Why Category Management is the Answer to Collaboration, Becoming Shopper-Centric, and Maximizing Big Data.

Most retail and vendor organizations I have spoken to or interacted with in the past 6 months list at least one of the following objectives in their Corporate Strategic Plans:

  1. Collaboration. There is a big opportunity for Retailer and Vendor Collaboration, but organizations are not making any or enough progress.

  2. Shopper-Centricity. To win with Shoppers, Retailers and Vendors need to collaborate to be truly Shopper-centric. Limited collaboration is leading to misalignment of messages — meaning shoppers’ needs and wants are not being met.

  3. Big Data. Leveraging Big Data (by Retailers or Vendors) requires more precision and sophistication in its use and is similarly aided by strategic collaboration between Retailers and Vendors.

Internal Gaps = External Divides

In reality, internal gaps exist between the objectives, approaches, and skills of multifunctional teams (both Retailer and Vendor). These gaps create insurmountable barriers to Activating Collaboration, Becoming Shopper-Centric, and Maximizing Big Data investments.

The answer is simple, straightforward, and cost-effective, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Let me explain.

Retailers & Vendors, it’s time to break down walls.

For Retailers, well-defined strategies that create the rules, principles and guidelines for how decisions are made are often lacking. Even when strategies are defined, they are often not communicated clearly across the organization which creates ambiguity on objectives and decision-making. Conversely, internal clarity allows external divides to be closed and enables Vendors to become partners — collaborating to create solutions that win with Shoppers and taking into consideration store formats and banners, the Shopper, tactics and competition.

Vendors also need well-defined strategies, but they must consider both “category” and “brand” perspectives. To innovate, it is critical for Vendors to clearly understand differences and similarities between their Brand Consumer and each Retailers’ Unique Shopper. Since many Vendors still have geographically-dispersed Category Management teams that report in through their account or region’s sales team, a broad and possibly more strategic perspective is missing. Without a central Category Management “think tank”, the central Category Management team has little influence over the work completed by their analysts on different account teams. Instead, analysts’ work is driven by sales team and/or the Retailer requests.

The result? A very tactical and limited approach to Category Management that will never help Vendors be Strategic, Collaborative, and Shopper-Centric.  

Consolidation Cuts = Chaos

Over the past few years, Retail and Vendor organizations have experienced consolidation or restructuring. The recurrent course of action is to cut back on training and limit investment in the newly formed team. There’s a persistent and poisonous set of false assumptions that everyone:

  • Thinks the same way,
  • Has the same level of knowledge, and
  • Understands the internal strategies and processes of the organization.

When I stop to consider all of the different levels of experience, training, data access, analysis, retail/Shopper/Consumer understanding, that each team member has, I can only imagine the countless perspectives and approaches that the entire team brings. These tremendous differences create discrepancies, ambiguity, and uninformed decision-making across the team and organization.

The solution is simple, straightforward, and cost-effective.

Build and maximize the knowledge and experience of the team through an aligned Category Management approach. Beginning with the Category Management team, the alignment and clarity extends to an organization’s multifunctional team, including marketing, sales, logistics, and retail operations.

Once foundations are taught throughout an organization, you should focus on skill development needs based on roles and responsibilities, and individual development plans. Now your organization can function collaboratively — both internally and externally — to meet the strategic objectives and perform at the highest level possible.

The Solution is Category Management Training

While many organizations give lip service to the importance of training, it’s the first thing cut when budgets get tight. However, training has the highest potential for return on investment, especially when the cost is a fraction of other expenditures which yield a much lower return. Organization spends in data and software (including training), and market research dwarf the cost when compared to any training option available in the market today.

If funding for professional development is a challenge, you’re not alone. But have you considered the value of implementing a strategic, aligned approach that would help you meet your Collaboration, Shopper, and Big Data objectives this year or next? Creating category management foundations and skill development will give your team and organization the tools and know-how to Activate Collaboration, Become Shopper-Centric, and Maximize Big Data — helping you attain both short- and long-term goals.


Topics: Analytics Work, Category Management

Written by Sue Nicholls, Founder & President CMKG

Training and learning are my passions. I have felt privileged to have the opportunity to teach others since early on in my my career at P&G in the '80s (when category management was just beginning in North America). I have dedicated my work life to building and sharing this passion with others through active involvement in the industry, including long-term business relationships with large Retailer and CPG executives, development and influence on industry standards, curriculum, and conference education, thought leadership publishing and presentations at numerous industry conferences, and as a member on several university advisory boards. I am also an Adjunct Professor teaching consumer behavior in a Marketing Program.

I have developed over 150 hours of online curriculum, developed and facilitated hundreds of instructor-led training sessions, and had the privilege of working with retailers, suppliers and solution providers around the globe alongside an evolving industry. The challenge is to anticipate what's next and find ways to teach our students the skills required to compete and stay relevant.

Learning is a journey for everyone - individuals, teams, organizations, and yes, even training companies. You can't put training in a can, automate it and call it a day - it needs to evolve, be nourished, and continually improve. Through this blog and other channels, I share my years of expertise with our industry and believe that an open and ongoing conversation can improve any team’s capacity to implement business strategies that achieve their strategic priorities.