At a Glance
James Marland, Global Vice President, SAP Ariba Centre of Excellence for Spend Management, SAP Ariba
Focus Areas: Core competencies in the areas of Procurement, Supply Chain Management and Sustainability. James uses his prior experiences at both SAP and Ariba to help transform companies by making a digital connection with each other over the $2 Trillion Ariba Network. He wants to “make a story-teller out of everyone” and does this through Social Media, new hire onboarding and mentoring.
Latest Content: “Intelligent Spend Management at eProcurement Summit”
Points on Thinkers360: 284 (as of 4/19/19) | Procurement Leaderboard Ranking: #3 (as of 4/19/19)
Thought Leader Q&A
Thinkers360 Q&A’s profile prominent members of the Thinkers360 community who embody the power of ideas in their work. In this edition, we speak with James Marland, Global VP, SAP Ariba Centre of Excellence for Spend Management, SAP Ariba.
Thinkers360: Tell us a bit about your background
JM: I’ve spent my whole career in Enterprise Software, I like trying to solve hard problems such as how to create a sustainable, digital Supply Chain. I explain it as being the engine room for the world’s economy. I started with SAP when ERP was a boy, it’s hard to believe now, but that early version of SAP (R/3) was the first time a company could have its core business processes such as sales, manufacturing, accounting, purchasing and personnel all linked together, and America’s Blue Chip companies ate it up. I was a Presales Manager: in the software business “presales” are the people who talk about the value of the software, do demonstrations and assist sales people in the product details. I still maintain it’s the best job in any software company — close enough to the action, without the glory/terror of actually getting a customer to sign.
When the dotcom boom first appeared, I left SAP to join a little Start-up that had a cute catalogue program for corporate purchasing departments. They were called Ariba. It turned out that the real value of Ariba was the building of the first true Business-to-Business Network. In fact I am working on a presentation this month called “Celebrating 20 years of the Ariba Network – Ten Trillion Dollars later.” Running Global Presales eventually took me back to the UK, but my personal view at the time was that Ariba would not breakthrough on its own, so I stepped away for a few years. But then I found out that SAP was buying Ariba. Having worked at both places, I knew that now things could get interesting, so I hammered on the door to re-join the combined company, which I did, in 2012 when the merger went through.
Since then I have had a cryptic job title (“VP Network Growth”) but I maintain that my unofficial title is Chief Storyteller.
Thinkers360: What are your current responsibilities and what’s a typical day look like?
JM: When it comes down to it, I sell software, which is intangible. So I am always trying to find ways to “tell the story” of what SAPAriba does for its customers. Traditional communication of Powerpoint, Press Releases and Demos don’t cut through, so I try to find alternative mediums, and to train others to do the same. Responsibilities include onboarding of new Sales people, where we re-designed the class away from a Powerpoint “Festival of Features”, to a series of whiteboards that anyone can draw and a set of games. In one, students have to operate a paper aeroplane factory, raising Purchase Orders for Raw Materials and tooling, run Manufacturing operations, selling finished goods and running an Accounts Department. With eight teams of six people running about with invoices and play money, it’s quite a sight.
Other ways to tell the story include blogs, articles, events, video, demo scripts and whiteboards. But my greatest satisfaction is when I can teach these skills to others: hence the classes we have developed on Storytelling and Engagement Through Whiteboards.
Thinkers360: What’s the favorite part of your current role?
JM: Sitting with a blank sheet of paper and trying to sketch out a complex message with just a Cross Pen and a Moleskine. I find that PowerPoint inhibits creative thinking, and leads to a linear progression of detached ideas, and many complex concepts need the ability to “see it all on one page”. Sometimes a quick sketch gets worked up by our marketing department to become an official position, and other times I just throw it into the bin!
I use The Times and the Economist as my primary news sources (and try to complete the Quick Cryptic crossword before breakfast). I value proper, well-thought writing, and the challenge of absorbing views that contradict my current thinking. Also glancing through the science or culture pages can lead to a thought which can become an article or a blog. My primary area of focus is the use of Storytelling, specifically Analogies and Metaphors to explain a complex concept that’s simple, memorable, and crucially, re-tellable. Sometimes I have to come up with a metaphor based on where a conference is taking place, and hunting for the points of congruence between, say, the Royal College of Physicians, and SAP Ariba is challenging, but very satisfying when it comes together.
Thinkers360: How do you utilize Thinkers360?
JM: I find that following a stable of people whose content I trust is more satisfying than my Twitter Feed of 20,000 followers. Like many, I am moving away from that kind of mass participation megaphone into a smaller circle of people I respect. T360 is one of the places I go to get a filtered series of writing in my areas of interest: sustainability, supply chain and procurement as well as broader topics such as innovation and digital transformation. Of course I am competitive and want to move up the rankings, so I also use it as an index for content I have distributed in multiple other channels such as Medium or LinkedIn.
Thinkers360: What’s your main advice for upcoming thought leaders?
JM: Tell the Story. The internet is awash with content, but much of it is instantly forgettable. Stories need to be a key part of our engagement with customers. They can help us inform, illustrate or reinforce a key message or concept. They can provoke others to think differently. They can convince or persuade someone to consider or adopt another point of view. We inspire by reaching people’s emotions: no-one was ever inspired by PowerPoint or a Press Release. Be bold, step away from sounding like a corporate spokesperson, be inspired by political speeches, great preachers, music, poetry, art.
Tell the Story.
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