Written by Roger Jackson,
April 30th, 2021 | Category Management

Category Managers. The kind of people the world needs more of.

The supermarket shelf. Where two world views collide.

Sometimes being in Category Management might feel like being a United Nations peacekeeper, a global summit negotiator, or like you dropped into an episode of Game of Thrones.

“Category” is one of those few parts of consumer goods life where it’s our job to bridge the divides, bring people together and align different objectives.

Which two worlds do we connect?

1. Retailer vs Supplier

First, I could be talking here about where the world of the retailer and the supplier collide.

The Retailer cares about winning market share through shopper footfall and basket spend – i.e. winning the total basket (see here some of the metrics that measure traffic driving).

The Supplier wants to sell more of their brand versus the competitors.

The point of common interest is category performance (see how we measure performance). But far too often the latter gets forgotten and negotiations swing to the win-lose.

How do we find shared objectives? Win-wins?

2. Buyer vs National Account Manager

Second, I could be talking about the worlds of the Buyer and NAM.

The Buyer deeply involved in the minutiae of operating a category for a retailer: pricing, stock, availability, promotions (see how we track these metrics), a million daily hassles plus the pressure of hitting profit targets, and performance reviewed by the week, day or even hour. Days are filled with endless meetings with people who wants something from you. (It helps them if they can see the category in the context of the total store – see our simple category impact model.)

The National Account Manager is driven by the incessant demands of the CPG firm to drive volume to keep factories operating efficiently – to “hit the plan”. Every meeting is a pressure cooker of getting the deal done, small-time windows with much riding on them.

But someone has to shift the dialogue from the tactical to the strategic.

3. Supply chain vs Demand

Third, I could also be talking about supply versus demand chains.

The logistics folk, who wrestle to get the right product to the right place at the right time so shoppers can buy anything at all, while at the same time minimizing cost.

On the retailer side operating a massive network of central warehouses, trucks and the daily task to get the right stock to the right store at the right time so that for the shopper every one of their desired purchases is on the shelf when they go shopping.

For the manufacturer – juggling the operational efficiency of probably a huge international manufacturing system (one that loves big-big predictable production runs) with their own trucks and sheds operation.

Both sides trying to run “lean” to save cash, but always wary of being caught out by unexpected events. Not the least of which is promotions.

Meantime the world of the demand side (sales and marketing) who largely don’t care about logistics, care about driving the top line and assume the bottom line comes along for the ride. Promotions are good. There is no such thing as a bad sale, surely? Who persuades the supply chain people to back shopper marketing ideas?

4. Sales vs Marketing

But in fact, today I am talking about none of the previous. Rather, I refer mainly to the clash between FMCG brand marketing and sales.

The brand manager who passionately agonizes about their advertising plans, their social media activity, their packaging, their formulation, the myriad of subtleties and dare I say intellectual (but vital) nuances that are about understanding the consumer mind and how a brand “resonates”.

Inspired by case study brands that can change seemingly overnight to win new buyers and share by finding a new story or new idea. This is the holy grail the brand manager chases.

Meanwhile, the sales team is pragmatic and sceptical.

They know from hard experience they hit their targets by selling more of the “core” SKUs. The big selling lines. Ones that barely changed in the last decade or more.

The latest marketing trend, this years’ big idea, well, they come and go, but the voracious demand of the business for reliable volume never ends. (Using our decision tree model it’s easy to find out if if range rationalization would cause a loss in a category.)

Added to which they are feeding the beast that is the retailer who constantly wants “a point of difference”.

Category Management sits in the middle

Who sits in the middle of this clash of cultures, making sure that everyone gets some of what they want?

The Category Manager.

The Category Manager that brings that crucial category lens to brand plans to ensure that both marketing and the retailer see the growth opportunity. Whilst being driven by data, and building trust and respect for objective advice.

All the more reason we think category managers deserve more credit than sometimes we see them getting.

Category Management isn’t a sidebar of the consumer goods Industry.

We should be at the heart of strategy, weaving together the various parts of our own business and then connecting ours to our customers’.

We are bridge builders, negotiators, objective fact-based communicators. What the world needs more of, in fact!