SI Review: January 2012

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Straight Talk from the Customer

Beyond Borders

Keys to successfully expanding globally with a buyer

By Rachel Varennes

From 2008 through the end of last year, I worked at Microsoft Global Procurement Group in the team that defines, shapes and executes its contingent workforce procurement strategy.

Expanding a program outside the U.S. is more than just a “copy and paste” exercise; besides the obvious differences in regulations and local market dynamics, one needs to consider established relationships, local business practices and specific needs from the will help shape the right model that will be not only relevant to the local ecosystem but deliver recognized value to the end-user.

A key driver to delivering that value is its supply chain itself: YOU, the supplier! There are specific things the supplier can do to successfully expand with your customer.

Get on the Radar

Each new contingent workforce program implementation is usually the perfect moment for program managers to review and re-evaluate the supplier list.

Typically, our MSP will provide a short list based on its existing portfolio. However, I would look across our existing programs and relationships to identify which niche agencies have cross-border ambitions or already have a multi-geography footprint that is relevant to us.

But how can you be a part of the contingent workforce program’s preferred supply chain to begin with?

Here are a few key steps:

  • Be prepared. Prior to engaging with an MSP and/or a client, make sure that you have a robust strategic expansion plan and a local tactical plan you can share with your client.
  • Be patient. Refresh your existing footprint, capabilities and expansion plans and share those with your MSP/client annually. You may not be enrolled overnight, but a healthy contingent workforce program manages its preferred supply chain (PSL) dynamically, thus the “right moment” will come.
  • Acknowledge relevance. If you are a research and development tech agency expanding in a location where client only has sales staff, your offering may not be relevant. But if you have online or marketing capabilities, they’d love to hear from you!

Global, Local & Tiering

Microsoft uses a tiering structure, which enables us to manage the legacy effectively while minimizing disruption. We’ll put expensive, uncooperative agencies on reserve, so that we can accommodate active workers until they can be phased out. Some agencies actually reconnect after a couple of months as they understand our program better — managed services is fairly new in most of the globe.

Tiering also enables us to reward successful agencies: Tier 1 is for the stars, tier 2 for the active but not quite there yet. This system enables a dynamic management with limited hassle.

Tiering also enables us to cast the net wide to new providers while limiting risks, especially at the onset of the program. We actually uncovered some hidden gems with this approach.

In practice, once you get on the PSL, you know the drill. However, as we need to ensure that our contingent workforce program is relevant locally, so do you!

In order to succeed in your own expansion with us, you’ll need to do your homework. Some key steps:

  • Culture & lingo. Accelerate your knowledge of your customer by tapping your own teams to understand soft skills that are critical for your customer in the next location you plan to deploy in.
  • Needs and drivers. Leverage the MSP’s events to understand your customer’s needs and local business drivers.
  • One face. As an MSP account manager, I value having one key person I can engage for various reasons: market insights, operations issues or questions.
  • Stay focused. If you are new to a market, define your own objectives and stick to them; if you dilute your effort, you may dilute your visibility and lose credibility.

It is in both the provider and customer’s interest to grow business relationships; reliable partners in a contingent workforce program are critical for its credibility and sustainability. So engage now with your client or MSP and make sure you have done your homework.

Rachel Varennes worked in Microsoft’s Global Procurement Group until the end of 2011. She can be reached at rachelvarennes@live.nl.

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