The following is the transcript of my recent Blog Talk Radio interview with Simona Pop. You can listen to it here. For anyone interested in reading the blog that the conversation is based upon, you can access it on Spend Matters.
Kelly: Hello and thank you for joining us today. This is Kelly Barner, owner of Buyers Meeting Point. Today I would like to welcome Simona Pop as my guest. She's the head of Partnerships and Global Communication at InstaSupply. Simona has held roles in sales, marketing, and event planning, and she's an author and speaker for WeRSM, one of the largest independent websites dedicated to social media.
If that isn't enough, she was also selected as the winner of the Virgin Disruptor Challenge in 2016 for her desire to disrupt P2P. Last but not least, if you're thinking after hearing all these accomplishments that Simona is actually some kind of high performance AI, she reportedly loves a good omelette, something that, to me, is fair proof of her wisdom. Simona, thank you so much for joining us today.
Simona: Hi, Kelly. Thank you so much for having me.
Kelly: So, you started 2017 on a good note with a guest post placement on Spend Matters, titled, "In Business Relationship, It's All About H2H or Human to Human". One of the interesting things about this post is that you open right up with the premise that there's really no B2B/B2C divide, but that in fact it is human relationships that provide the structure we need for success. Can you talk a little bit about the role of relationships in business in general or in procurement?
Simona: Of course. So, yes, one of the highlights...and it was literally six days into 2017 that I had the post published on Spend Matters. For me, it's very important because it is a concept that's very, very close to the way I look at business and the way I look at business relationships. It's a term coined by Bryan Kramer and we've mentioned him in our Instaschats or Twitter chats about procurement before.
This core message of the human to human, versus B2C or B2B, is that behind any app, behind any software, behind any screen there is a human being. And that connection is more important than how new your software is, or how cost-efficient a solution is, or how well-known something is. If the things that you are offering or the trading relationship that you establish with somebody doesn't serve that human at the end of, like I say, that tool, or that platform, or that relationship, it isn't working.
So everything that we do in business should be focused on, "Am I helping the human at the other end of the technology by building a relationship out of the interaction?" And when we build...everything that we build, be it startup, be it survey, be it podcast. If we build everything from that premise of "Am I helping that human?" And, "Am I making a difference in that human's life, a positive difference?" That is the core base of a successful relationship, a useful relationship, a revenue generating relationship, a value added relationship.
Kelly: Now, speaking of relationships, one of the other things that you mentioned - and I think you kind of hit the nail on the head of something that doesn't get discussed enough - that you actually talk about the relationship between the humans in procurement and their technology, and you say that generally, when it comes to that relationship, that...and this is a quote. "Distinct feelings of inertia and unease prevail when it comes to our relationship with tech." What do you think the source of that inertia and unease is within procurement, and what's something we can be focusing on to try to remedy that?
Simona: I think the main reason is a fear of change. I think for quite a long time, we have had, or people in general, in procurement, have held this view that technology isn't necessarily something that will improve things. It's been viewed as an unnecessary cost, tick on a list just because or everybody else is doing it, so I guess, we have to. But never as a tool that will actually empower the people working within procurement. And that, I think, is a little bit of a symptom of vintage process.
So, for, let's say, 10, 20, 30 years in some cases, certain processes have been in place and things have been done in a certain way. Now what technology tends to do is really throw a little bit of a spanner in those works and really remove a lot of the steps needed in those processes. And because of that, there really can be shake up, but not a shake up like an earthquake with that connotation, but a shake up to really free up the time and free up the resources and free up the creativity of these amazing professionals working in procurement and even in finance, who really are the engine of a business. They keep it running, they keep it running well. And when you look at technology it really is this added help and this added tool that enables the engine to run even better.
But for some reason, and maybe it's because the technologies that have been around so far, I mean, I'm looking at the legacy ones, they really haven't made it tremendously easy for us. They've always involved quite a bit of cost, they've always involved quite a bit of training, they've always involved a lengthy deployment time, but that is no longer the case. And to continue our attitude or to still keep that in mind and have this attitude towards technology based on those experiences, really isn't a wise move. Because if we look at technology and how much it's evolved in the last five years, it is miles and miles away from where we were 20, even 10 years ago.
So it's really a question of getting informed, knowing that there are newer, better, cheaper, more quality based solutions out there and that's the way to break down. The more you know, the less you fear, I guess.
Kelly: And I think you make the point about just how much the technology has evolved, it's absolutely true, right? And there's been a few sort of seismic shifts, you know, for the most part, everything rolls forward, improving, and then something, whether it be the cloud or the –as-a-Service delivery model, comes along and shakes everything up. And then it settles and it goes back into this model of gradually evolving.
Do we, on the human end of that equation, need to try to consciously put ourselves to a similar, you know, not only are we regularly evolving and expanding understanding, but that occasionally, we let something come along and knock us off our feet so that we have to pick ourselves back up a little bit stronger but also having a different perspective, because it's not quite this gradual linear growth trend that were on. Is there a human parallel to what's being seen in technology?
