Insights for Procure-to-Pay and Finance Leaders

Long-tail spend 101: New school approaches

I have no doubt that agility, innovation, and adding value to the business should be of paramount focus to procurement teams evolving beyond cost-center status. Who wants to be in the back office pinching pennies while the rest of the business struggles to keep up with the new rules of the digital revolution? But as leaders keep one eye on those critical matters, the other must still cover the basics of the procurement practice to deliver the right experience and results. That means continuous tracking and improvement of spend influence, which includes long-tail spend management.

Long tail spend 101

Long tail spend is not strategically managed or under management. This means any spend without a contract framework agreement or negotiated work order. In organisations that have invested significant effort into strategic category management, managed spend tends to be around 80 per cent of all expenditures, leaving long tail spend at 20 per cent. It also includes a small, but significant amount of spend with managed suppliers, which is known as hidden tail. This spend includes purchases made from managed suppliers, but these purchases are outside existing contracts.

The remaining tail spend tends to come from roughly 80 per cent of the total number of suppliers. Often this will be fragmented: ad hoc purchases from multiple suppliers, low-value transactions at one-time vendors, non-purchase order spend, off-contract spend, etc. When all the long tail spend is added together it becomes the biggest overall supplier! This biggest supplier costs you a lot of effort and time, which is not clearly visible within the organisation.

What is the business value of tail spend management?


Until recently, the generally accepted figure for how much sourcing organisations can save through managed tail spend has been 1 – 5 per cent (the less mature the organisation, the more the saving). However, analysts at The Hackett Group, concluded that this figure might be higher: as much as 7.1 per cent. High-value maverick buying that should have been strategically sourced was cited as a factor in raising this figure (30 per cent of respondents estimated 10 per cent or more in savings). This underlines the importance of gaining visibility of tail spend.

Apart from up to 7 per cent  savings, what are the other benefits of managing long tail spend? First, by better managing long tail spend, you can significantly reduce the number of transactions and the related costs of procurement, and in other departments such as finance. This will help minimize the number of internal resources (sometimes senior) working with tail spend suppliers to further reduce procurement costs. These savings can be significant considering that the administrative cost of each pound spent can be as high as 35 per cent. Improving the visibility of low-value spend suppliers will create opportunities to identify sourcing savings and supplier consolidation.

Second, increasing strategically managed spend, and managing long tail spend, will result in increased contract compliance, leading to further savings. Added to this, suppliers are more likely to offer increased discounts when they are the sole providers for a specific category, or when a set volume of purchases is guaranteed.

Third, beyond cost savings, managing long tail spend helps eliminate noncompliant suppliers and consolidate larger suppliers, which leads to reduced business risk, and a reduced risk of fraud across the supply chain. This also increases the chance of your organization being compliant to external legislation.

The visibility challenge

One of the main difficulties with long tail spend management is poor data visibility, caused by factors such as complex supply chains; different IT systems and data sources; and, fragmented and disconnected business processes such as sourcing, contract management, and procurement. Also, the sheer number of suppliers, items, transactions, and the high number of business stakeholders can simply overwhelm some organizations.

There are often not enough available resources with the right skills to analyse the problem and set a corrective action plan. Unfortunately, neither strategic category managers nor operational procurement agents tend to have the knowledge or skills to handle the long tail. Organizations that don’t have clearly set policies or well-defined processes are more likely to lack effective control. Part of this process must be constant maintenance to prevent slippage. A good analogy for this aspect is that of keeping a garden. Just as a neat and orderly garden will become overgrown if neglected, maverick spend will creep into the spend cube. This results in a higher percentage of noncompliant purchases, often with low-value transactions and small-volume suppliers.

Finally, there is often a lack of adequate tools to help the organization analyze and manage long tail spend in an efficient manner. A purely manual approach to tail spend management quickly becomes cumbersome and error-prone without the right tool support. There is no quick fix for overcoming these obstacles, but the benefits of doing so are estimated by different sources to be between 15 – 20 per cent through reduced procurement cost, increased efficiency, supplier consolidation, additional sourcing savings, and decreased business risk.

The smart approach to long tail spend management

Organisations should first analyse their spend data with a thorough spend and supplier assessment. This type of spend analysis exercise helps gain an understanding of the current state and will serve as a foundation for a business case in readiness for the next step. The next step is to gain top management and stakeholder backing. To be successful with a long tail spend management initiative, it is necessary to have the buy-in of your C-suite, i.e., the CPO and CFO, by means of a solid business case and clear description of the savings outcome.

Establishing the support of top management will also help with the third step, which is to set-up clear policies and processes to drive the long tail management initiative. This includes compliance policies, preferred vendor lists, no purchase order–no pay policies, etc. The processes should also include automated procurement, with catalog suppliers, as well as spot buy, and free text orders channeled through a tactical and operational procurement team. The next step involves, selecting and implementing the right tool to the complete solution for long tail spend management. Consider an easy-to-use eProcurement system with a good search engine featuring rich content, efficient buying channels, and support for spot buy and tactical eSourcing.

Finally, setting up a dedicated team to monitor long tail spend suppliers is key to a complete solution for long tail spend. Spot buying and operational-free text orders at preferred suppliers will run more efficiently with a dedicated group managing the process. It is also possible to outsource this work to an external team.

In closing, it is important to realise that there is no silver bullet to managing long tail spend. Without clear policies or processes to guide an organisation on what to do and who needs to do it, there’s little that can be done to optimise and manage tail spend. By combining the right tools with the right approach, you can gain an additional level of visibility and savings, and, in turn, greater spend influence.

This blog was originally published on Procurious.
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