In this episode we interview Stephany Lapierre, the founder and CEO of Tealbook, a supplier intelligence company. Steph’s been recognized as an influencer by PharmaVOICE 100, was selected as the 2017 Provider Pro To Know by Supply & Demand Chain Magazine and has won many awards for her innovative approach to supplier intelligence. We focus on that value of supplier intelligence, the leverage it creates in negotiations and what separates negotiators who use good supplier intelligence versus those that don't.
Guest: Stephany Lapierre
People Mentioned: Phil Ideson
Mark: Stephany, thank you so much for joining us today.
Stephany: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Mark: Yeah, right on. Steph, I’ve got to tell you, it’s pretty exciting for me to have a fellow Canadian on an episode with me, so I certainly appreciate you sparing up some time. Many have said, or at least the people that I have spoken to say that you seem to be a born entrepreneur who started multiple successful businesses and now you’ve applied that entrepreneurial talent to an industry that Phil Ideson actually said is ripe for disruption. I guess, for me, how did it all start out for you? Where did those entrepreneurial roots come from?
Stephany: There’s no one in my family that’s not an entrepreneur so I think I’m born with the genes. My grandparents, my grandfather started Pepsi in Quebec and when he passed away, my grandmother stepped in his shoes and built Pepsi in Eastern Quebec. My mother’s been a serial entrepreneur and my sister. I grew up in a province that has a lot of entrepreneurial spirit and all my friends and high school, every single one of them is an entrepreneur and their parents are entrepreneurs. So, I think it’s being born with it and also being so part of my surrounding as I grew up.
Mark: Wow, that’s huge. You come from a family that deep with entrepreneurship. I guess you’ve gotten no other option.
Stephany: I think I have no other options. I can’t even imagine life in any other way.
Mark: That’s awesome. I’m really glad to hear that. So, you’ve come from sort of entrepreneurial sales background. You worked a while in pharma sales. How do you think that pharma sales experience helped you to get to where you are right now?
Stephany: It’s a good question. In the earlier days of Tealbook I started bringing people on board to sell, I realized that sales was not always natural for people. And I think I just took it for granted that it was because I think it can be a natural attribute and some people are really good at it. But having proper training to understand the process and understanding the things that you need to cover to have a better way to have a conversation is what I got out of my self-training in pharma. We’re talking many, many years ago but those skills had really transferred into my day-to-day life and they’re certainly been extremely valuable. I’m the Chief of many things at Tealbook but I’m only doing the ones with the enterprise sales.
Mark: Right. I think the application of sales training especially even in a procurement role is something that interests me a great deal. I find that a lot of the procurement people that I talked to are very logical, almost tend to be cold, very data-driven types of people, not necessarily the greatest types of salespeople. Do you think there is an opportunity for some cross-training and do you think there maybe benefit to procurement people getting sales training?
Stephany: Absolutely. I think it’s a combination of two things: It’s the personality and the ability to listen and ask the right questions. It’s also and we’ll talk about supplier intelligence but it’s also delivering value. You could be the nicest person but if you don’t add value, you’re not going to be able to see the outcome and have that partnership that you’re selling internally and the same if you’re not a nice person or you’re not asking questions and you’re not curious and interested in learning more, you’re also not going to be successful. I think it’s a combination of both.
Prior to Tealbook and what inspired Tealbook is I had a consulting business that I started 11 years ago doing strategic sourcing and procurement and work across hundreds of companies directly often with the stakeholders. And through that business, how I evolved is and where I start seeing the most success in our growth is when I started bringing account people from the supplier side into procurement. And making them the account leads having them of course and really delivering value and move the process forward with our customers and customers were delighted by the experience. They saw that there’s someone there that was going to bend backwards to be able to deliver the value and the outcome that they’re looking for.
And then we still built our team with people that have enormous amount of procurement and were more analytical and they were able to very quickly do an analysis of benchmark pricing or negotiate because they had the skills and they had the experience to do that. But we tagged team them and that’s where we saw the most success.
