A common criticism from business stakeholders about buyers and category managers working in software procurement is that they don’t know much about what they are buying. Now that might not be such a problem in a commodity category, but when it comes to specific software purchases that fulfil specific business needs, then, as a procurement professional, you need to know what you are talking about. There is no better way to come across as professional and capable in front of your business stakeholders than by knowing the nuts and bolts of the software purchase.
Not only should you know about the technical aspects of the software purchase, but it is really fun to dive into these things. Frankly, why would you work in software procurement if you are not interested in software? Go buy widgets instead.
So to the tips… what do I do when I need to know more about an area of the software market I am not familiar with?
- Market research
Your procurement organisation absolutely must be syndicated to at least one of the three major market research firms. This is always my first stop – what are IDC, Forrester and Gartner saying? This will give you the top suppliers in that particular niche and give you a good idea of how each of these is performing before engage with your BU stakeholders about a software purchase.
But don’t just type in product names and surf blindly. Learn how to use Google to find out the information you really need (there are many guides on how to do this – Google it). Find out what people are saying on forums about the various products. Find out what the shortcomings are of each product. Find out what the product development trends are likely to be. Where is the market headed? These are all very useful things to know and often require some targeted searching. See document on how to use Google “Google like a pro”.
- Ask a techie
The next step, after the basic research of the first two steps mentioned above, is to have some conversations with people in the know. First stop – the techies. This might be within your company or on an internet forum. Put yourself into a conversation where you have to talk about the software purchase. You may be shown up as not knowing what you are talking about, but ask your rookie questions and learn from the experience. This is why the first two steps are important. From your research, you can have questions to ask, you have learned about the features of the various products in the market.
People who don’t mind taking 10 mins of their day to chat on a technical question about a software purchase with someone from procurement are worth their weight in gold. I try never to waste their time, and to reward them with whatever kudos I can when talking to their managers at a later stage in the procurement process.
- The software sales person
Most sales people are not used to dealing with procurement professionals who can challenge their software products from a technical perspective. Once you have investigated the three steps above, talk to the software sales person. Without talking about price or terms and conditions or anything “procurement orientated”, talk about the product’s shortcomings and the competition in that market segment. Nine times out of ten they will have to get “someone more technical” to respond to your questions = you 1 point, software sales person 0 points 🙂
- Users of the software
Finally, armed with all the information you have gathered, talk to the people in the business who will actually use the software. In procurement circles, people often think that to be “strategic” as procurement professionals, we need to be talking to budget managers several levels up from the people on the ground using the software products in question. Whilst there may be truth in that, when it comes to understanding which software to buy and how to put commercial pressure on the software vendor, the most insightful conversations are at the level of the end-user.
Any tips to add to these? Please join in the conversation in the SoftwareSpend group on LinkedIn. Just go to LinkedIn and search for SoftwareSpend. Alternatively, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org