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.
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.
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.
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.