Mark: Yeah, really good points. So, let’s jump into that supplier intelligence background of yours. As the Chief of Tealbook, you get exposed to some of the leading minds in the procurement space and you’re meeting with a lot of CPOs and what I guess we want to know is what is the biggest topic that they talk about when it comes to negotiation or procurement but more specifically around negotiation? What do they talk about when they all get together?
Stephany: We’ve done a lot of successful initiatives and we’ll continue doing them because they’re such a great way for us to learn more and for CPOs or procurement executives to get together and walk away from a discussion that feel they got something out of it and not sitting through sales-pitch. And our approach to doing roundtables have been actually, even clients have said, "we would not have been collectively offended if you did talk about Tealbook. We all expected it but it’s really classy that you didn’t". Because I feel that naturally people want to get together to talk about and share best practice or understand where they are in their business transformation or you call it the journey.
What we’re hearing the most and what’s attracting people to come to the roundtables was talking about the future is now and what are the upsides of having more intelligence. And how is that going to change the structure, the type of people you’re going to hire. How is that changing procurement as we’re moving forward and are you going to be left behind? Or you’re going to get ahead of it. And so that we have roundtable specific to the upside of supplier intelligence.
We just did one a couple of weeks ago in Toronto with the Chairman or the Board of the Vodafone Procurement Company and we also have Michael Prugger the Head of Digital Transformation at KPMG and very quickly we’re able to attract the executives of the largest Canadian global companies to talk about the digital journey and what’s the upside.
So, not specific to negotiation but really understanding how am I doing in my journey and what are some of the challenges I need to overcome and how do I think about my procurement function and the value creation that I’m going to bring to the organization. And then having what tools and how am I going to be able to properly develop a strategic plan to achieve it.
So, I said that that’s probably what drives the most conversation and the most value. And in terms of negotiation, like anything, it’s really with intelligence. If you have access to data and the right type of data and you don’t have to search so far in to be able to find the insight that you need to have a conversation where you’re applying that insight to have basically more educated conversations around what goals you’re trying to achieve as to pricing or terms, etc.
Mark: So, Steph, on that note I think having supplier intelligence is super critical to negotiations and really supplier specific intelligence. I think it really gives people an extra point of leverage whoever is going to be negotiating the deal on the procurement side of things. Have you seen success of applying that in the past? I mean where do you see the role of negotiations and the intersect of supplier intelligence going and accessing that information? Do you think the firms, this is actually turning into a huge question, but where do you think the firms that are at that intersect having the supplier intelligence are going to be able to achieve more than those that aren’t?
Stephany: Well, it’s leverage. Data, they say, do this and you’re gold – data is leverage. The more you know the more leverage you have, the more you can have a negotiation that’s going to be with a successful outcome and we can talk about what’s that mutually means to both for parties. But I think, first and foremost, for procurement teams because I only have one option, I can’t negotiate as much. So, I think it’s having options. It’s also having knowledge to even pre-negotiation where we’re looking at a stakeholder that comes to procurement or in conversation so there’s only one supplier that can do X, Y, and Z.
The best or the only ones – if procurement doesn’t have intelligence to say, there are about six or eight other companies who either sell this commodity or provide these services, they already have a relationship with organization are really well-known in our vertical, you mind if we invite them just to make sure that whoever we are selecting provides the more value. You’re completely changing the conversation than going “I don’t have the insight. I’m going to go look it up and I’m going to come back.” By the time you come back, the PO has been issued and there’s no negotiation opportunity.
We’ve heard another example with a CFO who was telling us that his team had met a supplier and the supplier once they walked in, they’re like “Oh, your other affiliate were here yesterday.” And because there’s no visibility and shared knowledge across the organization, they lose millions of dollars in buying power because they just don’t talk to each other. And that’s prevalent in most organization wherein the information really is dis-aggregated and really siloed and not visible to the enterprise.
And so I think visibility, intelligence before the negotiation even start, it’s huge leverage and then I think we have CPOs that are looking at Tealbook, I won’t say not strategic but they’re more commodity-buys, if I can find more suppliers faster and I can go through that spend analytic more efficiently in record of time, I can now invite more suppliers to an auction so that I can get the best pricing and I can get the most value and I can uncover suppliers that are maybe have diversity status or maybe more innovative. So, again, it’s really the power of knowledge.
