Matchboard’s Sharon Melamed interviewed on Procurement Uncovered
KW: G’day and welcome to Procurement Uncovered episode 002. My name is Kris Wozniak, Managing Director of Procurement & Contracts Division and today I’m joined by Sharon Melamed, Managing Director of Matchboard. Sharon, are you ready to procure?
SM: I am ready and waiting.
KW: Excellent. Well, let’s get in to it. So as you would have heard in the opening, I’m joined today by Sharon Melamed who is the Managing Director of Matchboard. Sharon is an entrepreneur with 25 years’ experience in business process outsourcing. In 2012, she founded Matchboard with a vision to make it easier and faster for companies to find quality suppliers that matched their exact criteria. Matchboard is a free, online matching platform operating in Australia and the in the UK, specialising in the supply chain around sales, service and back office. Through Matchboard, Sharon has helped some 2,000 companies with trusted supplier recommendations for services such as outsourcing, consulting, technology, training, data and digital. In 2013, LinkedIn awarded Sharon Power Profile status for having one of the 50 most visited profiles within Australia. That’s pretty impressive. Sharon holds a double Honours degree and University Medal from the University of Sydney and speaks an impressive five languages. And I’ll finish off this guest introduction with a testimonial that I pulled from the Matchboard website from a common user: “Matchboard is a unique tool to help businesses make smarter procurement decisions. Companies typically spend a significant amount of time researching and shortlisting vendors. Matchboard now does that for you” – from Smart Salary. Now, the topic that Sharon and I will be covering today is named ‘Finding your Perfect Match with Matchboard’ and it specifically delves in to how Matchboard can assist procurement folk to find their perfect supplier match…. tell us, how did Matchboard come to fruition?
SM: Yeah, sure. Well, I founded Matchboard in 2012 and the rationale was I wanted to solve a business problem which is as follows. Basically, the majority of people when they procure new suppliers for their business, they go online and they enter a few keywords on Google and they get back hundreds of thousands of search results. And what they find is that often the companies on page one of Google are just the ones that have the best SEO strategy and are not necessarily relevant or reputable at all. And so we solve that problem by providing a free online platform where people can enter not keywords but rather their complete business needs via a questionnaire and the matching algorithms then match that to a shortlist of suppliers that meet their needs. So it really came from a problem that I perceived going on in all businesses all around the world and I call that problem the ‘search engine blues’ where people just get overwhelmed and depressed shifting through page after page of results. So essentially we offer that cure to the ‘search engine blues’, if you like.
KW: Excellent. And I think for all procurement professionals out there listening, you know, the power of Google, it’s a beautiful thing, but in some instances, you know what? It’s just diabolical in terms of what Google does bring back because you’re right; you know, SEO strategies, marketing, all that sort of stuff comes in to play, so how do you know that you’re getting the best supplier that you are looking up on Google?
SM: Yeah, exactly.
KW: Definitely. So look, with that in mind, the procurement folk that are listening today, Sharon, for their benefit, what is the functionality or how is it driven, what’s the back end, what does it all look like? What does Matchboard look like online? And I mean online, you see an online page, there are click-throughs, I’m sure there are awesome tutorials on how to use the functionality of Matchboard, but you know essentially what is the functionality of it?
SM: Yeah. Well, one of our guiding principles is simplicity, so I don’t want to overcook this. It is a very simple process involving three steps. First of all, going to our website, Matchboard.com.au, picking a product or service category that you’re looking for, answering some questions about your needs for that particular product or service and then getting matched. You don’t actually have to set up an account. It’s purely transactional. You hop online, enter your need when you have one and once your need is in our system, you’ll get matched with suppliers within 24 hours in 99 per cent of cases. And the suppliers will contact you, so you don’t really have to make much effort except wait to hear from your perfect matches. So it is quite a simple process and Matchboard steps out of the picture at that point and leaves the buyer and the suppliers to engage with each other directly which is a big difference between other platforms out there that like to stay in the middle and we see no value in doing that.
KW: Interesting. Now, you mentioned needs, so what does that look like? Is that like a click box or is it a free test? How do the procurement folk utilise that sort of functionality?
