Procurement Guides

Category Management: A Next-Gen Guide for Procurement

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12 minutes

Written by

Logan Price

An arm and hand pulling a pink binder from a shelf of blue binders to represent pulling out the category management strategy documentation.

Adaptability and agility are increasingly important characteristics of today’s successful businesses. In procurement, category management (CM) is a key strategy to developing a flexible, nimble team. Moreover, it’s critically important for optimizing purchasing processes and achieving strategic objectives. Whether you're new to procurement or seeking to enhance your knowledge, this guide for modern procurement leaders will provide you with a deeper understanding of CM. 

Below, we dive into the concept of managing procurement categories, why it’s important, the benefits it produces, common and complementary strategies, and actionable insights you can implement today. Consider this your essential handbook for effective CM so you can make more informed decisions that drive organizational success and revenue growth.

WHAT IS CATEGORY MANAGEMENT IN PROCUREMENT?

In short, it’s the process of analyzing and strategically grouping goods and services you procure into categories. Most suppliers focus on similar products (it’s not typical that the same supplier supplies tractor engine parts and broadband internet service, for example). 

By creating and managing categories, organizations can consolidate their purchasing power and negotiate favorable contracts. Plus, they can form long-term relationships with suppliers and implement standardized processes to streamline the purchasing process.

But, it’s not as simple as it sounds on the surface. Effective category management in procurement involves understanding market trends, evaluating supplier performance, and aligning procurement activities with overall business objectives. 

When done correctly, managing procurement categories helps maximize the ROI of your efforts, manage and minimize procurement risks, and achieve long-term cost savings. The long-term goal is to not only reduce costs but to create value and drive innovation.

Procurement Category Management Process 

The procurement category management process has a few main stages. The first stage is need assessment. Need assessments help to identify what products and services are required for business operations and allow for further grouping of these into categories. 

The next stage is assessing the category role and conducting a performance analysis. To develop a good strategy, you must first evaluate the role of each category and then examine performance across different dimensions by analyzing historical data. 

After, it is time to set objectives and targets. During this stage, specific goals are defined, and KPIs for each category are established to track performance further. Then, move on to strategy development by creating a plan on how to achieve category goals. 

When everything is ready, it is time to implement the tactics within the strategy and measure results. 

Benefits of Category Management in Procurement 

Optimizing category management within your procurement strategy will equip your organization with a variety of benefits. So, let’s take a look at the main ones: 

  • Consolidation of spend data, which allows for easier spend data analysis. 
  • More opportunities for cost savings. You will gain actionable insights into various purchasing categories within your business, allowing you to identify cost-saving opportunities easily. 
  • Improved supplier relationship management as category management allows for timely payments and better invoice management. 
  • Proactive purchasing. With category management, you’ll be able to make proactive and informed purchasing decisions, resulting in higher ROI. 
  • Easier trends analysis. Category management allows organizations to identify and analyze internal trends, which helps with benchmarking. 

Finally, it is worth mentioning that category management allows consistent quality and efficiency in the procurement process. 

What is Category Strategy in Procurement? 

A category strategy is a plan that involves a variety of tactics and steps to reach the category goals. Category strategy addresses business needs, market analysis, supplier relationship management, and sourcing strategy to optimize procurement efforts.

Procurement Category Management Software 

To efficiently handle category management it is best to incorporate procurement management software. So, if you are looking for a quality solution, you are in the right place. 

Tradogram’s Item Master Data Management software allows you to:

  • Create custom item categories and bundles for better organization. 
  • Easily manage different categories with a centralized database and improved spend visibility features. 
  • Set approval workflows to improve order review processes. 
  • Streamline supplier communication and handle payments promptly. 

Tradogram is an all-in-one solution that allows organizations to handle every procurement and category management aspect easily. It offers tools ranging from inventory and supplier management to centralized databases and robust analytics.

Agile Procurement and Category Management

Agile procurement emphasizes flexibility and speed in the purchasing and sourcing processes and is a highly-effective strategy, especially when combined with category management. 

Category management structures procurement into distinct categories, each managed as a strategic business unit with its own strategies. Agile procurement then allows these strategies to be executed flexibly and responsively. 

The combined strategy working in unison empower procurement teams to quickly adapt to changes in market conditions, supplier innovations, and business needs within these categories. For example, if a product category faces supply chain disruptions, agile procurement allows the procurement team to quickly find alternative suppliers or solutions.

Agile procurement brings adaptability to category management, making it more effective in today's fast-paced business environment. The combination of these two concepts allows organizations to be strategic in their procurement approach while also being able to quickly adapt to changes.

An elephant tightrope walking to represent the increasingly agile approach needed for successful category management.

Benefits and How to Achieve Them

Implementing effective category management strategies can generate tons of benefits for your business. The key is knowing how to squeeze that benefit out of your efforts. Below we cover key benefits and tactics to achieve them. 