We have an example right now in a direct material where the tables have turned. And so there’s a product that used to be sold for dollar a pound and now is up to $14-$15 a pound. It’s a huge crisis. And we have a client right now who is looking to find other options so the suppliers have turned the table and are basically auctioning their product to their customers to talk about I guess slip around. And so they’re using, right now, our technology to find other suppliers in different countries that sell the same product so that they have leverage. It doesn’t mean they’re going work with or they’re going to buy from them, depending, maybe. I’m not surprised that they find other sources and then they can negotiate but mostly is to be able to leverage the fact that “Hey, we have other sources now so either you give us better pricing or we do go to other sources and you’re going to lose our business and it could be significant loss for that supplier.”
So, again, knowledge is power. And for you to get knowledge , it takes time and it’s in different places and it’s static data or data it’s third-party that building that it doesn’t mean that you ignore the source come from. It just get time to get that leverage and you’re losing potentially some significant opportunities.
Mark: I totally agree with you. I find that often getting to a win in a negotiation means understanding the other party’s interests and getting away from that positional approach to negotiation and the more data or intelligence that you have about the other party, the better you can understand what their interests might be, and how you can help them achieve those interests. And what I would love is for the procurement industry, not to get stuck in our traditional approach to data mining in getting the intelligence that we need because we’re going to miss so many opportunities that are staring us right in the face, not just to reduce cost but to increase value for the business. And I find that supplier intelligence is in an area that allows us to make sure that we don’t miss those opportunities.
You guys are breaking new ground with Tealbook in a way that many supplier intelligence companies aren’t, when I think of the big companies of the world, you guys are nimble and you’re quick. You’re opening up new ground. What are the things and the trends that are happening in supplier intelligence that procurement people or negotiations people need to be aware of? Where are we going next?
Stephany: We call it personalized supplier identification and qualification because a lot the data, it’s actually within the organization. A lot of the intelligence sits there because the business knows a lot about it. You’re hiring people from other companies. You’re bringing also the intelligence within your organization. You’re hiring them because they have the experience. You are not hopping into that intelligence. I don’t want to take away from the market intelligence that exists today because they’re extremely valuable and they do a much deeper dive so I think it would be a supplement to Tealbook much more than us disrupting them.
What we leverage is the intelligence you have in your organization to be able to get deeper insights into the suppliers that you’re currently doing business with so you can leverage them more effectively across growing areas of demand within your organization. So, it’s primarily, our clients want – we have clients who have a 100,000 supplier in their master data that has a quite multiple ERP systems. We talked to company that now they have 2 million suppliers in their ERPs. So, they’re not interested in adding more. They don’t want to add more, actually they want to reduce. They want to be able to leverage them more effectively.
And so I think one of the primary focus is how do we get people’s insights and typically when someone goes through a sourcing event and gathers data on identifying and to support qualification, it’s time-consuming and all these intelligence that they’ve gathered, if it’s reading a report or calling someone or going on Google then waiting for a response, when it’s done mostly likely that experience stays in that person’s head.
If he goes into a data box, I would put my hand down that very, very rarely does it ever get leveraged again for someone else because the information get stale as soon as it goes into data box. And so the opportunity to learn from engagement from the relationships, from the connectivity and the knowledge from suppliers who have agreed that this is a good fit, they have the capacity or they meet a certain compliance requirement that is required for that company. That kind of data, if you can leverage it to make for the next person or for the enterprise to continue to accelerate strategic decisions, that’s really where it becomes extremely valuable as it to share knowledge. And so we really focused within although because of the data, we get to aggregate it and supplement but if you want to expand to finding new suppliers, well you can expand in Tealbook as quickly as you can find your incumbent and get the relevance of that intelligence based on the knowledge of who those suppliers are and how are like they are to your existing supplier-based.
It allows you to quickly expand when you need it and that’s really great for commodity-based or global-shared services who made you more sourcing events that are looking for new suppliers versus strategic type.