SM: Sure, yeah. Well, we ask people up to 10 filtering questions which are exactly in that multiple choice style of database question. So we ask things like what are the services that you’re looking for, what budget do you have, which location does the supplier need to be in, what industry expertise do they need, what’s your timeline and various other questions which narrow down the field of the perfect supplier. So it is database-driven. Everything that you enter has a mirror question, if you like, on the back end of our platform where the suppliers say these are the services we offer, these are the industries we specialise in, etcetera, so then the matching software can link up the two sides of the market and actually score the best matches.
KW: Interesting. So it’s sort of like a predictive/it’s already been pre-set in terms of, you know, what the follow on question is. Is that right?
SM: Yes. So there are some dependencies, so if you answer one question in a particular way, then you might be prompted with a different question next. So there is some smarts to it, but we’re constantly enhancing that and based on customer feedback introducing new questions or new wording which help refine the process even further.
KW: Ah yes, wording, we all know that wording comes in to play when it comes to, you know, a number of different things. Now, 24 hours matching, is that an automated sort of back end or is it someone driving it? How do the matches come about?
SM: Yeah, of course. So it is a high-tech service in a sense that the matching algorithms automate the scoring of the matches, however in this sort of business-to-business platform I truly believe that it cannot ever be 100% automated and you do need that human overlay to quality check the inputs and the outputs from the software before putting the two parties together. So in addition to the various multiple choice questions I mentioned, there is one freeform textbox which absolutely needs to be reviewed by a human being and that’s the buyer’s opportunity to explain in words anything that was not captured in those multiple choice questions and that will absolutely be read by someone who’s not a robot and will be interpreted with human smarts, and only then will the lead, as we call it, be released to the suppliers to follow up. And that also weeds out from the suppliers’ perspective any companies who may just be testing out the system or mucking around and don’t have an authentic requirement. We certainly don’t want to match those sorts of opportunities and waste our suppliers’ valuable time.
KW: Excellent. Now, in terms of how can Matchboard assist the procurement folk, you know, are there certain elements… We spoke briefly about supplier matching and how quick and easy it is and some things that come to mind are things like market research. Have you seen that work in some procurement folks or people that have utilised the software to date?
KW: And what other things can it do, like reducing risk in tendering processes?
SM: Of course. So access to knowledge of the supplier landscape is absolutely a value-add we can offer, bearing in mind Matchboard specialises in a niche and that niche is everything around sales, service and back office. So we have an intimate knowledge of that niche and the supplier landscape that goes with it, such that if a procurement manager decides to put a request on our platform but wants really some additional insights, almost a sort of a telephone consultation to learn more, we’re absolutely happy to do that at no cost.
SM: So essentially that can be a little note they put in the freeform textbox on their request, “Please call me to discuss further”. In addition to those free value-added consultations, we also have a huge library of articles and white papers on our website about the supply chain for sales, service and back office and all the offerings around that. If, and this does happen occasionally, a buyer wants a really premium service, perhaps they want some in-depth market insights, perhaps face-to-face or perhaps via a bespoke written report, then we do have a premium service that we charge for, but essentially just getting advice on the phone and tapping in to our thought leadership papers on our website is all free, in addition to the online matching.
KW: Great. Now, in terms of reducing risk, procurement folk that are out there that are, you know, procuring the consultants category – I mean I know it’s back office and sales and the like that you specialise in, but consultants, in terms of procuring, that sort of category the procurement folk are looking at reducing risk. Now, Matchboard, are there some certain elements of Matchboard actually checking the suppliers that are on there, first?
SM: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s actually one of our key competitive differentiators. So if you go online on Google or you go on LinkedIn or any other online platform, for that matter, these platforms are too mass market to take an approach of reference checking and doing due diligence on the suppliers that are appearing on their platforms. We are niche enough and focussed enough to be able to offer that service. So in order for a supplier to become part of our ecosystem, they have to go through some gates. And the first one is that we need to speak to two of their clients. If those clients either don’t respond to our request for a reference or do not highly rate those suppliers, they won’t even make it in to our ecosystem. So right there, we cut out some players in the market who simply don’t make the cut. In addition to reference checking, we also, for something like technology, we do demos to actually see the product for ourselves; for something like a contact centre, we might actually do a physical site visit. And we do online reference checks and checking online media reviews of any suppliers that we’re dealing with.
