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The Rise Of Trust (And Speed) In Supplier Enablement.

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In this guest post, Procurement Leaders invites Coupa's Adam Alphin to look at the future of supplier enablement. Alphin will be on the panel on the upcoming webinar 'eInvoicing and suppliers: Visibility, control & trust' on Tuesday 30th June. You can register here to take part in the broadcast. 

You can also register for a free e-book on Enabling The Supply Base here

In the last 15 years there has been much digital ink spilled on how best to enable suppliers on leading S2P platforms. Here's why: it was hard.

In the first wave of solutions, providers couldn't get past the monetization potential of all those suppliers. So they charged suppliers to participate under the guise of ‘creating value for suppliers too!' This created cost and contract hurdles their customers had to get over on top of all the change management, communication, and supplier training that needed to happen. The net result was enabling 20-30% of suppliers. They may have represented 70-80% of spend, but only 20% of the real process cost of doing business with their supply base. The most successful supplier enablement projects were led by the world's largest companies that didn't mind enforcing enablement mandates. That works with the culture of some very large companies, but for many it does not.


Good news – it doesn't have to be so hard any more. Companies like Coupa are executing very quickly on a different worldview. We see a world where suppliers have choices for how they collaborate and transact with their customers. One where they can align those options with the way they do business. If suppliers want to use a web portal – great – here's a web portal tool for you. You don't want to bother with a portal? OK – acknowledge, comment on, or flip into an invoice right from the PO email. Prefer to just email in your invoices right from your invoicing system? OK – send it to a central email address, we'll read it and ask you to confirm we got it right. We call it the Coupa Open Business Network and we have a big goal: Borderless Commerce and meaningful collaboration for all our customer's trading partners on day 1 with our platform.


And our customers are beginning to see some fascinating ‘collateral benefits' to this approach. Simply put, it's injected trust into a conversation that previously felt like buyers were cornering or holding hostage their supply base. This trust has resulted in higher engagement, much higher participation in e-invoicing, and get this…suppliers becoming change agents within our customers organizations! We believe the conversation must change from “Here is a web portal that you'll be charged to use, you're now required to use it to be our supplier” to “Here are our business objectives we think are in both of our best interest, here are a series of tools we're providing (for free!) so we can help each other achieve those objectives.”

That transparency has developed trust. That trust is beginning to recruit large groups of suppliers who are interacting with our customers end-users every day and helping spread the word on their business objectives. So with this new world order in mind, here's what we're seeing as best practices for supplier engagement:

  1. Start with a Plan

This may seem overly simple – but you'd be surprised how many companies start an implementation or supplier enablement project with no clear success metrics. What are you really trying to do? Measure it. Be specific. Some common ones:

  • 80% spend on contract
  • Increase PO-backed transactions by X
  • Get to 90+% e-invoicing in X amount of time.
  • Decrease Non-PO invoice approval times by X
  1. Get the correct supplier email address 

You'd be surprised how few Fortune 500 companies have good, transaction-appropriate email addresses in their Vendor master. There are many BPO providers that can help you go acquire these email addresses, and it's worth every penny. One of our major design principles is to embrace email as a common denominator for transactional collaboration. Getting the correct supplier email address is like rocket fuel for your supplier enablement efforts.

  1. Be Transparent with your suppliers

Tell them what you're trying to do and how you need them to help you get there. You're their customer; if they're good suppliers they'll help you get there. And they may have some good ideas that you didn't think about. At our recent Coupa Inspire event I listened to a fascinating panel discussion about how Suppliers are an important source of innovation that can help push procurement from a tactical function to a strategic function. It's true! Your suppliers are full of bright people who are interacting with all of your end-users every day. They can and will help you achieve your goals, let them.

  1. Clearly communicate all the supplier's options
  • Be clear on the different ways your suppliers can transact and collaborate with you, and the implications of each option. Let them know you're giving them choices.
  • Be clear on all training opportunities for suppliers. A < 3 minute training video has shown to be the most successful for us.
  • Be clear on deadlines on when suppliers need to respond with required information.


           5.  Manage any communication campaign with modern email marketing tools

There are fantastic freemium tools out there that can help you manage a communication campaign. These allow you to:

  • Design better communications
  • Track progress to your goals
  • Figure out which suppliers are engaging with your communication, and which are not.
  • Build and schedule follow-up messages
  • Prioritize phone follow-ups with those who are most engaged. 
  1. Go Big

Ever heard of the wave approach? We don't believe in it. To be fair – that may not be the total truth. We believe in segmenting your suppliers and making recommendations on how they'll transact and collaborate, and tailoring your communications to them, but gone are the days that you only have your fully integrated suppliers connected at Go-Live. You may need to break the communication and training down into groups, but gone are the days of trying to force thousands of suppliers into a portal-only strategy. In this new world an email is all you need to begin transacting both POs and Invoices and engaging in meaningful collaboration.


So take a look at this new world order, and consider some of these tips to leverage the growing trust in the marketplace. And imagine a world where borderless commerce and meaningful collaboration for all your trading partners really does happen on day one.

It's not very far off…trust me.

Adam Alphin is director, supplier enablement services, Coupa. 

This contributed article has been written by a guest writer at the invitation of Procurement Leaders. This is published in support of the Enabling The Supply Base Campaign, published in partnership with Coupa.

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