Chris Colquitt is Manager of Global Proposal Management at Clarivate Analytics, global leader in providing trusted insights and analytics to accelerate the pace of innovation. He has specialised in pitches and proposals since 2010.
What is your experience and expertise?
First and foremost I’m an experienced bids and proposals manager. I manage the global proposal team at Clarivate Analytics. We have a huge customer base inside global and international governmental bodies as well as academic institutions, pharmaceutical agencies and more. I’ve been a professional proposal manager for around eight years now, helping companies to either win specific deals or to set up their teams, templates, processes and technologies.
Alongside that, I sit as Director of Technology for the Association of Proposal Management Professionals in the UK (APMP). I’m also a card-carrying member of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply Chain so I can become a better proposal manager by understanding how procurers use technology and processes.
I’m interested in the developing landscape of technology: understanding how emerging tech and the behaviours and policies attached to it are changing the way we interact as sellers and buyers.
How has technology affected buying and selling? How interrelated are they?
It’s a dichotomy: they’re interrelated but completely different. This is from both a technology standpoint and a professional standpoint. The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply Chain is a representative body for procurement. It has a very decided direction on what purchasing should be and where it should go. Then there’s a number of sales associations out there who also have a very decided direction (like the APMP or ISSM). It’s rare the two talk, so there are behavioural issues and differences between them. For instance: at what point should supplier relationships be invoked and how much relationship is too much, especially pertinent in government.
We see the same issue with technology. A lot of the perceived efficiencies inside buying come from driving down the overall cost of making a purchase, making sure your visibility on potential suppliers is true and accurate so you identify the best suppliers in the market. On the backend, making sure the spend reporting is transparent and fair. Then there is also tracking success which is critical for you to be able to say what was a worthwhile purchase.
Sales is less worried about that backend, it is very aware of visibility. Every organisation wants to be seen to be innovative or to bring in something new. The two technologies aren’t driving in the same direction; the supply chain technology wants better visibility for fewer suppliers, and the sales supply chain wants to make sure that everyone can be seen.
It can be reconciled: part of that is through effective profile management and qualification. There’s some interesting profile based technology coming with social purchasing, and also some blockchain type approaches that allow for some secure and strong profile management. But it needs to come together soon. Otherwise, we’ll keep getting further apart.
Can you tell me a bit more about those technologies?
A company I know through APMP UK is developing blockchain technologies to identify transactions and organisations through the purchasing chain. That would mean that a subentity of a vendor could make a purchase and it could still be successfully traced back to the larger vendor. This has massive implications for fraud and transparency reporting. Some countries, for example Italy with their anti-mafioso laws, would hugely benefit from this.
The Online Journal of the European Union (OJEU) would also benefit because they’d be able to show effective spend reporting inside the EU. Sellers will benefit as well. They’d be able to see a more enhanced competitive environment; it will really help them to direct their time and resources more effectively.
Are there any other trends for the future you’d like to point out?
There is massive amount of push on automation. The use cases are slightly different for procurement and sales. In procurement the key is making sure that you have an internal business case realised, proper sign off, and use cases are understood. You can then develop that to testing, roll out and measurement of worth to the supply chain management. By contrast, sales automation is more reactive (or predictive). It’s based around building a response to questionnaires, it’s rare that really moves up to things like delivery tracking or realisation of results
A big question that needs to be answered is how can we integrate those two perspectives? Sellers often think that buyers just care about the price; and that’s not necessarily true. Buyers actually care about what’s going to return the most tangible benefit to the organisation. But sellers aren’t often using that kind of language when they put these technology solutions in place.
How can a seller respond practically to the changes?
Alignment with buyer organisations is critical. Salespeople spend a huge amount of time developing relationships with stakeholders (like heads of department or senior users), but not to understanding how their buyers buy. They need to dedicate time speaking with the procurement teams, supply chain teams, and compliance and legal teams inside their customer to understand more about what needs to be done in order for a buyer to be able to buy.
Is there anything that sellers, particularly SMEs, ought to do when they’re developing new services or new sales techniques?
Understand what’s open an out there and available already. You can buy in custom solutions, but there’s actually a huge amount of products that are available in the market already that have been developed either at the cost of government or at no cost at all. OJEU and the subsidiary portals set up in the background are opportunity identification spaces. There are organisations out there that sell access to those portals and a bit of additional information as well, but you can do it for free. You’ve then got organisations like Open Opps and Spend Network.
My recommendation, especially for SMEs, is sometimes you just need to go out and look a bit more carefully. Tools like Open Opps are out there offering a consumer free model.
Is there anything the government ought to do to respond to new trends in procurement that they are either not doing at the moment or are only on the verge of doing?
One thing that’s going to be really interesting is to see how artificial intelligence is leveraged over the next five to ten years. It’s probably going to be the private sector that uses it first, but I’d say that governments have the most potential to realise value from this. That’s mainly going to be through benefit-optimisation algorithms. Enter a purchasing use case and a sales use case into an AI, and it will balance those two items to give an optimal output. It’s also going to be interesting to see how governments utilise social selling more effectively. We’re already seeing a massive uptake on Twitter for instance, on the European Union tender portals.
As Britain leaves the EU, it’s going to be really interesting to see to what extent we replicate the EU systems. There’s a lot of good stuff, OJEU is fantastic, but the policies that support it, not so much. The EU purchasing guidelines are unnecessarily complicated and Britain has the opportunity to streamline those, but a lot of the technology is sound.
You’ve mentioned ‘social selling’ twice. Please can you tell me a little bit more about that?
This is the idea of how you can use things like social media or publically available profiles to build relationships with your customer or with your buyer, for example, identifying use cases. There are some complications around this: How does the buyer make sure it is competitive and fair? How do you develop relationships trusted suppliers? How do you make sure it’s auditable and transparent, especially from a government perspective? How do you integrate that into systems? How do you make make sure that bribery conventions are upheld? There’s a vast set of considerations in terms of policy, technology and platforms, use guidelines, individual technology sets.
Can you give a snapshot of what you think procurement might look like in ten years time when all the things we see emerging now either take root or fall away? How do you think it’ll be different to how it is at the moment?
My fear is it won’t be very different because we won’t have found a way to integrate the policy into these kinds of emerging technologies and platforms.
My hope is that we get a much more streamlined capability to create vendor profiles and that we can use open technologies like blockchain so that it doesn’t become proprietary. We can then start looking at simplifying the vendor selection landscape so buyers can find out more about a supplier and whether they are a good fit to their needs just by looking at the globally available profiles. Once we’ve then got that, it’s very easy to tie it to reporting. Instead of people self-attesting whether or not they’ve had any failed delivery, you could look at it in a public ledger. You could then trace that through to clear spend reporting and that then leads into the brave new world of evidence based selection. Ultimately, we could have more evidence based procurement and people can actually use data to make decisions instead of trust.
Is there anything in particular that you’re launching soon or going to be a part of soon, on behalf of Clarivate or anyone else, that you’d like us to mention?
People can always keep an eye on www.stateofinnovation.com. We report on how innovation is operating within the market, how it’s being researched and how it’s being commercialised, both at the private and the public level. For example, we look at how universities are inviting and using their funding more effectively, how governments are driving education, or how organisations are using the output of that research.
For APMP, we have ongoing conversations with both the UK government and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply Chain. I would invite people to look at apmp.org and apmpuk.co.uk to keep an eye on these developments.
Thank you very much for your time.