By Ronald Hedley
“I am the boss,” announced Philip Ideson’s precocious five-year-old son to the family. “I am the boss,” he told his kindergarten teacher. “I am the boss,” he proclaimed to the world.
Philip Ideson IS the boss. He is the founder and Managing Director of Art of Procurement. He hosts a weekly podcast (The Art of Procurement) for procurement leaders. Ideson knows that being the boss is, well, complicated, and not as glamorous as his son might think.
Ideson also knows that being the boss involves risk. He stated, “When I started the podcast, it was meant to be an experiment. ‘I am going to try this,’ I told myself. I quit my job at Accenture to set up my own business.”
It also requires a vision. “I was inspired by listening to podcasts in marketing and the entrepreneur space, but there was nothing in procurement. It seemed to me that podcasts would be a great way to expand my network by speaking in a way that was non-threatening. I knew that I would learn by creating a platform that would give me an excuse to talk to people that I looked up to. I knew that there was a gap here for a procurement podcast.”
It takes tenacity. “I was scared stiff. I had never done any interviewing, except for interviewing people for jobs. I had never done any public speaking, but if I make a commitment, then I’m going to hold myself accountable. We are now turning the corner. It has been a three-and- a-half-year journey.”
It demands self-reflection. “When people asked me, ‘What do you do?’ I didn’t know whether to answer that we were a podcast, a company that inspired others, or a consulting firm and capability development company. So, over the holidays, we did a brand consolidation. We brought everything into the Art of Procurement brand. We created a new website, which focused on our consulting and our learning and development.”
Lastly, it promises growth. “We used to be a podcast that happened to have a business. We wanted to change that to a business that also has a podcast.” Ideson believes he and his team have done just that. “We help procurement drive change with confidence, and we do that through consulting, learning and development, and through the podcasts.”
About the Company
One rarely sees the word “art” in the same sentence with the word “procurement.” Ideson shared the importance of “art” in the company’s title. “For me, procurement is human to human. We’re basically in the business of human relationships. Procurement, as a function, focuses a lot on the science, on the process, and on the technology. It’s not to say that those don’t matter because I think they really do matter, but the ‘art’ amplifies the science. This speaks to the importance of the human element.”
Ideson added, “Procurement can be an art form, but we don’t often treat it like that. Instead, we strive for consistency. Every process has to look the same, and everyone has to do the same thing. A lot of businesses are like that, where you’re pushing people into conformity because that is the easiest way to scale. Procurement professionals who are creative, connected, commercially minded-and customer-centric, and who apply those competencies to today’s technology, create a value larger than the sum of the parts. This is the ‘art’ of procurement.”
Ideson values the art of storytelling. He believes it transcends procurement. Ideson stated, “I think that it’s knowing the bigger picture. First, it’s understanding the people that you’re trying to engage with, having empathy for them, understanding their fears or their aspirations. I’m thinking about it as sharing examples. I think it’s important to share examples of successes and failures in terms of how you have helped people in the past.”
Ideson believes that incorporating story structure is essential, that having a narrative arc to any conversation or presentation is important. He stated, “Make sure that you have that beginning, middle, and end, the end being a call to action—as opposed to having a meeting and telling them everything that you know.”
Ideson is structuring the conversation and, at the same time, making an emotional connection with his clients. “Through storytelling, we are demonstrating to them that we are an authority on the topic.”
”You need a compelling value proposition, and that value proposition has to be built around the needs of the business.
Part of being a good storyteller is being a great listener. Much of what Ideson incorporates into his business model has been gleaned from listening to, and learning from, procurement professionals who share their stories with him every week on his Art of Procurement podcasts. One such influence is VSP (Vision Service Plan) CPO Greg Tennyson. “Greg has been really successful integrating procurement with his business.”
Ideson loves how Tennyson and the CEO of his company have forged a partnership. Surprisingly, VSP’s CEO attends procurement conferences to talk about her relationship with procurement. Ideson commented, “In the procurement space, I have never seen that before. In procurement, we need to have that level of engagement with the CEO, where the CEO is willing to make a relationship with the procurement a part of their journey, to take that time to do so. Tennysons is embodying the movement we are all trying to create.”
