Rethinking and Reclaiming “Tail Spend”: 6 Key Variables to Consider [Plus+]

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The idea of “tail spend” doesn’t seem very complicated at first.

Run a Pareto analysis on your spend categories and suppliers to make a cutoff at, say, the 80% that represent only 20% of your spend. Your numbers will, of course, vary, but the idea is to find a way to better manage such “nuisance” low-dollar spend that doesn’t detract from your efficiency, or worse yet, from spending time managing the truly strategic spend categories more deeply.

You might think of this as the spend in the lower-left quadrant of the famous Kraljic 2×2 matrix, which describes a strategy of “purchasing management” to manage non-critical, abundant supply that can be sourced locally in a de-centralized manner for maximum efficiency. And, maybe, if you manage this nuisance spend properly, you can even extract some value from it (e.g., a “quick source” process to gain some speedy spend savings).

Sounds straightforward, right?

Well, it’s not, and I have purposefully led you astray to prove a point.

The problem is that I never really defined tail spend in the first place – and if you can’t define it or see/measure it, you can’t manage it. And herein lies the rub (and the opportunity):

Tail spend could better be described as “nuisance spend” or “tactical spend,” and is comprised of many sub-segments — not just one or two.

Let’s return to our examples above. Segmenting on a spend-per-supplier basis, like in our Pareto diagram, is by no means perfect. What about low-spend, sole-source suppliers tied to large revenue or profit? OK, well, you might then refer to the Krajlic matrix as the solution. It’s better, because it helps profile the categories into complexity vs. impact (or risk vs. reward if you view it as such), but again, these are only two variables, and do not factor in any others.

Which ones? Let’s list six of them and ask whether you’d consider the resulting spend segments as ‘tail spend,’ or at least ‘nuisance spend.’

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