All posts by Gregory Romney

Procurement DigitiSation and the Future Role of Category Managers

With digitisation focused on Operational and Tactical aspects of function, and the next wave predicted to focus on technology that enables Strategic work, what are the implications for our future Category Manager’s skillset? Gregory Romney shares his expertise.


In a recent post, I made the observation that in large part the Procurement digitisation that has happened over the years has been focused on the Operational and Tactical aspects of the function (i.e. Buying, Sourcing). I also made the prediction that the next wave of Procurement digitisation will be more focused on technology that enables the Strategic work that organisations still struggle to prioritise. If I’m right, this will have significant implications on the skills that will be required to be successful in the role of a Category Manager and poses a fundamental question:

What is the future role of a Category Manager and what skills will be most important?

I’m not sure the answer to this question really differs all that much from what we would see on most aspirational job descriptions today, however, there won’t be any room for compromise. Future success in the Category Manager role will be dependent on the ability to closely mirror the skillsets of 3 roles: Strategist, Advisor, and Broker.

1) Strategist

Similar to a game of chess, a strategist has a well defined plan in where he/she knows the the steps necessary to win the game, or in this case to bring the most value to the organisation both from a traditional bottom-line perspective, but top-line as well. As a Strategist, deep understanding of strategic frameworks will be required and their practical application for the category the CM supports. Additionally, sharpened data analytics capabilities will be increasingly important. However, the most important skill the Strategist will have is the ability to interpret the analysis, “connect the dots”, and then effectively communicate this internally to key Business Partners & Stakeholders. This leads me to role #2.

2) Advisor

I recently read the book The Trusted Advisor by Robert M. Galford and it expounds upon 3 core skills that are key to becoming an Advisor: earning trust, giving advice effectively, and building relationships. I believe it sums up perfectly how to transition from playing the Strategist role to the Advisor role. The activity of “advising” may sound more familiar when you use it in the context of engagement with internal Business Partners. According to a study conducted by CAPS Research, only 24% of organisations consider their advisement or engagement Strategic, meaning it is highly collaborative and proactive, there are shared dashboards between Procurement and the Business Group they support, as well as aligned metrics. Despite such a low percentage of Strategic engagement, the study did find that 72% of engagement was Transitional, meaning engagement was increasing, and Business Partners were engaged with the category strategy. This certainly is a positive trend. The reason I believe achievement of Strategic engagement or advisement with our Business Partners is still so low is due to the fact that this work looks very different from the Tactical and/or Operational work that Procurement teams have been tasked with managing historically. However, if we are able to make the transition to “Advisor” successful, it will open the door to significant opportunities that Procurement is already well-suited to help deliver due to role #3.

3) Broker

Most Category Managers play this role decently today and in most cases have sufficient skills to broker deals between the company he/she represents and its suppliers. We have tools and well-defined processes to help us in this role, however, most of the deals that CM’s are brokering today are focused heavily on delivering value in form of cost reduction and less in the form of supplier innovation that can impact the top-line. In order to capture this form of value from the supplier base, a Broker needs to truly be willing to learn from the supply market and foster an environment within his/her own organisation so that they are prepared not only to receive, but act upon the supplier-led innovation. The skillset required in this type of deal brokering is different from what we have traditionally done when playing this role and so will the tools that we leverage to enable this activity (hint: eSourcing will not be the optimal tool from the toolkit for this kind of brokering). A perfect example of this is found in the recent announcement from Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) in regards to the introduction of CanCollar, a sustainable paperboard packaging solution, for multipack cans in Spain. Through collaboration with its packaging supplier WestRock, the company projects that the new solution will save more than 18 tonnes of plastic annually and has invested €2.6 million in its Barcelona plant in order to support the initiative. Hats off to the Procurement team that I’m sure was intimately involved in brokering this deal!

As I mentioned earlier, these roles at face value are not a drastic shift from what Category Managers are being asked to play today, but if we are honest with ourselves and the members our organisations, there are very few that excel in one let alone all three. This is the capability gap that Procurement faces and in a parallel there is a Technology gap to help enable it, both of which will require an overhaul across a myriad of current mindsets, practices, and investments.

This is why I predict the future wave of digitisation will be focused on empowering the Procurement function across these 3 roles and I’m confident that the function, as well as the supply market, will rise to the occasion and make the necessary changes to address these gaps. In doing so, I’m hopeful Procurement will become a profession of choice not mishap.

Agree? Disagree? Please share and let me know your thoughts in the comments section!

This article was originally published on LinkedIn and is reproduced here with kind permission.

6 Elements Of A Robust Category Strategy

A robust Category Plan and a Strategy will guarantee significant impact for your organisation with these 6 elements.