Mark: Awesome! Okay, let’s switch gears a little bit.
Stephany: Did I answer your question?
Mark: It totally did. Let’s switch gears a little bit. I want to ask you on a personal note, since our podcast is traditionally about negotiation specifically within procurement and we have a lot of salespeople that listen to the podcast as well. We learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes. What’s a negotiation that you totally bombed at, you failed and what did you learn from that personally?
Stephany: I would say probably our own. So, we say that we're life shoemakers who have bad shoes and I’m sure there’s an English equivalent to that expression. It’s interesting to be in a position where I’ve been in procurement for many years and now I’m selling into procurement and so the tables have turned. And I was speaking at University of Waterloo recently on our fire side chat and this moderator said, out of 200 companies who were sitting in the audience that a part of this office of program to Waterloo or students that have graduated and now starting their own companies, "how did they get into the enterprise?” And I provided the amazing advice. I wish I recorded myself and then on my drive back to Toronto, I could have learned some of the things I was giving advice on because I was putting my procurement shoes back on.
One of the challenges when you’re starting a company specially the startup that you’re so passionate and you’re so overly consumed with it and nobody is going to be as passionate as you are. And so for us, it’s breaking ground but just getting companies to see the value and take it the chance to bring into their organization especially your early, early customers because we needed those to be able to grow and to make a better product. And then to have those case studies that we could use to then continue articulating our value proposition to other potential customers. And so you get a little bit more emotional and when you’re emotional, it’s not a good position to be negotiating.
And so I would say that in the early days, I was probably giving more advantage to our customers and for various reasons but I think I left things on the table because I wanted to get those clients.
And I think on the flipside if you’re an enterprise, adapting a new technology is I think a great way to bring innovation and I couldn’t preach enough not for all to your benefit but things only startup looking for ways into corporate to get more clients and their clients to look for innovation. I think there’s a huge gap there that we can bring the two together. It’s for the enterprise to be conscious that those companies yes they need logos, they need customers, they need to have customers in their product to make better products and they need to show that they’re generating revenue. There’s revenue potential for them to be able to show investors that there’s a good market fit.
And so I think having both sides in the enterprise being fair to say “Okay, for you to grow, we have to need revenue but more importantly you need to show that you can demonstrate growth within investors as that this is important.”
So, maybe my mistakes are just being too emotional early on and leaving too many things on the table that to be able to not move or not. I've now learned to articulate better our values so that we can decide. It’s not expensive by the way but it still needs a budget. Procurement needs to go back to the table to say I’ve been able to save on this negotiation so how do you allow them to be able to articulate that well and you’re also be able to show that you can generate revenue and grow.
Mark: Yeah, I hear you. I think we’ve all been guilty of getting too emotional in some negotiations for sure. So, let’s dive into this a little bit because I’m super interested to hear about some of that advice you gave at your fire side chat. If you are going to give advice to a salesperson about selling into a procurement organization, what advice would you give? Maybe some highlights.
Stephany: Well, I had someone recently that had very, very high position with a network and she’s now into leadership role with one of the companies within the network and strategy. And she called me and she’s kind of “I’d love to pick their brain on this approach.” And I asked her like “What investment have you made so far in building relationship with procurement?” The reaction is always like “No procurement is a road block to doing business, etc.” And I think that’s wrong approach because procurement wants to bring value to the business and for them to bring value, they can bring knowledge and they can bring new suppliers that may bring great impact to the business. And so allowing them to do that, maybe it’s a little bit of a longer road but it will enable them to be successful at it. They’re going to do it over and over again within their organization. And the turnover in procurement is quite high so they can go from one company to another and be really amazing champions.
Not including them I think is a mistake. Even though the business may be the budget holder I think there’s an opportunity either through a lunch and learn or just taking the approach that you want to have an opportunity to educate procurement on what you’re doing or what are the inventory best practices in your related services or product and taking an opportunity to learn from them and also for them to learn from you. I think it’s going to put you in a really good position as opposed to finding them, soliciting them. They check out. They don’t want to be sold through. They’re sold to all the time and you’re not going to differentiate yourself.
