Category Management: Critical Elements in ALL Successful Category Management Initiatives


As you can imagine, we are often asked to opine on what makes Category Management initiatives fail or succeed and how to increase the prospects for success. And while there are no easy answers, there are some lessons that have been learned which do offer some insights that can be very useful. First, let’s start with why they fail and here is a list of some common themes:

1. Lack of a clear objective
2. Decision processes not clearly defined
3. Failure to deliver early, tangible results
4. Everything is high priority
5. Old performance measures block change
6. The “Voice of the Customer” is absent
7. “What’s in it for me” is unclear
8. Senior Management wants to help but doesn’t know how
9. Same old competencies leading to same old results
10. Same old processes leading to same old results


Based on observing many Category Management initiatives and helping recover initiatives in trouble, my guess is that this list is fairly accurate and probably contains a number of factors that you have probably observed? And as you have heard from us many times, the best predictor of success of any initiative is how it’s launched. As soon as we are asked to asses an initiative and try to fix it, we immediately start looking at how it was launched and then quickly start trying to retroactively fix as much as possible.
Here are some of the more basic reasons why a proper launch is critical:
• Ensures common understanding of:
• Roles / Responsibilities
• Principles
• Decision Making
• Issue Resolution
• Start building a High-Performance Work Team
• Accelerates your Effort
• Ensure Buy-in from the Start
• Address any Issues / Myths Up Front


Unfortunately, many organizations are so eager to get started and get “real” work moving that they hasten the launch thus lowering the probability of success significantly. They fail to realize that taking the time to ensure a proper launch is in fact the best accelerant for their initiative which will save the a ton of time and effort later.

I’m sure you will remember this slide:

I use this to remind you that a proper launch ensures that you start taking care of ALL the Predictable and Inevitable issues for your Category Management initiative.
What then you might ask are the key elements of a successful launch and here are the five that we most often talk about with clients (although it does vary by client):

  • Objective and Alignment around it
  • Business Case
  • Issue Resolution Process
  • Decision Making defined
  • Effective Sponsorship


And while I don’t have space to talk about all of them and we have covered most of them earlier, the topic of effective sponsorship deserves some discussion because the lack of it can have devastating consequences. Here are just a few of them and I’m sure you can add to this list extensively:

1. Business Units and Corporate Departments opt to not participate
2. Resources are not available when needed
3. Processes are not adopted across entire organization
4. Internal Personnel do not believe in the Category Management initiative – morale diminishes
5. Timelines and Deadlines are missed
6. Savings and Benefits are not realized


Here’s the bottom line: When clients have failed to provide the needed level of Executive Support and Sponsorship, it has caused a significant loss of Stakeholder Value Drivers.
And this description of their role explains their significant impact on the success of every Category Management initiative:

  • Sponsors
  • Enroll the Executive Team
  •  “Open Doors” at Business Units
  •  Be a Cheerleader – Provide Motivation and Sell Successes
  • Drives and Sells the Business Case
  • Endorses and Sells the Business Case
  • Gains All Necessary Approvals
  • Provides Required Budget and Resources
  • Acts as a Business Advisor
  • Provides Advice and Counsel to Plan the Transformation
  • Monitors and Assesses Progress and Benefits
  • Identifies Potential Risks and Develops Mitigation Plans
  • Enables Adoption
  • Actively Identifies and Overcomes Resistance within the Organization
  • Link Transformation to Organization’s Strategy and Vision
  • Establish Clear Expectations throughout Organization

So make sure that every Category Management team has a structured formal launch process that they use every single time. You will immediately see a significant rise is success 😊.


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