Why Category Management Needs to be Aligned and Flexible – Our New Paper

We’re pleased to launch a new briefing paper we’ve developed in conjunction with our friends at Comensura, the leading “vendor neutral” services management company.

It’s titled Understanding Culture and Stakeholders - Why Category Management Needs to be Aligned and Flexible.

There is a lot of good material around relating to category management of course, from Jonathan O’Brien’s book to the insight produced by Future Purchasing, including their survey and report which we were involved with last year.

But this topic of making sure that category approaches are appropriate and aligned to the strategy, style and culture of each organisation – or even to an area within an organisation – is a critical one, and something that we don’t always see people consider.

I’ve delivered a workshop for a few years on a Birmingham University MBA course, and this is a topic that always gets people thinking when I raise it. We end up with a flip chart with a list of about 20 different factors that might need to be considered, from whether the organisation is technophile or technophobe, to whether the outlook is local or global (or anywhere in between).

So, for example, my first roles in procurement were with Mars Confectionery. That was a private, indeed family-owned yet very global organisation, with a unique culture and a management style that encouraged both efficiency and innovation, risk-averse when quality was involved but fast moving in many ways, egalitarian and with “mutuality” as a core principle which impacted on how we aimed to treat suppliers.

Not many years after that, I was procurement director for the Department of Social Security, a government organisation, purely UK-focused, “political” in every sense, often slow-moving and status-conscious but also quite leading-edge in use of technology and indeed in some aspects of procurement. Neither organisation was “better” than the other, yet category strategies and approaches would have to look very different for each organisation in order to succeed.

So in our new briefing, there are three sections. In the first we look at what procurement and category managers need to understand about their organisation and their stakeholders if they are to develop effective category strategies and ensure they turn into successful delivery. That includes not just the overt goals and objectives of the organisation, and of stakeholders, but also those less tangible yet often important “cultural” factors we mentioned above.

Secondly, we look at how that should play into the development of category strategies, and what you need to consider to make sure they are appropriate and flexible enough to meet the various needs. Technology for instance plays an important role in delivery for many categories; but “one size fits all” rarely works in larger organisations, and that must be considered when choosing solutions, as well as in other category-planning decisions.

Finally, to bring this discussion to life, we introduce a couple of imaginary “archetype” businesses, and  look at how their different needs and cultures might dictate different category strategies in the contingent labour area (chosen obviously because of the Comensura link). So welcome to Meldon Media, dynamic international media firm, and Southburn Industries, manufacturer of lovely own-label pies, ready meals and fruity desserts for the major supermarkets! How should a category manager approach their task in those very different firms?

So, we hope you’ll find this an interesting and useful read – and you can download the paper now, free on registration, via this link.

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