In my last article The #1 Reason You Need a Well- Defined & Formally Documented Category Strategy!, I purposefully oversimplified what a category strategy is by stating that it answers the 5 W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why) as well as the How of a particular group of spend. Ultimately, it will act as a guide to the Category Manager in his/her application of different procurement levers & tactics to generate value in the assigned spend area. I want to dive a little deeper on this topic by discussing 6 key elements that make up a robust category strategy:

1) Internal Needs Assessment: this should set a baseline for the category and provide a basic understanding of sub-categories, major suppliers, key requirements & stakeholders, internal controls/policies currently in place, and a brief category history and some of the challenges & successes it experienced. This section is particularly useful when reviewing your category strategy with someone who is unfamiliar with the category and it scope.

2) Spend Analysis: the foundation of any category strategy depends upon a solid understanding of the historical and (ideally) forecasted spend. Without accurate and granular detail, it’s hard to imagine how you can formulate any worthwhile strategy that you can feel confident in. If you didn’t do anything else in developing a category strategy, at least conduct a thorough spend analysis before making any type of recommendations to stakeholders or your leadership. There are a million different ways to slice and dice your data, however, at the bare minimum you should break your spend down by sub-category, supplier, location, and business group/facility. Data visualisation is worthwhile to mention here and a skill in itself: how do you take data and transform it into an eye-opening story that opens the door to powerful business insights? There are several data visualization tools out there like Tableau that can help with this, but you can never go wrong by simply utilising Excel or PowerPoint. One of my go-to formats to visualize spend data is the infamous Pareto!

3) Supply Market Analysis: understanding of the supply market is key to developing a robust strategy. You can begin by gathering market intelligence and benchmarking information via a myriad of places and sources, however, Beroe Live is a decent place to start and it’s free. Commonly used market analysis tools are the Porter’s 5 Forces model as well as the Structure, Conduct, Performance (SCP) model. Personally, I feel Porter’s 5 Forces model is more useful when entering a specific sourcing event or deal negotiation as it will help analyze the level of competition that exists at a specific point in time. Therefore, I tend to utilise the SCP framework as party of my category strategy development process.

4) Category Segmentation: segmentation modeling really sets you up to effectively apply the appropriate strategies for the goods/services you are sourcing and should help prioritize where you spend your time and with who. The Kraljic Matrix, developed by Peter Kraljic, is a segmentation model that evaluates two key factors:

1) the overall importance of the good/service (commonly based off total spend, profitability impact, or value-add to the company) and

2) market complexity or supply risk.

These factors are then evaluated on a Low to High scale across 2 x 2 matrix creating 4 quadrants or categories: 

Strategic Items(High Value + High Market Complexity/Supply Risk)

Leverage Items (High Value + Low Market Complexity/Supply Risk)

Bottleneck Items (Low Value + High Market Complexity/Supply Risk), and 

Non-Critical Items (Low Value + Low Market Complexity/Supply Risk).

Similarly, this tool can also be used to segment your suppliers. This is important to note because your counterpart on the other side of the table has most likely engaged in a similar segmentation process in helping them evaluate the strategies to deploy with their customers. Do you know where you fall in their model? Does your supplier/category segmentation align with how your supplier views you as customer?

5) Strategy: all the fact-based analysis that has been conducted up to this point should highlight and allow you to articulate 2-3 high level strategies that will guide all procurement activity that will occur (I highly recommend anyone engaged in Category Management to read The Purchasing Chessboard as it is a great tool to stimulate thinking around category strategy, procurement levers, and tactics that can be deployed). It should also include goals or KPIs to help measure the effectiveness of its implementation. Leveraging 1 of the 4 general strategies in the The Purchasing Chessboard, if my strategy is to “Leverage Competition Among Suppliers” one of my goals or KPIs could be “Achieve 15% year-over-year costs savings in x good/service for next three years”.

6) Category Plan: now that you have this amazing strategy with lofty goals to save millions, a list of initiatives, projects or tactics must be developed that will deliver the results. The Category Plan should call out the name of the project, description of the project or tactic to be used, strategy alignment, value, and timing. A Project Prioritisation Matrix is a useful tool here to help you through this process. Although you may not formally develop criteria to plot your project on the matrix, it’s important to think about the Business Value and Ease of Implementation of the initiatives you have listed.

In summary, a category strategy is much more than a document that answers the 5 W’s as it becomes the critical guide to the Category Manager in his/her application of different procurement strategies, levers & tactics to generate value for the company they represent. By including these 6 elements in your category strategy, you are sure to deliver significant impact for your organisation and see transformative results.

Let me know your thoughts and the tools you utilize to develop your category strategies (I’ve created a Category Strategy template for those who may be just getting started!)