Friday Rant: Today's Procurement/Supply Chain — Thought Leadership Amid Non-Analysts (Part 2)

In the first part of this rant, we shared how those participating in the market vs. just observing it are providing an increasingly critical voice in shaping the overall conversation. Thought leadership across sourcing, operations, supplier management and enterprise risk management -- among other areas -- is coming from within as much as it is coming from the outside world. But how technology providers themselves are participating as purveyors and disseminators of insight is varying dramatically today. However, some are doing it better than others.

In the past month, for example, I've read or re-read a number of really informative articles and columns by a number of providers, including Deloitte (supply chain analytics), Ariba (discounting/working capital management) and Emptoris (CFO/procurement intersections), gracing the pages of a range of publications. And the whitepapers that BravoSolution has been publishing (a number of which have been linked from this site over the past few months) have been equally as compelling and useful. Also, the collaborative work of providers, vendors and analysts/bloggers is starting to come together, including the outstanding collaboration that Michael G. Lamoureux led with a couple of providers in the area of spend analysis, creating a free e-book: Spend Visibility: An Implementation Guide.

But in general, technology vendors aren't keeping up in shaping the thought leadership conversation across the board, in the same manner as leading consultants and even practitioners (we'll plug Procurement Leaders as well here, which has done a exceptional job getting bylines from practitioner – no easy task -- as well as the continued reporting and practitioner-informed coverage of Paul Teague). In our view, far too many vendors have spun their wheels in the thought leadership area, starting efforts such as blogs, only to abandon them and let a lot of initial effort and momentum go under-leveraged.

Years ago, when I was at FreeMarkets, I'd like to think we did well in investing in thought leadership and really shaping the general market discussion on a range of topics. Many of the initial papers on topics like supply risk, global sourcing, sourcing optimization and related areas were initially covered and analyzed by our team long before they became mainstream topics. Most important, we often heard our customers and prospects quoting from them to build internal business cases and increase momentum for their own programs. At FreeMarkets, I think we did a number of things right (in the pre-blog area, mind you!) that I think are lessons to take away in general for providers in shaping the thought leadership agenda:

  1. Identifying those experts in the company who really have something unique to say and finding a means -- even if they're way over booked -- of getting knowledge out of them on a consistent basis, which might include internal interviews, weekly voicemails (from them to the marketing team) or the creation of bulleted list of talking points related to a particular topic, which is much faster and easier to write than an article or paper
  2. Building the internal capability to consistently take the "feedstock" of the expert members of the team, per (1) above, and rapidly turn around these ideas into useful content designed for an external audience in the form of papers, blogs, byline columns/articles, podcasts, videos, etc.
  3. Realizing that customers, prospects and the market in general care more about ideas and supporting evidence than spin focused on general awareness of product enhancements, new solutions or filler momentum metrics and news (customer announcements, volume numbers, etc.). For this reason, the more detailed one can get in use cases and case studies which highlight as much about how an organization used a product -- including the "why" and "where" -- rather than simply the rationale for choosing it over a competing solution or approach, the better
  4. Getting the budget, plan and appropriate resource commitment to consistently pursue a program over a 12-month period or longer, realizing that results take time and consistency in contributing a thought leadership voice to the market takes time as well
  5. Working to influence market influences on their level rather than simply keeping them in the loop (e.g., giving them ideas, rather than simply having binary, one-way briefing discussion on "your successes")

It's an exciting time to learn about the latest in procurement and supply chain from more and more market-informed voices. And if an increasing number of technology providers can make a consistent effort to join the conversation and share their ideas along with the number of practitioners and consultants that have already taken the plunge, we'll be in even better shape.

- Jason Busch

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