Execs Say Selling Is Key to Successful Procure-to-Pay Transformation

Kendra Von Esh
Kendra Von Esh
Executive Strategic Advisor, Coupa

Kendra Von Esh, a former CIO at Veolia, has been a trusted advisor and CIO for the past decade developing value added strategies and solutions transforming businesses with technology. Von Esh joined Coupa last year to leverage her executive experience and active involvement in CIO communities and industry boards to create inspiring dialogue and change strategies cross-functionally.

Read time: 6 mins
Execs say selling is key to successful procure-to-pay transformation

A successful procure-to-pay transformation takes selling—and more selling. That was one of the key takeaways from the C-level panel led by Coupa’s Executive Strategic Advisor Kendra Von Esh at Coupa Inspire last month.

Mike Jacobs (CPO of Staples), Ron Pachura (VP for Finance Transformation of Fiserv), Bob Worrall (Senior Vice President and CIO of Juniper Networks) and David Hearn (former Indirect CPO of Juniper Networks, Sun Microsystems, and Kaiser Permanente) joined Von Esh to share details of how they successfully collaborated across functions when they purchased and deployed Coupa in their organizations. In the course of that discussion, the need to sell across functions and across the organization came up again and again.

Any sale begins with awareness, and when selling a project to IT, Worrall suggested procurement start there. “In the 28 years I’ve been working in IT, I have never once, other than David [Hearn], had anyone from the procurement profession come to my office and explain what you people do,” he said.

Whatever you do, don’t lead with savings, he advised. Too often procure-to-pay is presented as a cost savings initiative, with procurement people assuming that a fat ROI projection will carry the day.

“A lot of times people bring these very flowery, positive-sounding ROI scripts into the C-suite,” said Worrall. “I’ll tell you, as an IT guy, the first reaction I have is I wouldn’t believe a single word of anything you say after whatever number you just said.”

Clearly, there’s more to it than just throwing a business case over the wall and expecting people to rally to the cause.

“Part of my role is a constant sales mission in the organization, amongst my people to get them to understand the vision, and amongst the executive committee to get them to understand where we’re headed,” said Jacobs.

Make it part of a bigger initiative

One very effective sales tactic: Tying a procure-to-pay initiative into another, bigger corporate initiative. In the case of Staples, that was a two-year company-wide cost reduction effort. “We embedded our procurement objectives in each of the objectives throughout various business units,” Jacobs said. "That made spend management an integral part of the strategy."

For Pachura at Fiserv, which has acquired 86 companies over the past 15 years, consolidating procure-to-pay on a single platform became a key piece of its strategic pivot from holding company to operating company. “This tool is what we’re trying to draw on to get greater adoption and a controlled, consistent approach across the organization. That’s really helped us move the ball forward in terms of how we operate as a true company,” he said.

Find the value for others

For Hearn, who implemented Coupa at Juniper together with Worrall, the sales challenge was articulating his team’s vision to the rest of the leadership team. So, they went to the CFO, CIO and CMO and learned about each of their initiatives.

That required his team to look at things through a different lens, Hearn says. “You walk in the marketing office. They’re not just talking about cost savings. It’s about all the marketing campaigns they have to do, how they can do them faster, work with better suppliers and oh yeah, save money.”

“We showed each one differently how we could help them. That made it not just a procurement and AP initiative nor a cost savings initiative. It became how we were going to help the company together.” Coupa ended up becoming a key piece of the company’s all-cloud enterprise portfolio plan.

Build relationships

Worrall encouraged those in the audience to copy Hearn’s approach. “If I had an ask of all of you as senior procurement professionals, take it upon yourself to lobby for what you do, the value you bring to the organization, just like all of your peers do,” he said.

“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get a visit from the chief marketing officer, and the chief sales guy, the chief engineer, the chief financial officer. I know what they do really, really well. So guess where my money and my energy is going to go? Take the initiative to go schedule time with the IT guys and educate them. By doing that, you’ll get more attention.”

Always be selling

And get good at it, because it’s an ongoing effort. “Almost every day I’m looking for stories to help sell the vision and keep it in front of the executives,” said Jacobs.

For Pachura, one of the ways they’re continually promoting spend management at Fiserv is by underscoring how savings contributions—both tangible “per widget” savings and process savings—are being reinvested in new products and innovations. “It has a direct impact on our strategic objectives,” he said.

It’s a similar story at Staples, said Jacobs. There’s always a choice: “When you get the savings, what do you do with them?”

Initially they reinvested the savings into the transformation program. But as they progress, “We’re actually turning money back over to the stakeholders, to the individual businesses so they can reinvest it themselves. That’s key to the second stage of our cooperation with big units,” Jacobs said.

Wear out the carpet

Getting procurement, finance and IT sold on the project from the outset not only eased the way for the technology transformation, it has also transformed departmental relations at Staples, noted Jacobs.

“We were actually talking about how much fun the team is having together working on this. We’re sort of at opposite ends of the hallway. I joked that 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,” he said.

Don’t take no for an answer

What other sales techniques apply? Persistence.

“Don't take no for an answer from the IT guys,” said Worrall. What makes IT people tick, he said are reliability, data protection, performance, and scalability. “They take those obligations very, very seriously. So when you come in and say, ‘You know that big thing that we've trusted for 40 years that keeps the lights on? We want to change it,’ that first reaction is going to be,

‘You're not moving my cheese.’”

 “Love the IT people, but don't let them be a hindrance," he said.

Hearn seconded that notion. “Have the courage to go through the multiple times you're going to get knocked down for trying to do something different,” he said. “There's something better out there and you're sitting in this room because you know it. Have persistence and courage.”