Enhanced Risk Management

Effectively managing categories plays a crucial role in mitigating the growing volume of risks associated with supply chain management. By thoroughly evaluating suppliers, monitoring market conditions, and implementing robust risk management strategies, organizations can minimize the impact of supply chain disruptions.

PRO TIP: Implement a supplier risk assessment framework that takes into account factors such as financial stability, delivery reliability, and compliance standards. Use procurement software to regularly evaluate supplier performance to facilitate proactive risk mitigation.

Stronger, More Reliable Supplier Relationships

Categorizing your purchases facilitates strong, strategic supplier relationships. Actively engage with suppliers, understand their capabilities, and foster mutually-beneficial collaboration. This will let you leverage supplier expertise to drive innovation and improve product quality.

PRO TIP: Organize regular supplier forums or joint development meetings to share insights, discuss innovation opportunities, and build strong relationships. Collaboration with key suppliers can lead to co-created solutions that deliver value to both parties.

Minimized Purchasing Costs

Managing categories effectively allows organizations to consolidate purchases, standardize specifications, and negotiate favorable terms with suppliers. By leveraging economies of scale, volume discounts, and optimized pricing structures, you can save significant capital to be used for other purposes. 

PRO TIP: Conduct a thorough analysis of your procurement spend data to identify categories with high transaction volumes and potential cost-saving opportunities. By consolidating suppliers and negotiating better terms, you can unlock substantial savings.

Man dressed in a gold jacket with gold background and gold chain to represent cost savings generated by strategic category management.

Strategic Alignment of Internal Teams

Another benefit of managing categories is that it enables procurement departments to align their activities with broader business goals. You can start by understanding the needs of internal stakeholders and collaborating closely with internal teams during the purchasing process.

In this way, procurement teams can break down departmental silos and unite teams around shared organizational goals. As a result, you’ll ensure that purchasing decisions across departments contribute to overall business success. 

PRO TIP: Regularly engage with key stakeholders, such as department heads and executives, to understand their evolving needs and align procurement strategies accordingly. This collaborative approach ensures that procurement remains closely tied to the organization's strategic direction. It also gives procurement more decision-making power within an organization. 

Supporting Sustainable Procurement 

Category management enables organizations to identify environmentally friendly alternatives, reduce carbon footprints, and promote sustainable sourcing practices. Evaluate suppliers based on their environmental performance, such as their use of renewable materials, energy efficiency, and waste reduction track record. By validating the authenticity of their commitment to sustainable sourcing, procurement teams can make informed decisions that prioritize environmental protection.

PRO TIP:  Integrate environmental sustainability criteria into supplier evaluation and selection processes. Consider factors such as a supplier's commitment to sustainability, potential adoption of circular supply chain practices, environmental certifications, and their ability to provide eco-friendly products or services. 

Category Management Strategies

You can rely on numerous strategies to effectively manage procurement categories. Your approach depends on your organization’s distinct needs and goals. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but some strategies are more universal than others. Here are a few of the most common and effective of them:

Demand Management

Understanding demand patterns, forecasting future requirements, and implementing demand management strategies are key here. These approaches help organizations optimize inventory levels, reduce costs, and improve customer satisfaction.

PRO TIP: Implement demand forecasting techniques such as trend analysis, market research, and collaboration with sales and marketing teams. Use these insights to minimize wasteful spending, reduce stockouts, and align procurement with consumer demand.

Supplier Segmentation

Categorize suppliers based on their strategic importance, performance, and potential value to the organization. This segmentation allows for appropriate resource allocation and the development of targeted supplier management plans. Plus, according to McKinsey, companies with better supplier segmentation raise profit margins on addressable categories by 10 to 20%.

PRO TIP: Segment suppliers based on factors such as spend volume, the importance of what they supply, and their alignment with your organizational values. Allocate resources and develop tailored strategies for each supplier segment.

Spray paint cans organized into segments to represent supplier segmentation in category management.

Adopt Strategic Sourcing

Learn how to leverage strategic sourcing. It helps organizations identify the most suitable suppliers, negotiate favorable contracts, and establish robust supplier performance metrics to ensure quality, delivery, and cost objectives are met.

PRO TIP Conduct thorough supplier evaluations, including capabilities assessments, reference checks, and site visits. Develop strategic sourcing plans that outline supplier selection criteria, contract negotiation strategies, and performance metrics that lead to continuous improvement.

Category Management Processes

The process involves several steps and action items along the way. While specific approaches may vary, the core processes typically stay the same and we cover a few of the core strategies below.

Category Analysis

This phase involves gathering data, conducting market research, and analyzing spending patterns. You’ll also want to keep track of supplier performance and emerging industry trends to gain a comprehensive understanding of the category.

