Modern Superpowers

Modern Superhero

The extensive list of skills required by category managers has turned them into real-life superheroes.

By Andrew Durlak

Imagine any superhero without its superpowers — kind of defeats the role, right?  Although the late ‘80s was a dearth of new and inspiring superheroes, one very special sourcing hero emerged: category managers. Let’s dive into a few of the skills (superpowers, if you will) that modern category managers need to excel.

First of all, what is category management? Every enterprise takes its own nuanced definition, but broadly speaking, it is a strategic business process in which an individual or team within sourcing/procurement/supply chain is responsible for managing a specific type of spend. Category managers are gurus within their prescribed category; they are masters of its trends and innovations, understand the supply market and its user base, and make projected purchasing decisions that will benefit the entire enterprise.

Sourcing and procurement as a whole is evolving enormously, fueled largely by technological advances. In tandem with that, today’s category managers are a different breed than when the role originated. How?  Category managers of today take a more data-driven (think: Moneyball) approach; that’s how they effectively and efficiently keep the enterprise competitive today and solve tomorrow’s challenges.

Category managers who are really tapping into their sourcing superpowers all have one thing in common:  bottom-line business impact. So, what are these superpowers that elevate category managers into an invaluable asset for the enterprise?

• Analytical Acumen: We have a lot of data at our fingertips today. It’s up to category managers to use it strategically. They can’t just collate the data, they must also scrutinize and analyze the data to draw meaningful conclusions. They’re masters of transforming category information and spend insight into actionable analysis — which in turn, maximize successful business outcomes.

• Agility: Juggling is an art, and one that category managers have taken to new heights by seamlessly managing multiple channels of communication. Whether it’s collaborating with internal and external stakeholders, working with vendors or industry analysts, or communicating progress and insights with the wider team, they have a knack for seamlessly managing lots of moving pieces.

• Ambition: A good category manager acts like a one-person consultancy; they’re the be-all and end-all authority on their category. Categories are constantly changing, so even if an answer is unclear, they have the know-how to find the solution. They’re constantly learning, honing their skills and, fundamentally, creating insight and value for the organization.

An analytical, agile and ambitious category manager can have a far-reaching impact across the enterprise. The triple-A approach to category sourcing will forge stronger and more collaborative relationships with stakeholders and suppliers, often yielding improved supplier performance and stakeholder satisfaction. By drawing insights from past sourcing events, category managers synthesize the data to make more informed decisions for future impact. Superhero category management also reduces lead times in sourcing events; APQC data shows that organizations with category management have a median supplier lead time of seven days, compared to 21 days for organizations that don’t have category management programs.

Unless a category manager is really superhuman, they can’t be expected to bear the burden of an entire category, and all its associated research and data, without some assistance. By employing technology that organizes and manages data, facilitates collaboration, and gives deeper insights into the sourcing process, category managers can more comprehensively analyze their category, forge more valuable relationships with suppliers and industry analysts and, ultimately, improve sourcing outcomes across the enterprise. In short, category managers who work in a truly analytical, agile and ambitious manner will excel – unleashing their inner sourcing superhero.

Andrew Durlak is the co-founder and vice president of operations at Scout RFP, a cloud-based strategic e-sourcing solution. Prior to founding Scout, he worked in private equity and investment banking. Andrew is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University.

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