The Supplier Enablement Conundrum

It is not every day that you get to use the word conundrum! It is the best word I can think of when it comes to this topic. My observation from Coupa Inspire this year was that every topic that was focused on suppliers or supplier enablement was standing room only. Now, this is not to say that Coupa does a bad job of enabling the suppliers. Typically, it is a matter of appropriate change management with our suppliers and not a technology issue at all. Plus, Coupa is easy to use and has the added benefit of not charging suppliers to use their technology, removing those significant barriers to success.

So, why is supplier enablement so difficult? Below are my learnings, insights, and solutions. Please feel free to add and share!

  1. Scope & scale of the audience: There are thousands of suppliers that Procurement has no real relationship with, other than hopefully paying the suppliers occasionally. This is challenging, as most of the time we do not even have the appropriate contact information for the suppliers. I have literally performed a fax campaign to get email addresses for the AR contacts and this was just a couple of years ago! Getting to the right people who are going to care about the change in process is critically important. These are likely AR or Customer Service people on your account. It is not the sales or account manager.
  2. Ineffective or nonexistent change management strategies: I have heard this more than once when this topic comes up – we sent a letter to the suppliers about this change, but they still do not get it. Heck, I have done that before leaving me to question, really, that is my change management strategy? Would I just send a letter to my internal users and hope for success? The change management strategy should be similar to an effective internal strategy – inclusive of:
    • A. Ongoing written communications
    • B. Opportunity for suppliers to ask questions
    • C. Training on the what, the why, and how it benefits them
    • D. Feedback loops once you are “live” about what is not working
    • E. An easy way to get help when it is needed
  3. Not truly understanding how these changes impact suppliers: When we deploy a system like Coupa, often there is a significant amount of time spent learning about how the implementation is going to impact people and processes – except when it comes to suppliers. We seem to stop at our internal processes. What if we took the time talk to a handful of suppliers, who represent a cross-section of your suppliers, to learn how this change would impact them? We could focus on the barriers to success, talk in their language, and be better prepared for the challenges that might arise. And, best of all, we would understand how we can help them to successfully adapt to the change.

Each time we interact with our suppliers it is an opportunity to better the relationships with them. In fact, I love that Coupa uses the word Inspire to describe their conference. Whenever there is a change occurring, we can inspire that change to occur by caring for the people we are asking to change. Maybe in lieu of taking the approach of telling suppliers the tactics around the change, we ask how we can help them implement the change and take a vested interest in their success. Imagine what we could achieve together if we took this approach!

Amanda, President at High Performance Procurement, is a procurement fanatic and lover of all things that lead to high performance! With over 16 years of experience in the procurement industry, Amanda has seen it all. From mergers and acquisitions to opening new locations, facilitating digital transformations, and more, reach out to learn how Amanda can help you achieve your highest aspirations. amanda.prochaska@hppcoach.com.

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