Ep.01 Kelly Barner - Market Intelligence Procurement Teams Should Utilize + State of Talent

First ever podcast episode of The Way We Source

In this episode we’ll be talking about:

- How Kelly thinks hired sourcing has evolved during the past years

- Her take on the current state of talent and recruitment in procurement

- Are we moving more towards teams consisting of specialists or generalists in Procurement?

- What roles does she think technology and market intelligence should be playing together with procurement, given recent years and today's climate in procurement.

- Some concrete tips on what type of Market Intelligence procurement teams should be looking at to drive real value.

- To finish off, we’ll ask her about some topics that she’s extra passionate about currently within sourcing and procurement!

And here's the episode:

Today we have the pleasure of hosting procurement and supply chain writer and influencer, co-founder, and partner of the Art of Procurement, host of Dial P for Procurement podcast on the Supply Chain Now network, founder and managing director of Buyer's Meeting Point, and now member of LinkedIn Creator Accelerator program. None other than the absolute superwoman with the longest CV I think I've ever had to read in disguise: Kelly Barner!

Kelly, welcome to the show!

Hi, Sam. Thank you so much for having me. My goodness. I'm flattered. I'm gonna have to take that segment of your intro and make sure my kids listen to it. I think my influence will go way up in this household, uh, if not in the outside world.

Nice to hear. I'm happy that we're able to keep your kids happy!

When it comes to the first question I have, I just have to ask after reading up, how in the heck do you make the time?

You know, I am what I describe as functional OCD, so I have a very complex system of sort of tracking my tasks and my time. Um, and it works for me. I'm not someone that needs a whole lot of slack time, right? I also fortunately don't need a lot of sleep time. So my brain is kind of constantly churning and fortunately I have a lot of different avenues as, as you mentioned in the intro, for all of that content to come out in.

So I am basically always in creator mode.

Part of the sleepless elite, possibly?

Haha, quite possibly. Oh, I have the old school little notebook and pencil next to my bed. There are plenty of nights I wake up and it's three 15 in the morning and I'm thinking, Oh my goodness, this interesting point about supply chain disruption.

If I leave it till morning, I will have no idea what that thought was. So capturing that little thought to act on it later, there's always an article or a podcast in.

Some people have a dream book, you have a supply chain and procurement book. I mean, it works out for everybody.

It's very sad.

No! Well, I think everybody's very happy with the content that you've been creating. And there, I actually would love to stay a second and just ask: What exactly does sourcing and procurement mean to you?

So to me it, it actually takes me back in a way to my childhood. So I was part of the Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers golden years growing up and my very favorite part of Mr. Rogers was always when they would go and do the factory tour, How do you make crayons? How do you make trumpets? I was fascinated with that from a very early age. And granted I did not end up in manufacturing

But to me; sourcing and procurement and supply chain management. That's all of sort of the behind the scenes of the things that all of us need and use and enjoy in our personal lives. And to me, studying the contributions that these teams and functions make to business is like pulling back the curtain and getting a peak at how interconnected everything is.

How complicated. And truthfully how hard it is to make things look as simple as they often do when we're viewing the world through consumer.

We couldn't have said it better ourselves, and that's why we started this podcast in the first place, to dive deeper into the way we source and how it impacts our day to day lives.

The plates that we use to eat the food that we're eating, the chairs that we're sitting on to the table that we're sitting at, it takes a global supply chain network to be able to bring it to us. And sometimes, like you say, we forget about how easy these procurement and supply chain teams make it look to make it happen.

I'm curious there, why is it that you've chosen to work within this particular field? Beyond the fact that, you know, you're fascinated by the space. Is there anything else that was a driving force?

Uh, yes, there was one really big driving force. Uh, when I was fresh out of grad school and working my first professional job, I got laid off and the company recognized that I was a solid chunk of the way through a fully sponsored MBA program, and they didn't wanna lose that investment.

And so they said: How do you feel about sourcing? And I was like, I love it. What is it? ? So I was sort of fortuitously dropped into procurement in sourcing. I know a lot of other people have their own version of that story. But, for me, I literally spent my first few days on the job googling strategic sourcing to figure out what on earth it was.

But, but I fell in love in the process and I have never looked.

Nice to hear. Sometimes the serendipitous beginnings are the exact ones that create along and more passionate future.

You began in hired service to sourcing. Am I correct by saying So Kelly?