Simona: I think...let's say, you know, for instance, you would go on holiday to a different country, you have to acclimatize a little bit. You get used to the temperature, it might be a little bit hotter or a little bit colder than you were used to. You have to adjust to a new language. You either try a few phrases in that language or find somebody who speaks that language and try to get by that way.
They are all little adjustments that we do everyday. I guess the main fear comes from, this isn't just about me, this is about the whole organization or my whole department or all of the stakeholders that would have a say in this. And I think that is where a huge blocker comes in and really affects this ability to adjust and adopt and look at new experiences on a human level at work. Because if you look at technology, I mean, let's be honest, look at us in our day-to-day lives, we now pay with our phone. I can't remember the last time I got a bank statement in paper format, and we do this everyday.
So every day we're surrounded by technology and it's simplifying things for us and it's making it better and easier and one touch this and one click this. But when it comes to work, it's a completely different attitude towards it even though it's the same. The strides that were made in consumer facing technology are similar to the ones made in business-to-business. It's just people are afraid because it isn't their money or their solo responsibility for only themselves or their family.
But I think now...and this is where podcasts like this, like the conversations that we have on social media, really, the jargon free communication and let's call it like it is, let's tell people what is out there. Let us show them how its done, how it can be here. Let them question us and figure out if there is something we haven't thought about. You know, let's make it a lot more honest because at the end of the day, that's the only way that you are gonna cure any kind of fear or any nostalgia for the past. It's only gonna be cured if you know that what's coming is better.
Kelly: Well, and to that point...and I think if we think circularly about it from again, the human perspective, one of those other things that you call out in the article is this idea that there's a few of these hallmarks of good service. And one of the things that you talk about is common values or shared values. And it's an interesting topic because it's a very personal concept versus corporate.
It's a community type of concept, it's a group dynamic and we don't tend to talk that way at work, although we certainly spend an awful lot of time talking about the downsides of not understanding common values. We have mis-alligned metrics. We have priorities that don't sync with other groups in the organization. We're working against suppliers. The executive team has absolutely no clue why they pay all of us to sit at our desks. And it would be productive, if not completely terrifying, to have everybody sit down and as part of the relationship building talk about, "What are my values, what are your values, where do we have common area?"
Do you think the time has come on this relationship continuum where we need to start talking about things in a more personal context, instead of just talking about, well, my performance metrics are X divided by Y where we bring everything back to the numbers? And we need to start emphasizing some of the qualitative things even in meetings that are specifically focused on objectives and priorities, and strategic planning.
Simona: Absolutely. I think one of the main things that I've noticed has been...and this, again, is based on the way things were and absolutely the way things should not continue, is the phobia in business-to-business relationships that once we have ticked all of your specifications and we have matched the budget, you have signed my contract, see you in four years.
It is this very impersonal way of doing business that is only based on the return on investment, and that is the basis of that relationship. Whereas, again, I've spoken to so many companies who have experienced this and the frustration, the lack of efficiency, the lack of fulfillment that that kind of relationship brings is huge. And it is so detrimental to the actual people working with the service, the tool, the product, whatever it may be, that it actually has an impact on their performance. It has an impact on them leaving. It has an impact on the service that they then provide to the end customer, to the customer-facing roles or aspects of their job. And I think that, you just...it's a knock-on effect that really is not a good sound way of doing business if we want to stay competitive and if we want to be everything that we want to be for our end in customers or consumers.
So one of the main things that I have done, and the Virgin example is perfect for this, because I think for me, those guys and the reason why I was really keen on getting involved with them is because they do have pretty much out of...I don't know, ten brand values, eight of them are completely, if not all ten, are completely in line with what I hold as values with regards to business relationships, with regards to business, with regards to you may seemed a positive impact on the world with what you're doing. You're looking at new ways of doing things, better ways of doing things.
So for me, that was a key thing, putting those sets of values side by side and going, "Yes, that matches, that matches, that matches" because then the conversation that you're having is completely different. It is value led as opposed to, "Am I saving 10%, or am I within budget, or how much am I gonna make?" because once you have the value on investment from that relationship, the revenue will come.
So it's almost like a reversal where if you do focus on the value, the return is bound to come because you aren't here to help, you are here to make the other person's life easier. And this goes with external relationships as well as with internal. If I am fully aware of what everybody, all the stakeholders, or everybody who I work with within my team, within my organization, within my other global enterprise, if I know what these guys all hold as the motivation for all of their actions, then we can actually have a conversation that is based on, what is the solution to this need, and how can we did it to match exactly our way of working, our belief. For instance, if it's something to do with sustainability, does that supplier...would be or to what we think is important. And it's almost a new way of approaching by a supplier relationship or a co-working relationship, or any kind of business relationship. If you focus on the values, everything comes from there. Everything.
Kelly: And if we're gonna accomplish that sort of value alignment, don’t we all need to be a little bit more real? I think in our interactions with each other internally, right, also obviously, risk kept in mind, but to the extent that we can with people that we face externally. And not everything needs to go through the message polishing mill.
