What Can Spend Matters Learn From Management Consultants — and Vice-Versa

Earlier this month, I gave a 90-minute presentation to a bunch of partners and managers at a consultancy. I have another similar discussion, although longer, planned for next week with a services provider on a different side of the market -- but with folks who are no less clever. Time to put on the permanent flak jacket!

Presenting to the better sort of consultants and services providers is like defending your PhD dissertation in front of a group of Nobel laureates in your field. You never quite know the curveball someone will toss you and the pleasure individuals get from asking something that might appear more intellectual (where there really may not be a good answer) than the person sitting next to them.

Vendors and practitioners are a much easier audience in most cases because the topics and questions tend to be much more grounded and the hierarchy usually transcends from organizational charts to the intellectual challenges of those in attendance. In other words, it's easy to predict how things will go. For example, the curveball and hard questions are more likely to come from the top -- or the smartest analyst (usually a product management or systems owner) in the room, who you can usually pick out immediately.

In contrast, consultants and services firms of all levels view asking questions as a game. And the open-ended ones are perhaps the hardest to answer (in a smart manner, at least).

I've talked to a number of consultants lately from over a dozen firms, in fact. And many are seeing similar things at the moment:

  • Ariba/SAP is on everyone's mind (even firms that focus less on technology); consultants want the inside line to have a point of view -- POV, in consultant-speak -- in going into clients. Hopefully they won't all say the same things!
  • Supplier management is hot (lots of interest among clients on a global basis); and there is increasing interest in supplier information management (SIM) platforms for automation
  • There's some concern with supplier management that this is procurement BPO all over again -- i.e., low conversion from RFPs to the actual signing and implementation of programs
  • A more consistent and engaging discussion with clients about the role of procurement BPO and what should be core/non-core
  • An increasing interest in treasury/procurement intersections in areas of AP automation, e-invoicing and discounting/payment term options; generally P2P is heating up

If any consultants in the audience are seeing additional key trends, please drop a line. I'd be curious to trade thoughts.

- Jason Busch

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