So, what exactly is Ideson trying to create? What is his business model? Ideson believes, “We should be thinking of procurement as a business within a business, rather than a function within a business. We have built a methodology that enables this approach that we call Procurement Inc.” He believes that the procurement conversation needs to change from push to pull. “You need a compelling value proposition, and that value proposition has to be built around the needs of the business.”
here are multiple challenges to changing the value proposition. The first is changing the mindset. “We have conditioned our business stakeholders to only think of procurement as being able to deliver cost savings. Because that is how we’ve grown. We’ve grown saying, ‘I’m going to save you 10% on all you spend with your suppliers, therefore, give me the investment dollars to build a team to do it.’”
Ideson added, “We have built our entire ROI proposition on cost savings. So, one has to take another look at the value prop.”
He then prompts us to look forward. “The next challenge is bringing in some sales and marketing techniques: understanding your customer, knowing how you can specifically help them in a way that they want to be helped, and being able to do that and communicate that at the functional level and in individual meetings.”
Ideson offers an example, “Doing things like bringing in a CRM (customer relationship management) tool is a way to keep track of your conversations with people. You can start putting your stakeholders into a pipeline and look at them as customers.”
Ideson believes that procurement professionals should be adding value, starting from their initial conversation with stakeholders. He stated, “When you show up the first time, give a reason that the stakeholders would want to engage with you again.” Ideson shared some possible engaging conversation starters, including, “Here is some information about an innovative new supplier in the market,” or “Here are some benchmarking and market insights that show the value we are receiving from our current suppliers,” or “These are the approaches that other companies are taking to solve the challenges that you have.”
Ideson offered this final bit of wisdom, “Don’t be someone who is just showing up to relay thoughts and process, someone who is just checking the boxes. It doesn’t need to be anything earth shattering, but you need to send a signal to the person you’re trying to influence, showing them that you are somebody who has information that is of value, who can help them.”
The Future of Procurement
Ideson knows that technology is the future of procurement. He believes that procurement professionals need to embrace, not fear, new technology if they are going to succeed. “Do not fear that technology will come in and replace what we do,” he said. He then offered the following story from his past that, perhaps, portends the future:
“I used to be involved in outsourcing. I lived in India for a year, running an outsource service center for procurement.
My job was to take work from our offices in the UK and the US and bring it to India. When you are doing that, the vast majority of people are scared because they think you are taking their jobs away. Some were scared because they feared for their jobs and buried their heads in the sand, hoping to survive. But, there were people who benefited from the outsourcing. Those were the people who embraced it, who wanted to make it happen, who figured a way to partner more closely with outsource teams in India. There was also a future for some who had lost their jobs because work went to India. They were able to find new positions because their skill set was in demand. Unfortunately, those that chose not to improve themselves were impacted negatively.”
Ideson believes that technology will, one day, replace about 80% of what procurement does. He sees CEO’s celebrating the elimination of procurement. “There is a risk that businesses will decide that the 20% that technology doesn’t replace isn’t worth having a procurement function for.”
As demonstrated in the story above, Ideson believes that the procurement professionals who don’t bury their heads
in the proverbial sand will have success. He believes that the procurement professional needs to embrace the new technology and needs to see that the 80% stuff (“nuts, bolts, whatever”) isn’t important. “I want to focus on the other 20%, the stuff that is critical to the value proposition of my company,” he said.
Once again, Ideson offered his advice, “The procurement professional needs to own that 20% and strive to be the commercial manager for that spend. That means going beyond procurement and looking at the whole commercial value chain and where the product or service fits. The procurement professional needs to engineer that into the operating model of the company.”
Ideson believes that, if successful, more companies will invest in procurement in the future. He stated, “The number and the size of procurement teams will look a lot different. We will have smaller teams on a more senior level. However, with a broadened value proposition, I believe it will be easier for companies who have not invested in strategic procurement today to build the argument for making an investment. Smaller procurement teams do not necessarily mean fewer jobs because, I believe, more companies will develop their procurement capability.”
”Embrace the future. Don’t be held back by what procurement was or has been in the past. We are all responsible. I don’t think we know the power that exists in our own choices.
Ideson is not sure when these changes will happen, but he feels procurement needs to be ready. He said, “If I were to model things out, that’s where I see things are going. The 20% is about commercial business acumen and relational
skills. Our company, ultimately, wants to help people build the infrastructure and capabilities that are needed to enable
a focus on the 20%, where procurement professionals can take the technical skills that they have and apply them in new ways. It all goes back to the ‘art.’”
Perhaps, now, when someone asks, “What is your job at Art of Procurement?” Ideson will pause for a moment and think of his five-year-old son. Perhaps he will then smile and say, “I am the boss.”