You are, yes. For a grocery supermarket chain on the east coast. In the US.

And now as you have that outside-in look at hired services sourcing. How would you say that you've seen this particular field evolve?

I think part of what's been interesting about it, and maybe this is because I, I look at the world through writer's eyes, if there is such a thing, is that a lot of the terminology has changed in, in some ways working with third party service providers.

Whether you're talking about something location based, like, you know, floor washing or, or window washing, or grease trap cleaning, or whether you're looking at something more back office, a third party service like consulting or legal, that's done from corporate headquarters. We've borrowed a lot of the terminology and then I think the value proposition and supplier relationship expectations, from technology.

You know, I was working as a procurement practitioner in advance of the rise of SaaS tech and, you know, cloud hosting and all of that. So as the language of technology and apps and solutions started to change and become a little bit less behind the firewall, if you will. I feel like the same thing has happened with services.

I mean, we almost never use the word outsourcing anymore. I mean, back in the day, that was sort of a hot button. Even if it was true, it was sort of a hot button issue. And I can remember having conversations to make absolutely sure that if we were hiring a third party pest control service versus having our own team of technicians in house making sure they understood: Now, remember, we may be outsourcing this, but that's not the same thing as offshoring. Of course, offshoring a location based service would be ridiculous. That doesn't make any sense, but there was so much less understanding of how that worked. And the optimization that we have seen as procurement professionals, I think makes it clear that you can get so much more value when you're working with someone that specializes in a given area.

And so we no longer think about it. Outsourcing suggests such a a distance. Right? And it suggests, in my opinion, something that is done in order to focus on cost and the value that we've seen by partnering with specialist providers and all of these different service areas has created such an opportunity for the companies that benefit and the partnerships that exist as a result, I think it has transformed peoples thoughts around all different kinds of hired services. Very much in the way that we think about digital transformation today versus the way we would've talked about implementing technology platforms in the past.

Right, it's an interesting trend and transition that we're going through. If we were to focus less so on the sourcing part of services and capabilities, and we focus more so on the teams internally within procurement themselves; Have you seen particular talent trends within procurement that you think are interesting?

I have, and I think the first big one we're gonna see over time if this is truly a, a good thing or a bad thing. Professionals are now choosing to enter the field of procurement. There's still not a ton of college level programs that touch on it, but I'm seeing a new generation of people coming in and saying, Okay, this is a space I wanna work, versus all of us who are sort of shoved into procurement without expecting it. I don't question it being good that they're choosing to enter procurement, but what I'm sort of sensing is that; They're starting in procurement but not staying, and I'm not entirely sure what the longer term impact of that is going to be from sort of a knowledge, legacy, and maturity continuity standpoint.

I love the fact that people are choosing procurement and feeling proud and positive about the kind of work that we do. I also love the fact that it's seen as a gateway to literally any job you want in the enterprise. I think it's important to do a rotation through procurement. Um, but I'm concerned about churn.

So overall, I would say that the talent profile has become much more educated. Much more, almost like a consulting profile. Lot of empathy, good communication skills, excellent analytics, desire to work with technology. So I would say the skills and talent, we are absolutely acing it in terms of what companies need from their procurement talent.

I'm just a little bit worried about the lack of tenure in some cases because we're finding these great candidates and then they're saying ”Okay, well bye now I'm going to ops or now I'm going to finance” or you know ”I'm going someplace else”. And it's like, No, we wanna keep you a little bit longer. We wanna get you to CPO level.

You know, as opposed to just having all of the other C-level functions, having some distant past experience and.

Well, we've seen in the CPO Compass survey from procurement leaders, published in 2022, showed that 46% of the CPOs they surveyed; said that they plan to create new roles and responsibilities in the coming year. And this might of course extend to there's new talent coming in, new capacities, new capabilities and new roles popping up in procurement. Maybe that's a way to be able to keep people sticking around for a longer period of time or to move the ranks within a procurement organization.

But it also seems as if we're moving a little bit into an era of the specialists. When I say that, do you agree or would you say that there's more generalists still as a majority within procurement teams that you're speaking with?

Well, I think it depends on how we look at the idea of generalist. So as we've discussed, I started my procurement career as a practitioner. But then I did move in and spend a couple of years working as the associate director of consulting services at EM Torres. So it was a procurement technology provider that was acquired by IBM, basically a prime competitor to Ariba at the time.

