Build it and they may not come?
We’ve sat around this table too many times to count, the procurement team listening wide-eyed as we discuss the functionality of an automated, inclusive procurement solution. It truly is the “Field of Dreams”… to the Procurement Team. Streamlined procurement operations with a cohesive suite of automated, cost saving, analytics in one centralized platform are what CFO/CPO dreams are made of. The right procurement solution is a game changer for the company.
But what about the end user? How does it change their life as a consumer? And what is your company doing to endorse new buying behavior?
When we think about consumer behavior, specifically how it has changed in the past five years (thank you Amazon Prime), we can understand how disinterested our business users can be in today’s automated procurement environment.
Looking at my personal buying habits, specifically when it comes to food and dining, I consider this a major operating expense in our household. I try to be thoughtful and frugal, on the weekend I cross check the sale flyers and come up with a weekly meal menu based on what is most affordable for the week, just like my mom taught me. The grocery list is written (in order of how the store is laid out, as one does) and off I go with the best intentions. Then the week starts and it all falls apart; a critical ingredient is forgotten, and someone is sent to grab the item and naturally a few other things. How familiar are the words “taco Tuesday sounds great right now” or “I just don’t’ feel like cooking tonight”, “grilled chicken and roasted vegetables again?” and there goes the budget. Now I know what you’re thinking “Sarah you don’t need tacos, you just want tacos. Show a little more discipline” (point of clarification: sometimes one does, in fact, need tacos).
We all know, that as long as the p-card works, poor planning isn’t detrimental, you can get what you need. Submitting invoices for unapproved vendors will get paid, maybe with a slap on the wrist, but they are going to get paid. It’s freedom, we are paying extra for freedom, and guacamole, but as long as the bills are paid we don’t mind.
Then came the invention of meal delivery service, farmers market vegetable delivery, and cost effective personal shopping services like Clicklist, our grocery shopping lives would never be the same. As shoppers, we can easily pick a price point and they simply send us what we need, don’t give it another thought. How often does your household need toothpaste and toilet paper? Subscribe and Save, don’t give it another thought- save money and spend your time elsewhere. The industry has figured out how to sell us the most valuable thing in the world, TIME. It took a number of adjustments and it didn’t happen overnight, it didn’t happen in a month, but by three months we were on to something. We reduced the number of buyers in our household to primary account holders, but we had to change the way we communicate about product needs. How many people know the exact frequency in which their household uses toothpaste? Especially if you’re not the person using it (although we hope you use it), you’re just purchasing it. Over time, these new systems have found their place in our lives and are saving us money and more importantly, saving us TIME.
A great procurement system can bring desired financial and time savings, to any company, but there will be multiple pain points in end user adoption if you don’t take special care with change management.
The features and benefits don’t sell the same when you’re taking away a person’s p-card (aka “freedom”) and requiring them to learn a new technology. Hosted or PunchOut catalogs need to be updated or created. New vendor relationships have to be made or changed. It takes time to make time, and maybe the time saved isn’t the time of the end user. It’s saving the time of the financial owner and procurement office, and from a business perspective it has to happen. “We’re going to change the way you’ve always done things to save time and money – but, it’s for the greater good, not you”
This is the point in the story where we poetically give you the answers, right? You didn’t read mixed metaphors about my grocery shopping for nothing. Here we go…
Avoid top down communication. Executive level voices are critical to change management success, but they need to be open and genuine with meaningful messaging. First, dial-in to the impact these changes will have on the users, deep understanding helps you relay empathy to the situation. Share company goals related to cost and time savings, let them know changes are coming and be authentic that changes may be uncomfortable and challenging for everyone.
Small, critical changes need to begin before the ink is dry on the new software contract. Buying behavior will not change at go-live, so get a head start where you can. Reduce the spending limits or number of p-cards, tighten restrictions on non-PO invoicing/ spend, announce category supplier changes before you require compliance. Collaborate with your operational leaders to roll out new spend management solutions. Early changes get you ahead of the curve, but they also identify problems and naysayers, giving you opportunity for correction ahead of go-live.
A new procurement software will allow your company to meet the spend and savings goals, but only if it’s used. If we circle back to the wide-eyed team sitting around the table envisioning their procurement “Field of Dreams” they will be rudely awakened, if not justly prepared for pushback and growing pains. Procurement changes are a cross-functional effort, consumer behavior changes may have to happen in phases requiring savings goals to be adjusted. Finally, with any project, can your company handle this change right now? Consider the timing of other projects and work closely with your leadership, and PMO office if you have one, to validate timing and priority for this implementation.
Send a clear message: “this is what has to happen, this is how we’re going to do it, and this is who is responsible for achieving it.” Wax poetic about offering solutions, rather than making changes, to create a memorable brand impression, “Dilly Dilly”. Collaborate with your marketing department and the software company to promote and create awareness of solutions that are to come.
The bottom line is an automated procurement solution will fail to meet expectations unless you operationalize change management, for your end user, in tandem. Even the best laid plans can fail to launch. And with that I’m off to the grocery store, you can’t have homemade street tacos without cilantro, you just can’t.