I read an article that reminded me of an incident that is worth sharing. I was working in a very large food company and as a consultant and we recommended a new organization structure for procurement. We had evaluated a purchasing director who was talented, respected by his team and technically very good. As I approached the CEO and recommended the employee for the promotion, he objected and responded, “no way”. We discussed the employee and he agreed that my observation of his skills was correct. Then the CEO commented that the employee gave an awful presentation in front of his team and lost credibility. He was concerned that the senior staff would be disappointed with the appointment. The decision was made to recruit from outside the company.
Sometimes you only have one chance to make a first impression. Many of us are not comfortable making presentation or speaking in front of large crowds. While this is a soft skill it is essential for success in a career in procurement or supply chain. The ability to logically present a business case, influence and persuade others could help you to either elevate or sink your career. When conducting training classes, I often encourage all participants to take the leadership role and make presentations for the team. I’m always surprised that many people are comfortable taking a back seat when it comes to presentations. I’ve had people outright refuse to participate. Once a participant told me, “I don’t do presentations.” Unfortunately that was said in front of an HR and Management representatives auditing the class. I don’t think they survived the incident. The class room and meetings with peers are perfect places to perfect this critical skill.
The moral of this story is that everyone needs to take inventory of the soft skills and develop them. Business presentations are a critical skill, don’t neglect it.
Will the soft skills enhance or sink your career?
This week I read that Wendy’s has ordered 1,000 Kiosks to replace workers at 1,000 of its store locations. Lowes building supply stores have been trialing customer service robots since 2014 and now are rolling out LoweBots in California to handle simple customer requests and provide real-time inventory monitoring. This made me think; if retailers are replacing their customer-facing sales teams, what is the future of sales representatives to industrial buyers? The more I research, the more I realize the future is grim for the old-style sales person.
To challenge my thinking, I asked a group of purchasing professionals in the electronics industry their thoughts on the topic and the results are not surprising. Many said that they have little time to devote to meeting sales people and they feel no need to spend time and effort on a conversation about products that they can see and evaluate online.
Forrester research forecasts over 1 million salespeople involved in business to business transactions will lose their jobs to self-service e-commerce by the year 2020. The procurement professionals I polled would rather research and buy online than through a sales representative. Many are demanding that their suppliers improve and automate the sales/purchasing process. No doubt this is a reflection of how we’ve been spoiled as consumers by the instant gratification of online buying with same or next day delivery.
There is hope for the sales representatives if they can become consultative, offering solutions that provide information and value. This requires the representatives get new training, understand the technical aspects of their products, innovate, solve problems and bring solutions that add value to the customer. Another essential element is that the sales people become a trusted advisor working with the customer’s organization as a quasi-team member rather than an external, uninformed contact person.
This is a tall order for most old-style sales representatives and, unfortunately, many won’t make the grade. The days of shooting the breeze to gain a relationship, golfing and lunches are long gone. Most procurement pros have limited time, increased requirements for revenue generation, speed to market, cost and value improvement, scarce resources and a global footprint. Time management is critical with no time to waste.
Are the days numbered for the traditional sales representative?
While watching the news this week, my wife Linda asked me “Are you a true believer in free trade?” As I thought of a response, I was reminded of why manufacturers began to leave the USA. Yes, many were chasing low labor, but the reality is that many companies were chasing quarterly earnings while operating out of post-World War II factories with limited investment. Abroad, the companies were investing in new plants with updated capital, automation and driving low manufacturing cost as well as having low labor costs compared to the US.
In my corporate procurement and supply chain career, I’ve worked for organizations that had short term focus, lack of (or misdirected) investment and poor strategy. Unfortunately, some no longer exist. The point is that tariffs and duties on imported goods alone will not save US manufacturing. Being the low-cost producer involves investing in the future and developing sound business strategies; that is the key to surviving and thriving.
Free Trade will drive buyers to the low cost, efficient suppliers wherever they are. The high cost, inefficient suppliers can be propped up by protection, but are not likely to survive in the long term. Some supply chains, like the electronic industry, have made the long-term investments elsewhere and have already achieved technology advances, low cost and may never return to the US. The automated factories that return will require different employee skillsets than the industries that left the US and we may not have a ready labor force if manufacturing is reshored.
As procurement and supply chain professionals, we need to develop all suppliers to be efficient, operate at the lowest cost and invest in innovation and automation. I believe that sound strategies, investment and a commitment to the future will lead to the most competitive suppliers, wherever they are located.
It’s a complicated question:
Do you believe in Free Trade?
Since ancient times, trade deals have been struck with foreign countries. You could say that trade and tax were the spark that has ignited revolutions and wars.
The promise for the US to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership, coupled with the UK vote to leave the EU and change trade agreements across Europe, is raising concerns and signaling an anti-free trade sentiment. Free trade advocates are disappointed for sure and the future is uncertain.
The political climate has changed, bringing more focus on a reshoring movement in the US. Many of us in procurement were driven to support low cost country sourcing. Whether moving sources back to the US or with the potential of tariffs, duties and increased fees, our strategy and profit plans could be at risk.
While we don’t know what will evolve in terms of the future of trade, there are opportunities and risks. The opportunities will be presented if the US renegotiates trade deals to take advantage of the ability to drive US exports. The risks come if trade deals do not happen and increase costs to protect US manufacturing hurt the bottom line. I’m advising my clients to:
- Review all internationally sourced components
- Understand the strategic nature of all of the internationally sourced categories
- Identify opportunities for alternate sourcing
- Understand items with high capital investment and technology as a driver (and the implications of not being able to switch suppliers)
- Create a currency strategy
- Drive best value sourcing
It’s always better to be prepared than surprised.