PRO TIP: Utilize advanced analytics and reporting tools and procurement software to better understand category data. The resulting insights help you identify trends, and benchmark supplier performance, which, in turn, can be used to inform category strategies and identify opportunities for establishing new competitive advantages.

Data-driven Strategy Development

Based on the analysis you conduct and the resulting insights, you can form category strategies that align with business goals. These data-driven procurement strategies outline objectives, supplier selection criteria, risk management plans, and potential value creation opportunities.

PRO TIP: Engage cross-functional teams, including finance, operations, and marketing, in strategy development workshops. Leverage their expertise to gain diverse perspectives and ensure that category strategies are aligned with broader organizational objectives.

Implementation and Execution

Once your category strategies are defined, execute them by engaging with suppliers, negotiating contracts, monitoring performance, and implementing standardized procurement processes.

Establish clear performance metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor supplier performance. And be sure to regularly review supplier contracts and performance against agreed-upon terms to increase accountability on both sides.

Track Results and Refine as You Go

Category management is an ongoing process that requires continuous evaluation to produce sustainable, long-term results. Monitoring supplier performance, analyzing market dynamics, and refining strategies are vital steps toward ensuring your categories remain optimized and aligned with changing business needs.

Measuring tape alongside a carrot to represent the importance of tracking results in category management.

Direct vs. Indirect Spend Categories

In category management, procurement activities are divided into different categories based on the nature of goods or services being procured. These categories are often classified as either 'direct' or 'indirect' – let’s quickly discuss their differences and how category management approaches indirect vs. direct procurement.

Direct Spend Categories

Direct categories refer to goods or services–often raw materials or other inputs–that go into the production of the final product or service a company sells.

For example, in a car manufacturing company, direct categories might include raw materials like steel, rubber, or electronic components that are used in the production of cars.

Indirect Spend Categories

Indirect spend categories refer to goods or services that support internal operations. They are necessary for the functioning of the organization but don’t contribute to the product or service it sells. 

Examples of indirect categories include office supplies, cleaning services, IT support, and internally-used software.

Alt: Woman facing fork in road to represent when procurement splits into two types, indirect and direct procurement.

Different Strategies for Different Categories

In the context of category management, understanding the difference between direct and indirect categories is crucial. Each category requires different strategies and management approaches. 

Effective direct category management normally requires close relationships with suppliers, given their impact on the production process and product quality. 

On the other hand, indirect category management tends to focus more on cost management and efficiency. It doesn’t require the same relationship building skills as direct purchasing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Dog raising hand like it has a question to ask about managing categories in procurement ‍

How can I measure the success of category management in procurement?

You can measure success with key performance indicators (KPIs). These include cost savings achieved, supplier performance metrics, inventory turnover, customer satisfaction levels, and the ability to meet strategic objectives.

Which software or tools can streamline the management of categories?

Yes, several software solutions on the market can support your efforts. The best software systems include procurement automation tools and functionality such as spend analytics, supplier management, contract management, and performance tracking.  

How frequently should I review and update my categories and strategies?

From my experience, it's best to review and update any business strategy at least annually, and if possible quarterly–depending on the context. It’s also important to revisit your strategy following significant changes in your market or organization. Doing so helps strategies stay aligned with business goals, which shift regularly.

Can apply these strategies when procuring both goods and services?

Yes, the same principles can be applied to procuring goods and services. At the core, your objective is to analyze and optimize spending on everything you procure, whether that’s a physical product, professional service, or any other type of purchase.

Is it worth managing categories in small or medium-sized organizations?

Absolutely; while the approach may differ in scale, the core principles remain the same. Just remember to focus on identifying high-impact categories, implementing streamlined processes, and aligning your efforts with organizational goals.

What makes a successful category manager?

A successful category manager possesses a blend of strategic thinking, analytical skills, and relationship management. They understand the market trends, can analyze data to make informed decisions, and build strong relationships with suppliers. They are also adaptable, able to manage change effectively, and have a deep understanding of the products or services within their category. Excellent communication and negotiation skills are also key to their success.

The Final Word

Category management in procurement offers a strategic framework for optimizing purchasing processes and achieving organizational goals. By adopting a holistic approach, organizations can drive cost savings, mitigate risks, foster strategic supplier relationships, and align procurement activities with broader business objectives. 

If you are just starting with category management, remember to leverage the tips and strategies above. They will facilitate data-driven decision-making and help you continuously refine your process, empowering you to drive value creation in your organization.  

Remember, effective category management in procurement requires ongoing dedication, adaptability, and collaboration with stakeholders to achieve sustainable success.

Now, with a deeper understanding of category management in procurement and a bag full of tips for success, you're well-prepared to navigate its intricacies and make informed decisions that drive organizational growth.

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