And we were doing what I recognized in hindsight; was procurement transformation, but we called it program design. And we would go in and have these early conversations saying, ”Okay, you've brought in this technology. Now let's help you figure out how you need to structure and build your team to derive maximum value from that investment.”

And we would always talk to them about, sort of two different ways and and I would make the case that both of them involves some type of generalism and some type of specialization. So you're either specialized around categories: you have a marketing person, a tech person, logistics person, but then everyone is generalist from the sense of how many supplier relationships are there, how analytical, how competitive, how commodity market driven is this category.

Versus having category generalists, where you then have procurement professionals that might specialize in things like very data heavy projects or projects where you only have one or two supplier relationships - but they require very strategic nuance negotiation prep. Or even truthfully, the relationship of that category with the business.

Do you have very difficult stakeholders or is this a regulated industry that therefore requires a different type of approach to this category and contracts and supplier relationships? I think you're always gonna need some level of specialization, but each team, in many cases, based on the luxury of size around headcount, is going to have to say: Okay, how do we wanna structure, how are we best setting ourselves up for success in terms of dedicating categories versus dedicating really more capabilities from the perspective of the procurement individual.

And it's interesting to see how teams are evolving and how they will continue to evolve over time. I think that's part of this is that the role is in transition and we're seeing that digital transformation is one of those aspects that's driving a lot of transition within the function and helping procurement to really be a role player in the organization that’s driving more measurable value.

What particular role do you think that technology and market intelligence plays in this transformation and transition of procurement within the organization?

Well, I think there has to be an acknowledgement about how fast the world is changing and it even feels like it's accelerating.

So you sort of have that dynamic. But the other piece that I think we're really starting to see play out is that: All of our projections broke in 2020. I mean, maybe let's exempt weather, but other than weather, every single other roadmap, projection, three to five year plan, blue sky vision, all of that stuff. Listen, recycle it. You're starting over. And not only are you starting over, you're starting over without the kind of analytical backbone you would've been able to lean on before. Because we have this period of: March of 2020 to June or so of 2022. Like, it was all an anomaly, the entire thing.

And so you can't look back to late 20 20 19 and extrapolate into 2023. That doesn't make any sense. And so what procurement is needing to do now is say: Okay, I'm going to acknowledge the legacy of market understanding and our company's approach to this category, but I need to do some type of deep dive to get like a flash in the moment read on this market. And in order to do that, again depending on the specific market it is, where geographically in the world are we sourcing from 2, 3, 4 tiers into the supply chain.

How has the power dynamic shifted around technology? Who have new entrance been? What are the true cost drivers behind this service? I think market intelligence. And I'm biased, but has always been an incredible asset and advantage creating opportunity for procurement. But right now it's a survival mechanism

Because we can't leverage our data. I won't say we can't. We shouldn't trust our suppliers read on where the market is going. And I do think we have historically placed too much emphasis on what our incumbent suppliers teach us about the market that they're in. I'm not suggesting that they're trying to gaslight us or mislead us or or anything like that, but they have a perspective and it's one important perspective that needs to be balanced with how we see the world, how our customers see the world, how analysts see the world. And we need to sort of take all of that and smash it into a ball and come up with an independent view. So from my perspective, being able to go out and go to primary source data, even go to government reports, I know that's sort of.

Tedious and unfun reading. Getting as close as you can to the source of the information that's ultimately going to impact your strategy. That is work that has to be done and, and that's the role that I think that market Intel has an opportunity to play in procurement today if we'll allow it.

So concretely, if you are giving a tip to a procurement team, uh, a professional that's listening in to this episode, what type of market intel should a procurement team be looking to get their hands on maybe three or four, uh, examples?

So I think the big one is easy because it affects absolutely every single category.

You wanna be looking at things like inflation. You wanna understand how the consumer price index, the producer price index. You wanna understand labor rates and jobless numbers. So the, the first category is enormous. I would say the really hotly discussed Economic indicators. So many of the things that we're looking at right now are driven by gas prices and general inflation and and labor rates, and so understanding those macroeconomic things is absolutely critical.

I would say the second thing is always looking at commodity price drivers if they're relevant to your particular market. And getting in and understanding of the changes.

And that is a place where you can definitely have conversations with suppliers because you're saying: Okay, I'm reading this. You are obviously watching this. Also, how do you interpret this? You know, you're sort of talking about that third party source information.

