4 Strategies for Winning the War for Top Spend Management Talent

David Hearn
David Hearn
CEO & Founder, CPO Advisement Services, LCC

Hearn deployed Coupa at Juniper Networks and has been a Coupa evangelist ever since. He has led indirect procurement at three companies (Sun Microsystems, Kaiser Permanente, Juniper Networks) and now helps procurement teams transform the way they add value to the business.

Read time: 8 mins
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4 strategies winOver the last five or so years, there has been a dawning realization within companies that spending on indirect goods and services—everything that you spend money on to run the company, excluding salaries—is a big area of opportunity for creating efficiency and cost savings.

This is not news to those of us within the profession, but with more and more companies wanting to do a better job here, it is getting harder and harder to find good spend management (i.e. category management, sourcing, and procurement) talent. There are a relatively small number of top professionals, not enough to meet this increased demand. We're hiring each other's people and having the same done to us, down the road.

There isn’t a lot of fresh blood coming down the pipe either. There are fewer than a dozen universities in the country that even have programs in supply chain management, which is mostly about manufacturing and direct spending, and there are none that focus on indirect spend management.


We have been talking for a long time in this profession about the need to uplevel and become more strategic, and here is our opportunity. To do it, we have to come up with some new ways to get the most out of the talent we have, to attract new talent, and to retain the talent within our organizations.

What kind of talent is needed? At the highest levels of the profession, the skills people want are the ability to analyze market demands and industry trends and put together an excellent sourcing strategy. This takes very good business acumen, because we’re looking at suppliers across everything from their financials to their ability to be able to produce and deliver in different geographies to how well can they manage the customer experience.

It's a very broad business evaluation, and it requires a person who can really spread themselves across lots of functional areas from finance to marketing to sales to relationship building and customer satisfaction skills.

Previously in our organizational structure, we may have only needed 20 percent of the group to have this kind of skillset. As we look to become more strategic in the way we approach spend management, we're trying to beef that up to seventy or eighty percent.

Even with new technology picking up some of the transactional aspects of the job, we still don’t have enough talent to go around. There are four things spend management organizations need to do to change this, and I’ll be talking about each in depth in a series of blog posts. They are:

  1. Unlock the Talent You Already Have. Analyze your organization and your peoples’ activities to understand how they are spending their time. Use technology to take tactical activities off the plates of these senior people so that you can maximize their time for higher value work. I think you'll uncover a surprising amount of time and talent from each person that'll go a long way to helping solve your problem.
  2. Rethink Your Recruiting Efforts. When was the last time you updated your job descriptions? Do they reflect the strategic nature of the work you want done? Do they make clear to the world that you're an exciting, progressive spend management organization, and not a dinosaur from the past? Take a look at the message you’re sending to the world.
  3. Hire for Characteristics More Than Skills. There’s a big disconnect between the way we talk about procurement in thought leadership forums and the skills that we look for. Industry thought leaders talk about building relationships and partnering with the business. Acquiring the kind of personal characteristics to be successful in that regard is usually more difficult than learning the tactical skills of the profession. Shift your interviewing style to uncover these characteristics.
  4. Spend Time on Career Development. People rarely leave for more money. They leave if they’re not happy, and if they don’t see a future for themselves. Make sure the career path within your organization is clear and everyone is on track for career progression. Then even if they’re approached, they can’t be poached.

We all complain because we can’t find great spend management talent, and there’s some truth to that because an increase in competition for talent has come along with increased interest in the field. However, we are sourcing professionals! It is our job to analyze market demands and come up with a strategy. We need to take those skills and turn them on our own organizations so we can meet the demands for great talent of the future.