, to conduct a dialogue on solving these issues.

Once solutions are found, they are documented, and then matured to see how they can be implemented. Although the process is relatively new, it’s found some solid support amongst Danske Bank’s suppliers.

Another positive for the procurement team is that it’s also helped to reduce negotiation time, as many discussions are happening up front.

Engagement a Mindset Shift

While Danske Bank appears to have found a way to engage niche suppliers, it’s still an issue for many organisations.

Claire Tapping discussed how there can be some initial pushback when it comes to engaging smaller companies over concerns that it might be too risky to do so.

But she believes it is often proven easier to negotiate with niche vendors who aren’t restricted by a hierarchy of governance and teams of lawyers trying to mitigate risks. Another benefit of niche vendors is that they have a smaller focus. As such, they tend to do what they do to a higher standard than a larger organisation.

Leveraging competencies, while keeping suppliers engaged can also be a challenging proposition.

The panellists agreed that the impact of disruptors, such as blockchain and bitcoin, on the Financial sector was driving a need for change. But, this change involved a serious mindset shift for many of the financial organisations.

Procurement needed to shift it’s business angle to fully understand what they were doing before they entered the market. The vendor space in IT and technology is a completely different beast, where suppliers might not work with you if your business isn’t trendy enough.

Agility & Responsiveness Key

The final tips for engaging niche suppliers was the key role that agility and responsiveness played for procurement. Claire Tapping highlighted the issues procurement faces in keeping pace with business changes.

Relationships and engagement with the suppliers would rely on procurement becoming a “customer of choice” for the smaller suppliers. Without staying more agile, procurement could face a situation where the supplier is brought in by the business. If this happened, procurement is left playing catch up, and its value is diminished.

For procurement in financial services, niche suppliers open up a whole host of possibilities. As Tapping reminded us today, many organisations bring in the smaller vendors because they don’t know what they want!  Once the suppliers are on board, there’s more new thinking in order to ensure great engagement.

How this plays out will be interesting to see, as procurement in other industries will need to do likewise, probably in the very near future.

How to Change the Game with Sole Suppliers

Sole suppliers – you might think you’re stuck with them in procurement. But once you know the why, you can plan a change for the better.

This article was first published on Future Proofitable. 

In the first part of this series, I discussed how sole supplier situations can occur. From monopolies, to high exit barriers and business attitudes, there are a number of reasons procurement might find itself in this situation.

But now we know how these occur, the question to ask is how we can do something about them.

Sole Suppliers – Can you do anything about it?

Definitely – yes. What you can do depends on what you are dealing with, and which stage in the process you are in.

1. Product Selection

If you can avoid buying the product in question, you should. You can also head off the sole sourcing situation by being involved in a process as early as possible. Making products in house is an option too.

You may also be able to find a provider who offers similar services or products, and convince them to adjust their offering to your requirements. Integrate vertically by buying your supplier and making them your internal provider.

2. Tender or Category Strategy Review

Assess the full lifecycle of the product or service. Analyse what, if any, additional costs are related to object you are purchasing.

Study alternative sources of supply, or look at the make vs. buy decision again. Even if you choose to buy, when the time comes to create negotiation leverage, you will have done half your homework already.

Choose the right way of buying. If it is possible, could you buy machines and servicing or maintenance separately? Or, on the other hand, could you bundle the products and service together?

Prepare a good contract in advance, and communicate it upfront. Build in price review mechanisms and no-penalty exit clauses. Alternatively, invest time in developing a full SLA, and ensuring this lasts for the whole relationship.

Share the information (technical, legal, commercial) early in the process with all suppliers. Cross-validate information and responses with specialists or 3rd party service providers. Finally, analyse proposals with the purpose of identifying “unique” solutions.

3. Analyse Sole Suppliers Business Needs and Decision Drivers

What time of the year is it and when does their financial year finish? Is there a reason to believe that tendering on a specific time frame might give you better or worse conditions?

  • Like buying grain just after new harvest data is clear and not based on assumptions
  • Or negotiating with software companies closer to their financial year end, when they are likely to be more aggressive with pricing.

Consider geographical aspects. If you are negotiating with a large multi-national, perform a market test of their pricing policy in different countries. You might be surprised that a branch, located somewhere further away from the central function would get a better group deal purely because of the location.

What sales strategy are they using? Are they more aggressive with the pricing of new solutions or new technology? Are they interested in growth? Market entry? Stopping their competitor entry? Can you invite someone new, who is not yet in the market? Does the size of the contract matter?

Do not forget to negotiate small value adding add-ons and other benefits to the contract. You can ‘sell’ positive references, feedback and referrals. You can help to reduce the supplier’s risks and become a better customer (implementing electronic ordering and invoicing tools, consolidating POs).

Or you could threaten them with moving to an alternative supplier, or bring one in.

4. Business Strategy

One thing to think about might be a change to your business strategy. Could you move the location of your HQ (for a critical product), or give up certain markets or products?

You could invest in in-house R&D, work with laboratories and universities. While doing this, educate business users. Challenge old ways of working, and help to eliminate all pseudo-sole suppliers.

Re-evaluate short term switching costs and compare them against long term business losses, if you decide (once again) not to change anything.

Should you do anything at all?

That is the question, too. The saying goes “nothing personal, just business”. Procurement should also be business oriented and invest its resources where they matter.

Should you start any project? Well, that depends. If this is something that you must do routinely (review a category or contract), you might consider how much time and effort to invest. And similarly, if the prize you are after is big enough, it’s probably worth spending time on it.

Based on the situation your business is in, you should perform opportunity analysis and evaluate your expectations. It’s not only about the size of the spend.

With sole suppliers, there is another level of complexity to be evaluated – the nature of the business situation. You can do this for single supplier situations, too.

For the categories mentioned above, approximate ratio of effort to success are shown in the graph below. Required effort is a relative number and can vary in units of measurement (days, weeks, months, people involved).

roe

It’s only one part of the equation in that it performs a sense check from Procurement’s perspective.

Weighing Dissatisfaction vs. Change

Another key part in projects like this is implementation. In many cases, it can (and will) end up in a change project. If you don’t want Procurement’s credibility to suffer, you must make sure that savings promised and savings achieved are as close as possible.

If the dissatisfaction with the sole supplier situation outweighs resistance to change, and if you have a plan on how to act, you increase the chances of success.

At the same time, it suggests what you can do if any side of the equation is not favourable. You can increase internal dissatisfaction among key stakeholders (clearly communicate risks and losses of the situation to finance people), or reduce resistance to the project (get the buy-in from engineering, technology, sales and other departments).