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Point Counterpoint: Has Procurement Caught the Social Media Virus?
Earlier this week, I joined Jon Hansen on Blog Talk Radio for the next installment in our series of ‘Point Counterpoint’ discussions. You can listen to it on demand here.
This month our topic was social media and how procurement is – or isn’t – incorporating it in our work. Professionally, I look at the potential of social media in two ways:
1. As an additional source of information about our suppliers and supply chains.
I’ve always been a big fan of the RFI, but I think the time has come for them to change. Procurement shouldn’t be asking suppliers for a bunch of stock information when we have the ability to go out and collect so much information on our own. Now, by saying that, I’m not advocating the end of RFIs. What I am suggesting is that we need to do at least as much research into suppliers as the information we ask them to provide (all of which should be validated).
In doing this additional research, procurement should take an HR view of social media. Anyone who has changed jobs in the last few years knows to expect HR to screen both professional (LinkedIn) and personal (Facebook, Twitter) social media accounts. As procurement is increasingly looking to establish relationships with suppliers, we should do no less. This additional information should include things that suppliers are saying and what other customers are saying about them – and how they respond.
2. As a way of enhancing the connectivity we have with suppliers.
So often, procurement’s contact with suppliers is short. We get through a process, whether a strategic sourcing project or a one time buy, and then we disengage until the next scheduled milestone is reached. Social media allows us to stay connected with suppliers in a more proactive fashion. We can even expand our inquiries so that we immerse ourselves in social information about that supplier or industry.
As I mentioned in the BTR discussion, and as we’ve heard from Wake Forest Researchers Dr. Jim Narus and Dr. Michelle Steward, B2B buying is starting to resemble B2C buying more and more all the time. The only difference is that while user experience expectations on the B2B side are quickly catching up to B2C ones, feedback has been slower in coming. Procurement pros are understandably cautious about offering up information (negative or positive) about their suppliers online. If and when that feedback starts to become more freely available, procurement will have to consider that the primary source of information to be accessed through social media is likely to be from the suppliers themselves.
The last point that came up in our conversation, and which people are likely to hold strong and varying opinions about is whether the increased role of social media is likely to hasten the extinction of paid supplier networks. I’m not prepared to throw the baby out with the bathwater on that one, especially since procurement has been slow to embrace social media so far. I would rather see networks compared against other sources of suppliers and information (marketplaces, formal ratings sites, social media) and forced to compete as the most effective means of managing and expanding the supply base.
But that’s just me. Listen to the conversation yourself (here) and then share your opinions here or on Blog Talk Radio.