‘Sell me this procure-to-pay solution’

procure-to-pay pen Pixabay

The other night, my teenager, fresh off watching "The Wolf of Wall Street," tossed me a writing instrument. He said, quoting a line from the movie, “sell me this pen.”

But being a gin and tonic into the evening, my movie quote knowledge database was not fully engaged when he issued the challenge. So when I launched into a “former English major + management consultant BS dad soliloquy” about how keystrokes could never communicate a proven fourth emotion like a pen stroke and that it is proven that kids who still learn cursive with pens have 7.23 higher IQ points, he was not buying it.

“Dad, you’re telling me wants, not needs. People buy based on needs. Like, you need to write and sign a check, dad. Right now. What are you going to do without the pen that you need right now”?”

He had a point. I was selling him wants. There was not a compelling immediate need, at least not in my argument.

And then an analogy hit me.

Selling: Wants vs Needs

So often in the selection of procurement technology solutions, one of the fundamental challenges in the case of technology shortlisting and decisions is that people confuse wants with needs. I believe this stems from the fact that few organizations are truly on the same page in the first place as to what their specific business requirements are. In the best case, they accept a vendor led value engineering sales methodology that will identify specific ROI factors, KPIs, etc. that the solution will impact — and that ideally will be measured post implementation.

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That’s the best case. But even these questions (and metrics) represent a clever psychological sales and justification approach — and either designed to align with what a third-party believes is right and cleverly fits with where its solutions are strongest. Granted, the metrics a solution can influence may end up being organizational needs which exist from the start. But they could also be wants which end up becoming needs for a finite period of time during the selection process and maybe after — because they may or may not be aligned with an organization’s true, innate needs.

In short: such an approach may be leading the witness, and if it is, in part or full, the fundamental challenge is that what feels like a need could very well be transient and end up not mattering as much as a fundamental, organizational articulated requirement. In other words, a need.

This is why procurement, finance and supply chain organizations should figure out, on their own, as early in a selection process as possible, what their true needs are.

So, don’t have someone sell you that procure-to-pay solution (or any procurement technology solution) in a manner that may confuse potential wants with needs. Define up front what your specific business needs, outcomes and requirements really are, align those with the supply market in advance of a selection process, and then take the time during the sourcing process to really understand all of the other factors — both “soft” and “hard” — which matter to you. In addition to those things you truly need.

In short, own the technology shortlisting and selection process at the start to avoid the potential of having a third-party’s want seem like a need. Until it isn’t.

If you’re in the market to buy a type of procurement technology based on needs versus wants, try out Spend Matters TechMatch℠. It’s our new RFI tool that enables you to clarify between the two, generate and benchmark a vendor shortlist, allowing you to make the best buying decision based on your business and technical priorities.

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Voices (5)

  1. Thierry Jaffry:

    I truly agree with Mark’s analysis. And I would add a couple of things from the SI point of view: most of the procurement organizations I’ve worked with (either in Europe or North America by the way) don’t know what they need, and don’t need what they want. Never ending lists of requirements tend to reproduce the actual paper processes, concatenated from various exotic sources without a unique vision of where they need to go to achieve strategic objectives.
    Selling a S2P technology should start with workshops (not demos..) about the overall vision, pain points, and targets. S2P providers could then propose a business solution, not cool features or “yes we can do that OOTB”.
    And finally, any S2P implementation should start with “What success will look like ?” KPIs, agreed by everyone.

  2. peter smith:

    This is exactly the sort of article from Jason – and indeed the response from Mark is great too – that led me to contact Jason back in 2009 and suggest maybe we should set up Spend Matters Europe! Human interest plus real insight, basically making procurement interetsing! Now I need Jason to feature his cooking and bass guitar skills too (as well as the family) to really relive the olden days…

    1. Jason Busch:

      To be revisited! I’ve been involved in far too boring stuff of late, but I too look forward to the return of more fun stuff here!

  3. Jason Busch:

    Mark, You’ve been selling these solutions for over two decades. I’ve been analyzing them for the same period. But I actually think we have more common ground than you think. Much more. Your essay is great. The massive RFP / RFI … what a waste! We agree there as well!

    I would also agree certain value engineering methodologies are vastly superior to others. But I’ve seen a bunch over the years which are do precisely the sleight of hand I describe in changing a perceived want to a need (including some examples I know you would agree with) that I think it’s a valid analogy. But whether you agree with the concept of value engineering as a practice overall, I believe as long as you’re away of it, you can make a more informed decision as to which ones to accept and which to put in the rubbish bin. One size does not fit all!

  4. Mark McCarthy:

    “ But even these questions (and metrics) represent a clever psychological sales and justification approach — and either designed to align with what a third party believes is right and cleverly fits with where its solutions are strongest.”

    That’s a cynical interpretation, Jason. In 25 years of selling these solutions, I can count on one hand the number of buyers who have come to market having truly analyzed what matters to their business, what will drive the desired outcomes, and prepared to share that with potential partners in a bid to align around a plan to be successful.

    It is far more common for buyers to common to market with a list of 300-400 functional questions, either crowdsourced from users or, more commonly, downloaded from a sample RFP template from a vendor or consulting firm. They then dig the trenches of an arm’s length and poker-faced procurement process around these “needs” and score vendors based on their ability to show them these features (yawn).

    The value engineering led approach is designed to cut through the BS and align a buying team with what THEIR executives really care about – the reason(s) they’re signing off on a multi-million dollar investment. That’s usually measured in dollars or very specific risk mitigation, but almost never in terms of “does your solution have a clever AI widget”.

    I truly don’t care whether buyers use our value engineering work or their own, but if a buying team cannot articulate their organization’s needs and wants in terms that I know their executives will relate to, sponsor and fund, then I’m going to dig until I can, or ultimately walk away. Because without this insight, we are simply throwing technology over the fence – a practice that has gotten so many technology vendors a bad name in years gone by.

    If both parties can align around a vision of success, expressed in terms of specific measurable outcomes, then software proposals, implementation plans and ongoing support models can be built around these outcomes, giving everyone confidence in the project’s direction and likely impact.

    So the process you describe is not some dark and mysterious sales voodoo designed to lead buyers to doing a deal, it is usually an honest attempt to engage in a thoughtful way which sees both parties accountable for delivering something meaningful. I find it a shame that, over the years, buyers have been conditioned (by bad selling) to be so cynical that they think good procurement requires them to hide this critical thinking from the very partners they will ultimately hold responsible for delivering it. Time for a reset imho.

    I recently shared my own views on what buyers should look for when buying spend management technology…


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