KW: And that’s all done before the procurement folk actually utilise Matchboard and seek their perfect supplier?
SM: That is correct.
SM: So in that sense, we really are reducing the risk of the procurement, so particularly if they have an urgent need and they don’t have time to go through some of the processes we’ve already gone through, that’s a real advantage. What we don’t say we offer is financial due diligence and we certainly recommend that once we make a match that the procurement managers do their own due diligence as well, but I think that double layer – from our side and from theirs – absolutely mitigates the risk of a poor experience.
KW: Yeah, definitely and it sort of acts like a double check mechanism, for wont of a better term and I think that would be, you know, something worthwhile for the procurement folk and the listeners out there to have a look to see how it could be incorporated in to your procurement system. But Sharon, success stories, you know, everyone has success stories about, you know, people that have gotten it right. What about for Matchboard? Do you have a success story where one of your procurement folk or managers that have used Matchboard that are out there who have gotten it right by using Matchboard?
SM: Look, we have many success stories, but I guess one I could point to is an organisation that’s used our service more than 20 times. They’re a large government-funded emergency services organisation and they provide a mission critical service to the public through a call centre, social media, SMS and their website, so being an emergency organisation they have lots of needs that just pop up and need immediate action. So examples of things, they came to us for… they needed a consultant to rewrite their disaster recovery plan based on a bad experience of not having a good one in place. They needed a consultant to assess the cost of different service delivery models and then another one to benchmark their service against their peers. Then they needed a technology vendor to stress test their call centre in the case of a call avalanche.
SM: So at one point we were getting so many requests through them I thought of setting up a dedicated hotline! But they use Matchboard in a smart way because not only did they just enter their requests online, they took advantage of our free telephone consultation, they provided us information about their challenges and we were actually able to assist them in defining their requirements for an ideal supplier further. And the feedback I got from them is that our service saved them hours of work with each request they put through and delivered the outcomes.
KW: Excellent. That’s an amazing story and just out of curiosity, the three or four, however many requests that came through from them to get this disaster recovery plan and push test the idea and the systems in place, were there three, four different suppliers each time?
SM: Yes. Being a government-backed organisation, they actually had a requirement for a minimum of three quotations for every sort of RFQ that was coming through, so we were able to meet that requirement and provide them anywhere from three to five options each time.
KW: Wow, excellent. It certainly sounds like a very diverse system and certainly one that I recommend that the suppliers and… but even government folk have a look at to see whether this could be potentially an option to incorporate in to your procurement sort of processes. Now, Sharon, I’ve got one last question to ask.
KW: Are you ready to enter the Procurement Hotseat?
SM: I’m ready and waiting. I can’t wait for this moment.
KW: Excellent. Now, just to give the listeners a bit of advice or a bit of a heads up what the Procurement Hotseat is all about, it’s for you. One week prior to our podcasting recording you will see via social media, whether it be Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, whatever the case, wherever you’ve seen it, you will see us calling for questions for our podcasts. And this week we have received many. I think we’ve received eight and a couple of funny ones which, you know, it certainly lightens the mood and one I’ll throw in there. Now, in terms of the rules of the Hotseat, our guest speakers, they have two minutes on the Hotseat to answer between three and five questions, whatever we determine. So without further ado, Sharon, are you ready?
SM: Yes, bring it on.
KW: All right, question one, finding the perfect supplier for our business is not very easy. The suppliers we tend to purchase or partner with are within the IT consulting industry. Can you advise of three value tips for us?
SM: Excellent question. Well, most people think IT consulting is about the technical skill set of the consultant. Obviously technical skills, that’s very given. My first tip would be that consulting is all about people and consultants need good people skills because they have to engage with your people and understand their problems and work collaboratively. So I’d say if you have a shortlist of consultants through Matchboard or someone else, I’d narrow it down based on good people skills and I’d approach the first meeting with a consultant just as if you were on the first date, sussing them out and determining if you have that chemistry and those common values.
