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An Introduction to Category Management

May 3, 2017

There are many different roles in the realm of procurement, and some of them can be easily confused. For example, some people treat “buyer” and “category manager” as comparable positions, but they are in fact quite different. While a buyer’s job is to obtain needed items and ensure that everything is properly documented, a category manager is more involved with choosing which items to purchase in the first place. Category managers have considerably more decision-making responsibilities.

Categories of managers

Category managers are often divided into two different types: retail and indirect category managers. Retail category managers are in charge of a specific category of merchandise at a retailer or wholesaler. They help plan what mix of products will be available in the store, based on factors such as current trends and seasonal availability. Indirect category managers oversee a specific area of indirect procurement, such as IT or travel. These managers generally have expertise in their category, since they are helping to decide exactly what items will be best for the organization and its goals.

Why category management is important

It may feel superfluous to have individual managers for each purchase category, but it provides many benefits. Expertise is valuable, and someone with detailed knowledge of a category will be able to make more informed decisions, selecting products and vendors that will most benefit the organization. Also, having an individual dedicated to each category means that they are able to develop in-depth familiarity with all the relevant factors involved in decision-making for that category, as well as form strong relationships with the company’s suppliers. If only one or two people are in charge of category planning for all products, they are unable to give any one segment the attention it needs to perform well.

Category management best practices

While expertise is important, it is not always necessary for the category manager to have that knowledge before approaching a job or a particular task. What is necessary is research. A good category manager will perform in-depth research before making major purchase decisions. It is important not only to become familiar with the companies in the market and their offerings, but also to learn about current industry standards and practices, as well as the company’s specific needs with regard to the purchase. Consulting those who will be working with or affected by the products or services being sourced will help ensure that the decision made is the one that’s best for the organization.

It is also valuable to treat suppliers as partners, rather than adversaries who only want to get the best price from the company. Taking the time to communicate the company’s goals and needs, as well as listen to the vendor’s capabilities and suggestions, can have many benefits. The supplier is an expert in what they supply, and may have a better idea of what will work best for the buyer than the buyer does. Also, a good relationship means the supplier will be more likely to offer favorable terms, or forgive problems such as late payments. Putting time and effort into these relationships can pay off in many ways.

Category management strategy should not be undervalued. It is an important part both of organizational strategy and of purchasing. Companies that take full advantage of category management can improve both procurement results and sales.

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