But the other thing that I would say is incredibly important, is regulation. Because in many cases, we talk about sustainability. It's a wonderful thing. We talk about DEI objectives, wonderful thing. However, as procurement well knows, all of these changes do ultimately lead to some type of cost. And so whether it's regulations around compliance; that's going to have to be met by a supplier or their supplier. Whether it's regulation around documenting sustainability or carbon emissions. Whether it's some type of delay or documentation requirement that's existing around proving a percentage of workforce diversity in different categories. I think those are things that procurement often thinks of after the contract has been signed and we start to track the ”value beyond savings” associated with the deal.

I think we need to back that way up even beyond supplier discovery and qualification and think about how is this changing. The power structure in the industry. How is it changing the cost drivers for these suppliers? And bring that into conversations early because I think the expectations are significant enough, which is good because it should lead to measurable benefits down the road. But I do think we need to start factoring that in earlier, and we should consider it part of understanding the market that we're sourcing in and buying from.

And I think that the, the beauty of, of the tips that you just gave is it's all about becoming proactive rather than reactive to the world that we're living in today. And those are three very big drivers that I think all procurement teams need to have their eyes on. So great insights.

You obviously burn for the topics that you talk about. it's clear. It's clear tome, it's clear to anybody that's listening.

You can't even see my hands. I'm the worst. I'm on this podcast and my hands are going, Oh my gosh. So everybody just visualize that as they listen

Trust me, Kelly, we all see your hands. I mean, you, you don't need to see them, we can hear them moving.

Because you're obviously passionate, it's obvious in hearing you on this episode, it's obvious in the articles that I've read by you - which are fantastic by the way - is there a particular topic or a subject matter or a theme that you are really burning for at the moment?

So the thing that I'm really focused on in the moment, and it's been so much fun and so incredibly rewarding, is a series of podcasts that I've actually done for Dial P for Procurement that you mentioned, which is one in the family of shows at Supply Chain Now. What I've been doing is taking really hot button above the fold (Millennials, that's a reference to newspapers) really hot general news topics and stopping and following my own advice and researching and digging deep, going back to source materials where I can, and kind of finding the story beneath the story.

So many times when you read an article, you get 80%, 90% of the same information with that one little detail that's gotten updated. Well, if somebody could take that story and pull out all of the five to 10% of new material and put it together into one cohesive narrative, you will see the story through completely different eyes.

So a couple of recent examples where I did this and, and I mentioned this being rewarding: There is nothing like finding that one piece of information where you say Wait a minute, I haven't read this anywhere else”. When I put this piece of information next to that piece of information, it changes everything.

I did it with the baby formula shortage in the United States. That's a story that continues to evolve and have in some cases tragic consequences, but very important lessons for us to learn as a profession.

I did it and have continued to, to stay up to date with Elon Musk's efforts to take Twitter private.

And, and the other story that I've been following actually on a couple of different fronts is the impact that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has had on industries and businesses worldwide. You know, that generally gets discussed as sort of the first social media. Conflict. Um, but it's also been one where many companies have almost gotten involved in a true diplomatic geopolitical sense.

The decision to supply something, the decision to pull out of a country. How you handle the workers that are still in a place, um, and then on the commodity front. I recently dug in and looked at the logistical or supply chain options of trying to get Ukraine's latest grain crops out of the country, A so that people can be fed worldwide and we can stave off a crisis of huge humanitarian proportions around need for food, uh, but also because the next crop is coming. We all know that supply chains are a continual flow, and they work best when they're allowed to flow. They're, they're not intended to be stopped and restarted, and so, . If for instance, those farmers in Ukraine can't get the wheat out of the fields in time to sell it, not only does that mean that that's going to spoil on the ground, but it also doesn't give them the cash resources to invest in the next year's crop.

And so it's not even just the disruption of moving the food that's available now to make room for what's coming behind it. It may have prolonged impacts on Ukraine's ability to feed parts of the world that in some cases I believe it's. Lebanon, I think gets almost 80 or 90% of its wheat just straight from Ukraine.

So the disruption in a country like that is unprecedented, and yet there are no good options. You know, one of my theories on everything, and I bring this to every single story that I cover in research, is that nothing that is real. Is also simple, and nothing that is simple is ever real. And when you look at, okay, maybe here's three or four options for how to handle the situation with the grain, it's truly a situation of picking the least terrible option.