Mark: Yeah, I totally agree with you. It’s interesting that you said what you said because I spoke to Greg Tennyson a couple of weeks ago and he said almost exactly the same thing for a salesperson not to view procurement as a roadblock but a view them as a strategic partner because they could be your greatest asset if you work the relationship right. And if you give them what they need, they can help you along the way because they’ve got all the internal connections as well.
Stephany: I was just going to say that it’s a really unique function. I’ve quoted him now two times because he was speaking at procurement leaders last year in Boston and he said something that I just love and it put a smile on my face because he’s like the most jovial person. He is so passionate about procurement but he said this one line “You’re so lucky to be in procurement because you have a window into the world.” And so I was like That’s why I love procurement because you really have an opportunity to be that central point of the insight of the organization and I think that’s the way to the future. You have to see the future this way and that is enabled with information. It is enabled by technology as well but you can bring innovation and you also are impacting every function within the organization. It’s a rare position to be having a full view of how the organization is operating and understanding across the organization what are the goals of all of the different functions and how they can act together.
I think truthfully, procurement can really become the switch board and it drives me crazy when I hear procurement like we’re trying to get a seat in the table and trying to win relationship. No, bring value! You’re not going to fight that battle because you’re going to be a valuable partner but you have to change it. And I think you can change that with really good. fast relevant intelligence.
Mark: Yeah, I totally agree with you. Listen, I want to be mindful of your time. You’ve been super, super helpful today. The information that you’ve provided with supplier intelligence, I think, will benefit all of our listeners. I really appreciate you sparing up some of your time to speak with me and basically just sharing your knowledge on supplier intelligence and how it relates to negotiations, how it relates to procurement and why it’s so important, strategically, for companies to take supplier intelligence so seriously. I think I agree with you on pretty much every single point that you’ve made.
If people want to find you and if you want to be found, where can people find out more about you?
Stephany: Yes, I’m very active on LinkedIn, so you can definitely connect with me on LinkedIn. It’s Stephany with a Y, Lapierre. Obviously you can look it up by Tealbook. I have a Twitter account. Tealbokk has a Twitter account. You can connect with me on maybe pretty much any social media. We have Instagram @TBKUpdates. If you really want to get to know me, you can follow my personal Instagram since I’ve been very active being a mother of three and an entrepreneur. And definitely if you are interested in hearing more about Tealbook, please contact us on our website. You can request a demo. Our website is Tealbook.com and we also did the roundtables that we had in the spring. We talked about the upside of actionable supplier intelligence with over 40 procurement executives across multiple vertical. We did one in Philadelphia, one in New York, Chicago, San Francisco. Greg Tennyson was actually our Chair in San Francisco. We had a lot of high-tech companies talking about the agility innovation so if you’re interested in some of those insights, the url is info.tealbook.com/the-upside-of-supplier-intelligence. I’m sorry about this but you can probably just look it up at The Upside of Supplier Intelligence in Tealbook and you’ll be able to see so it’s in the same place but we have a white paper that was just published last week so you may be interested and we’d love to hearing feedback. Please reach out. I’m all ears for people that just want to talk about how we advance the function.
Mark: That’s awesome. And you know what? I think now maybe a good opportunity to give Phil Ideson in the shout out as well. I think he did a podcast with you and Greg on the role of supplier intelligence and the impact that it makes in procurement. So, if listeners want to go and check that out, you can check that out in Phil Ideson’s blog and podcast. It’s called The Art of Procurement and if you just type in supplier intelligence into their search field, I’m sure you’ll find it.
Stephany: The url is artofprocurement.com/tealbookroundtable and it will get you to the podcast with me and Greg but yes Phil Ideson is one of my favorite people in the industry. He facilitated a roundtables across the country so I have the privilege to spend a week with Phil which was great way to know each other.
Mark: Yeah, he’s a super guy. Thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for the resources that you’ve provided all the listeners with. For the listeners, I’ll have these resources linked out in the show notes so you’ll be able to find them without any issues.
Steph, thank you again for your time today. Have a fantastic day and I hope to do this again soon.
Stephany: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. Have a nice day.
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