SM: Yeah, maybe one other tip. Another tip would be to check out the consultant’s website and their LinkedIn because you’ve got to be confident that they come across as an expert in writing as well as pitching in person. And more than that, is their online presence in very good English because one of the biggest complaints about consultants I hear is the quality of English in written reports, so you need to screen this out. Should I give any more tips or is that enough?
KW: No, no, that’s enough. All right, thanks for that, Sharon. Question two, my difficulty is usually cracking the egg or trying to find my way in to larger corporations’ supply chain. Other than persistence, do you have any other suggestions or secret tips on getting in to corporations and even government?
SM: Okay. Yeah, before Matchboard I definitely sat on the other side of the fence, so I can talk to this. I would say most procurement managers view cold calling as an unwelcome interruption and persistent cold calling is even worse, so a piece of advice I got from a head of procurement at Westpac once is ‘interact first, sell second’ and you can interact through sharing valuable content, social media engagement, that sort of thing. The other point I would give is that recommendations or referrals are often the best way in the door for a procurement manager, so check out your LinkedIn network to see who knows who.
KW: Excellent. And I’ll just pause the clock there. Interact first and sell last, that is a very powerful message, and certainly one that the suppliers that are out there can listen to and learn from because you know when I was sitting in the procurement seat myself, you know, in many organisations, we had 2,500-odd suppliers in our database that we had to manage at any given time and usually we would only have three to four, you know, five, if we were lucky, procurement folk in our department, so you know sometimes it takes the organisation to be ready to procure or go out and find it, but you know sometimes it may be worthwhile to just be persistent in terms of, you know, maybe emailing once in a while, but definitely, Sharon, I think that’s a very powerful message – interact first and sell last. Alright, start the clock. Number three, question three, what happens if we hire a supplier through Matchboard and they turn out to be a poor supplier?
SM: Well, definitely if we recommend a poor supplier, it reflects poorly on us too, so we do everything in our power to avoid that happening, but if it happens and occasionally it will, we obviously take on board that feedback and we have a mechanism in our matching algorithms to downgrade suppliers who get that negative feedback and we investigate it. I would say to mitigate that risk, a buyer has to make their own full assessment of a supplier that we match them with and we can’t control things like cultural fit or pricing competitiveness, so it’s really up to the procurement managers to do what you said is that double check assessment and conduct that deep screening process of suppliers before making a selection.
KW: Excellent and they final question, Sharon, I think is a bit of a cracker and someone taking the mickey out of this, but I’ll ask it anyway, is your favourite colour brown?
SM: Actually, it’s not. It’s green and I’m sure many listeners have a green policy in their businesses too, so effectively we all love green, right?
KW: Excellent. So look, you went a bit over time, Sharon, with the Procurement Hotseat, but you know what? I think you did a fantastic job and you are now on the honorary list of Procurement Hotseat extraordinaires.
SM: Oh, thank you very much. It’s been an honour.
KW: Excellent. Now, in closing, Sharon, can you give our listeners just one last piece of advice and the best way they can contact you?
SM: Absolutely. I am very big on LinkedIn, so please don’t be shy. Reach out to me, Sharon Melamed, and I should come up first and I will, guaranteed, accept all procurement managers’ requests for connection. But just check out the Matchboard.com.au website. It is free. There are no catches, there are no barriers and I would sincerely love to add value to the listeners’ businesses out there and help them in any way with their procurement for sales, service and back office solutions.
KW: Great and I think that’s a very powerful message and certainly one that the procurement folk should check out is Matchboard.com.au and if you want to contact Sharon any other way, check out our guest speaker page where Sharon will be featured and all of her accounts, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and her direct email will be there. But in closing, listeners, you know, I’d like you to consider your specific challenges, you know, the challenges in the area of procuring consultants. You know, sometimes it may be beneficial to utilise a common use arrangement or a standing offer arrangement, but at other times, if you’ve got time to plan these sort of procurements, you may just get a better value-for-money outcome if you utilise a service like Matchboard. There are plenty of other services that are out there, but I specifically suggest that you go over to Matchboard.com.au and check it out for yourself. Sharon, thank you for joining me on Procurement Uncovered.
SM: It was an absolute pleasure, Kris. Thank you for having me.
KW: No problem.