And in terms of...I guess this is another area where technology has sort of progressed in a way that it can support us. If things like Twitter, like LinkedIn, like Instagram, allow us to connect in different channels, virtually, with people we do not know all over the world, and start changing the notion of not only how relationship start and what they're based on, but also the kinds of communications and the timing and responsiveness of communications.
You know, I said in the opening in your bio that you do a lot of work, generally speaking, on social media even outside of the procurement space. What do you think are the greatest opportunities or some of the most interesting shifts that you're seeing take place in social media with humans that offers some specific value in a B2B environment or within a company?
Simona: I think the main benefit of social media and communication through social media is this breaking down of barriers, and this less polished version of communication because if we think about the usual kind of business, dissemination of information, it's a whitepaper, it's a case study, it's a slide share. They're all very thought out, they're all very polished and at the end of the day, they are all pretty much the same.
I think, for quite a while, there's been a lot of very templated style communication. And what social has done is it has removed that and put you in front of the person you potentially want to speak to and it is down to you to stand out, it is down to you to express the most concise message that you would like to relay to that person. And what that does is, one, it removes potentially days and weeks of having to wait until the whole very polished communications reaches the target. So it's removed time.
It has also enabled you to gather information a lot quicker because even if a person, the person you're reaching out to from X company said, "You know what? No, I don't want to interact", you have saved yourself so much time and so much effort in putting everything together, putting all of the polish, all the presentation, all of this, all of that. When in fact, that person is either not in a position to listen to you or have to look at what you're saying, not willing to look at something new and it just expedites the reaction and the conversation, it almost puts it into turbo drive.
And for me, that is the extremely important, especially because I want to be very clear about what I do, what I believe, what my values are and it is very important to me to know that I am speaking to somebody with whom these values aligned. And actually, that helps me, because at the end of the day, as a supplier, I want to be working with people who are in tune with the way I see the world or where I see things going.
And I think that is something that makes a partnership out of something that would be a very impersonal acquaintance style, if you will, relationship, which actually isn't really a relationship because it's just an impersonal nameless, faceless, contractual bind that potentially doesn't help either of us. Because at the end of, for instance, a five year contract...and I've encountered this a lot in the procurement space. You sign a five-year contract but you realize in year two that it's no longer valid for where you're going, what you're doing, how your organization is changing, but you still have to pay out the next three years, which is insane.
You have marriages that last less than five years so something... But something as long as that, it really isn't. It's not a partnership. It's a prison that you fit out your time if you find that it isn't actually right for you, which you might not know fully until you've had a year used out of it.
So what we do, and this is something that I strongly believe in, take a year, see what you think, at the end of that year, let's fix or evaluate what is working, what isn't, what can be changed, what can be better. And that is the way something grows and that is the way a partnership grows because I'm here with you every step of the way. If you grow, if you're dip, if you do whatever it maybe, I should be able to be here and support you and show you what else is new. And even if at one point you decide, you know what, your solution is no longer, for whatever reason, it doesn't apply any longer. Absolutely fine. I'm not here to hold you prisoner just so I can make my quota. I'm here to provide value. If we agreed that these are the things that I am helping you with, I will and this is my end of the partnership. I'm here to make sure that I offer you 110%, because that is what you do in a working relationship. That is what you do in a healthy relationship and it just makes sense.
Really, it is very, very strange to me how we just quote all of that, leave it at the office door and as soon as we're at work, everything changes in how we do things, in how we look at things. It's crazy. We're all humans, we all have the same needs, whether it's out of the office door or in the office, seven days a week or five days a week.
Kelly: No, it's absolutely true.
Simona: That doesn't need to change.
Kelly: No, and the fact of that the matter is, it can't. It's really the difference between us acknowledging the dynamic and the role and things created by those relationships and not just sitting around and pretending that they don't exist, but nonetheless, feeling the effects of them, feeling the effects of misaligned values.
And actually, it's amazing, given both the timing of this conversation and also your post heading on Spend Matters, your suggestion that people give whichever partnership, whichever relationship, give it a year, monitor it very carefully. It's January, this is the natural time to take that sort of a step, especially if you haven't done it in the past.
So for anyone that has not yet come across it, I would highly recommend that you read the article, "In Business Relationships, It's All About H2H or Human to Human." Simona, thank you so much for sharing your time and thoughts today.
Simona: Thank you, Kelly. It's been an absolute pleasure and I'm so happy that we got a chance to do this. And obviously, our connection comes very much from social media. We connected via Twitter and have enjoyed some great great debates on our Twitter, Instachat. And it is proof that the connections that we make really do bring about value and it is this alignment of values that will transform what we're doing now and make things better.
Kelly: That is absolutely true. And we would be remiss if we did not say that for all of the value and the benefit that we have gotten out of this online relationship, everyone else owes it to themselves to attempt to create the same within their own work environment.
So the challenge to everyone listening to this, it is very easy to share, this podcast from BlogTalkRadio. It's open and easily accessible. Take this information and share it with someone in your network that you feel would benefit from the things that Simona and I have shared today. Share her post, share the podcast and start a conversation within your network that will ensure that your 2017 truly does keep human-to-human front and center, as opposed to metrics and measures and numbers only.