And I think companies, regardless of industry, regardless of location in the. Can look at a situation like that and maybe not say, Okay, well I would choose this one over that one. But say, Okay, how do I learn from this to look at my own complexity and isolate those 3, 4, 5 lousy options and go about analyzing the implications.

To pick the best one, because many times in reality, the best we can do is pick the least bad option, and it's that thought process to me. No, I'm not the one that has to make the choice, but it's that thought process and strengthening those particular brain muscles. To me that's the benefit that, certainly I, but then hopefully anyone that listens in or reads my analysis of these stories takes away and can apply to their own situation.

Important topics that you're highlighting. Of course, we are recording this a few months prior to its release, so hopefully we'll see some resolution within some of these topics, especially the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. I just want to stop and say it one more time:

 Nothing that is real is simple. Nothing that is simple is real. Have I caught that correctly?

You absolutely did, and I think you'll find that in personal life, in professional life, reading the news, watching tv, anything that's a complex issue. So anything involving humans, if someone presents it to you, is being incredibly simple and straightforward.

Something is missing, and I would love for people to start developing a mental red flag. We need to look at the world. Certainly, I'm not talking about constant distrust, but healthy skepticism and in a job that as is, as reliant upon data and information as procurement is each of us needs to have, whether it's a gut check or a mental red flag.

You have to have, oh, or spidy sense, that works too. You need to have that thing that triggers, because when that triggers, it says to you, Stop. Stop and think. Stop and ask. Stop and read. Right? Get additional input. Because over time, and this actually goes back to that sort of worry I have about people churning through procurement.

You really get the opportunity to strengthen that muscle, strengthen that instinct, and over time as you rise through the ranks, the impact that you can have by pausing and listening to that instinct grows and grows and grows, and the scale of the benefit increases. So everybody has to have their own little internal voice that they listen to, but it doesn't develop on its own. You actually have. Nurture that and listen for it and watch for signs. I do think it will change how we approach everyday business challenges. Even the ones that don't rise above the fold, right? Even the ones that are smaller that nobody outside of the company will ever even know about. Each of those little difference makers strung together, that change changes the competitive trajectory of a company.

Great insights, Kelly, and we could probably talk to you all day, but unfortunately we're coming towards the end of our episode.

A section that we do with all of our guests that we call our Kodiak Moment. Hopefully we're not getting sued by Kodak, of course, but it's a special moment that you and I get to share together. And really it's a quick fire round where you're able to answer some questions that are completely and utterly unrelated to anything that we've just been talking about. Just so the listeners get to know you a little bit better. How does that sound?

This sounds fun. I'm ready!

All right. So in Swedish, you talk about something as your ”Paradrätt” a dinner or a meal that you would make that is your signature dish. What would you be making for dinner if we're coming over?

Oh, my signature dish. I would make my dad's chicken parm. Perfectly sauteed on both sides. Just the right amount of spice to the sauce and an enormous vat of fresh pasta.

We can see your hands waving and we can see the chicken parm. Second question, You're heading on vacation tomorrow. It's all paid for you. Where are you going?

Oh, that's an easy one. I am going to London. If you go into my kitchen and open one of the kitchen cabinet doors. I can't remember who said it, but it's a quote from a magazine that I cut out years ago and it says ”When a woman is tired of London, she is tired of life” and I am so not tired of life and I cannot wait to get back to London. That'll probably be the first really big out of country trip that I take next.

Well, if you're heading to Europe, then I hope that you make a swing by Stockholm, Sweden to see us at Kodiak Hub. And thank you so much. It's been a pleasure hosting you on today's episode. Kelly, anything that you'd like to plug or leave our listeners with before you sign off?

I would just encourage everybody, if you've heard this and any of it sounds interesting, please invite me to connect on LinkedIn. I do have creator mode turned on, which automatically sort of suggest people follow you instead of connecting. Nah, I don't need help. I'm more than glad for the messages and the connection requests.

Shoot me a note so that I will know this podcast is how you found me, but please invite me to connect so that we can all be part of the conversation.

Connect, Connect, Connect. Thank you again for being on the episode today, Kelly. It was a pleasure: In and follow Kelly or connect with her on LinkedIn. Thank you so much.

Thank you, Sam!

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