Coupa Inspire Dispatch: Rob Bernshteyn on the Shift to Business Spend Management

Rob Bernshteyn, Coupa’s CEO, kicked off Inspire 2018 this morning with an hour-long speech that only he could pull off.

Rob’s talk zig-zagged between providing an overview that framed spending and buying in a new context (“business spend management”), providing a fly-by of Coupa’s suite on a high level, diving deep into products in specific areas, sharing what seemed like 100 screenshots of current and emerging capabilities (especially centered on community intelligence and user guidance) and ploughing through some 50+ facts and figures highlighting different areas of progress Coupa is making.

There’s Only One Rob

Equal parts secondary founder — Rob came into Coupa when the firm was not yet established and righted the ship so I look at him like a founder — head of sales, marketing evangelist, product wonk and procurement futurist, there’s simply no other “Rob” in the procurement sector. And this speech more than established that fact.

I followed his talk closely. But I could barely keep up with my notes as he covered so much ground. I hope others got as much out of it as I did.

I’ll share some of the facts and figures in a follow-up post, but for now, I want to focus on Rob’s framing of the new hat on which he’s hanging everything Coupa does and what he’s trying to galvanize customers around: business spend management.

Business Spend Management

In framing Business Spend Management, Rob noted at the start of his talk that “we need to give [this] space a name to galvanize support for all the things we’re doing together… [and] for those that will join us.”

He then suggested that “we [as those who buy] can completely flip the script since we have control as spenders… we hold the wallet of the companies we serve… [and] what if we together could know more about those selling to use than they know about themselves?

“What if we could collectively combine our intelligence and use that community intelligence to become smarter about the suppliers we’re working with [than them]… Centralizing them and creating one handshake from the other side.”

Setting up the opposition between spend and sales extends the original philosophy of spend management that Ariba came up with roughly fifteen years ago.

In a recent SolutionMap analysis, E-Procurement Head-to-Head Technology Evaluation and Comparison: Coupa vs. SAP Ariba, I noted that ironically, Coupa has also adopted SAP Ariba’s old “spend management” messaging of late, claiming “business spend management” for its own use — and defining the term as it wants to.

The Big Reframing of the Phrase

From his talk, I gathered that for Rob (and Coupa), business spend management is not just about “finding, getting and keeping it” — the original concept behind the phrase spend management — but rather procurement spending more effectively (comparatively) than sales teams can sell.

This is a subtle but definitive reframing of the phrase.

What do you think? Should we adopt business spend management to describe what procurement could do with the right intelligence, capabilities and technology to buy better than sales can sell?

Stay tuned for additional live coverage from Coupa Inspire. Up next: Coupa by the numbers (and a preview, courtesy of Rob, of what Coupa has up its sleeve as far as the business spend management bend).

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