What’s your plan?
Last week I attended the Zycus Horizon 2016 conference and was reminded of a conversation I had early in my career with a Chief Executive of a major food company. I’d completed a current state analysis of the business and needed to report on the team’s performance. Procurement’s performance was poor with limited cost improvement, poor coverage in volatile commodity markets and lots of complexity as the team had excessive spot market transactions, no risk analysis and limited supplier management. After reviewing the results with this executive, he was obviously aggravated and demanded to know who should be fired!
My response was a complete surprise to this executive; I told him that management’s expectation was low, there were no targets for cost improvement, no requirements to hedge commodities to protect the plan, limited engagement with the supply base, no requirement for innovation or value. The CEO paused and said, “I guess I should fire myself.“
5 Things that CEOs and CFOs should expect from the procurement team:
- Cost management
- Value Management
- Supplier innovation
- Speed to market
- Improved warranty
- Improved cost
- Continuous improvement
- Supplier investment
- Complexity reduction
- Business strategy alignment
- Supplier relationship management
- Internal and external collaboration
- Supply chain mapping, audit and risk management plans
It is unfortunate that Procurement’s past haunts its future ability to be strategic. I believe that value extraction will be the key to procurement leadership in the future. Is it better to gain a few cents on a product or be the first in the market? Is it better to save a few cents on refractory bricks in a glass furnace or develop a brick that extends the life of the furnace one year? It’s time to raise the expectations for the procurement team and deliver the performance that adds to shareholder value.
Are your expectations getting in the way of success?
Photo: My team manager Cubs Hall of Famer Andre Dawson helping set my expectations before my next at bat at the fantasy camp championship game. I was hitless at that point, but after Andre changed my focus, I got a hit off A’s Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers!
Have you ever read something that made you go “Hmmmm”, then sent you on a what-if thought journey? That happened to me this morning when I read the most interesting HBR post How Pricing Bots Could Form Cartels and Make Things More Expensive by Maurice E. Stucke and Ariel Ezrachi. The article focuses on big data dynamic pricing and bots. The authors suggest that algorithmic collusion is possible by data analysis, the speed of dynamic pricing and probability predictions.
The current law The Robinson–Patman Act of 1936 (or Anti-Price Discrimination Act, Pub. L. No. 74-692, 49 Stat. 1526 (codified at 15 U.S.C. § 13)) is a United States federal law that prohibits anticompetitive practices by producers, specifically price discrimination. In 1936 the authors would not have dreamed of the degree of information collaboration, speed of response and ability to instantly provide global dynamic pricing. In April 2016, The White House issued an executive order and report on the state of competition in the U.S. It is interesting to note that the report focused on the decline in competition in the United States and identified several signs of competition decline since the 1970s.
When we think of artificial intelligence, bots and learning machines, it’s not hard to imagine a time where the probability of collusion is in our future. Since existing loss depends on humans and trust, this will be a whole new area requiring some governance. The HBR article goes on to say that algorithms to machine are somewhat neutral, they don’t generate fear or intimidation nor do they disable the opportunity for the machines to collaborate or collude.
It’s interesting to think that pricing decisions in the future are likely to be made by machines with sophisticated algorithms. As an observer, I wonder how long it will take the legal system to develop governance. It’s not difficult to understand how machines with logic and no fear of retribution can be programmed to quickly align prices and impact markets. This is an interesting development in the current space that I had thought of before. I’d be interested in hearing the thoughts of others.
Technology advancement or opportunity to collude–what do you think?
Are you an employee or a free agent? In May 2008 at ISM’s 93th Annual Conference in St. Louis, I heard Daniel Pink speak about the “Changing World of Work”. When Pink’s “Free Agent Nation” was released in 2001, there were independent free agents, especially in consulting roles, but the number in comparison to the total workforce was small. While many doubted the disruption of the contingent workforce in 2001 and even in 2008, there’s no doubt of its impact today in everything from how we travel by car to the workforce at Fortune 500 companies.
When you think about it for procurement, it makes sense that an independent agent with experience and knowledge in a category of spend can quickly assess the supply market, benchmark price and cost, develop a strategy, negotiate an agreement and then move on to the next assignment. This leaves the supplier relationship mangers to execute the contract and manage the relationship for the term of the agreement. This year, particularly, the contingent workforce has been a hot topic in procurement media and research. I recommend reading and listening to Ardent Partners research and Contingent Workforce Weekly podcasts, Art of Procurement’s podcasts on the contingent workforce and SpendMatters research and upcoming “GE Digital on the Future of Work” webinar to gain insight on where we are and where we need to be to optimize the “free agent nation.”
For CPOs, the contingent workforce will play an increasing role. While the budget for contract labor will increase, but companies will be released from the burden of taxes, healthcare and insurance costs, and other full-time employee costs. The key to success is to capture expertise in the short term, then have the contractor move on. The CPO can manage more strategic priorities with the right balance of FTEs and contingent workers.
It’s important to understand that the ways we work are constantly changing and evolving. With artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT), it’s apparent that some of the work humans currently do will be replaced through business system integration across the supply chain. We’ve certainly evolved from the days when Eleanor Roosevelt said “We have reached a point today where labor-saving devices are good only when they do not throw the worker out of his job.” Now the work and the labor force has changed – we can see the way forward to work more strategically and drive innovation.
I am structuring my company’s organization to reflect the value and opportunities available using contingent workers. What about you?
Was Daniel Pink right?