7 CxO tips for winning investment in procure-to-pay

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright May 31, 2016
A CxO panel at Coupa Inspire earlier this month discussed how they'd persuaded organizations to implement the vendor's cloud-based procure-to-pay software.

Magnifying glass with dollar bills © sirikorn_t – Fotolia.com
Procurement isn't the sexiest function in the enterprise, so it's often difficult to persuade colleagues to invest in upgrading the procure-to-pay process — even if there's a clear return on investment from doing so. Four C-level speakers came together on a panel at the Coupa Inspire conference earlier this month to discuss how they'd persuaded their organizations to implement the vendor's cloud-based procure-to-pay software. Here are seven tips that emerged from the discussion.

1. Grab a seat at the table

Procurement leaders often complain that it's difficult to get their voice heard, but Mike Jacobs, CPO at office supply giant Staples says it's a matter of having the courage to stand up and get noticed:

Often I'm asked this question, 'How do you get a seat at the table?' I say, 'Well go take it. The chair is empty, go take it.'

Bob Worrall, CIO at networking product maker Juniper Networks says procurement leaders don't sell themselves as actively as other line of business leaders:

If I had an ask of all of you as senior professionals, take it upon yourself to go lobby what you do and the value you bring to the organization, just like all of your peers do.

A day doesn't go by that I don't get a visit from the chief marketing officer and the chief sales guy, and the chief engineer, and the chief financial officer, I know what they do really, really well. So guess where my money and my energy is going to go?

Go out of your way, take the initiative to go schedule time with the IT guy and just educate him, all right? Because by that you'll get more attention.

2. Get others sold on the benefits

David Hearn, who until recently was senior director of indirect procurement at Juniper, says other functions won't see the benefit of more streamlined procurement unless you can show how the project will help others achieve their goals.

We had to know as a team that while we had a vision, it wasn't sexy. We had to be smart. So we just looked at what the corporate initiatives were — you've got to understand what is important to the company and then you find the support.

It's not just about saving costs and compliance, he says. Instead, show how improving procurement can help the marketing department run their campaigns faster and better, or helping the IT team equip their datacenters more effectively.

We have to change our perspectives, understand the goals of the organizations we walk into.

I think we all have to change our lens depending on who we are talking to. We are not just cost savings people.

Jacobs described a key meeting in which he had let others sell themselves on the savings.

I actually call this my 'zen' approach to getting the approval. We created a business case. We took it to the capital committee and said, 'Well, we know we have a lot of other priorities but we would really like to do this. We think it is strategically important, but maybe this year is not the right year for it' — and we present them the case.

A little silence and then one of the business leaders looked at it and said 'Why in the world wouldn't we do this? This is the biggest ROI projected of any of the 4-5 projects on the table, and it's not that expensive for God's sake, so why don't we go and do this thing?'

3. It's not just about ROI

Worrall, Juniper's CIO, is skeptical of ROI calculations. He looks for conviction behind the business case.

A lot of times, people bring these very flowery, positive-sounding ROI scripts into the C-level suites. I will tell you, as an IT guy, the first reaction I have is, I don't believe a single word of anything you said after whatever number you just showed me.

If you are really trying to sell the [business] value, it is not hitting me with numbers in a spreadsheet. The way that I've procured all my career ... I set the spreadsheet aside and [say], 'Look me in the eye and tell me your career is worth making this happen.'

4. Form a cross-functional project team

The panel agreed that close collaboration between procurement and accounts payable (AP), along with IT, is vital for a successful implementation. At Staples, the three functions have worked very closely, says Jacobs.

The carpet is worn out between procurement and accounts payable now. It really has been an opportunity to promote incredible teaming between the two organizations, and IT as well.

It was really important to get those three functions together, from the initial evaluation to the eventual implementation.

5. Have a vision

Understanding why your project is important and being able to share that vision succinctly is cruical to success, says Hearn.

I don't think your job becomes easy because you've got a cross-functional team. You're going to get hurdles all the time. But I would say I always have a one-page vision for everybody because you're going to need it — in the beginning, in the implementation, maybe even afterwards — because people lose sight.

Jacobs adds that a shared vision helps keep the team hold the line when those hurdles crop up.

I have the confidence then to walk into the executive suite and say we're going to do this, and my team has the confidence, when this new stakeholder says, 'Well, I'm not going to use Coupa to put my invoices in,' they have the courage to say, "No you will. We're happy to sit down with you and figure out the best way for you to do it, but you will — this is the direction we're heading.'

I think that consistent vision, and the courage and conviction behind it, and having the team to support it, is really critical for having the consistency of the roll out.

6. Aim for wins, not perfection

While it's important to insist on consistent processes, Hearn says that at Juniper the team spent too much time trying to get every supplier in the system, rather than going live as soon as there were enough to show results.

You're never going to go perfectly live, with how many suppliers you have in the tool. So what we learned is, we were trying to get it perfect, when just getting 80% of the spend so that we could steer people to those preferred suppliers was good enough. So maybe we delayed to get perfect, and you don't have to. Focus on the money. Focus where you can get your vision.

7. Never give up

Ron Pachura, VP finance transformation at financial services technology provider Fiserv, says it's important not to give in to teams that want to do things differently. Once the implementation goes in, you'll never go back and change them, so you must take the time to accommodate their needs in a way that's consistent with your goals.

We were more concerned satisfying people's ability to continue to transact as they knew how to, rather than providing incentives or making the path easier to move into the adoption of consistent ways. This is what we wanted to do to achieve the results that we were trying to get to.

Go after the why — why would you need to go at it a different way? Solve that why, or the why that's behind the initial why.

Hearn encouraged the audience to stand firm.

I just implore you to have the courage to go through the multiple times you are going to get knocked down for trying to do something different, something that obtains your procurement or your IT or your AP vision. Don't give up. There is something better there and you're sitting in the room here because you know it. Have persistence and courage.

Image credit - Magnifying glass with dollar bills © sirikorn_t – Fotolia.com

Disclosure - Coupa is a diginomica partner and paid my travel costs to attend its conference in San Francisco.

Read more on: