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As part of our Expert Insight series, Supply Chain Nation recently sat down with Gordon Wade, managing partner and director of best practices for the Category Management Association, to discuss the category management discipline, and in particular, the category management maturity curve as defined in CMA’s paper—Category Management Mastery: The Key to Growth! SCN: In your paper, you discussed a five-stage maturity curve as a way for companies to measure how they are doing in this discipline. Wade: Companies are at various places on the five key attributes that comprise category management competence.
Wade: The first thing they need to do is to understand where they are on each of the attributes. SCN: A major requirement for Category Management success is collaboration between manufacturers and retailers, but that has been hard to achieve. One of the major achievements of category management was to cause those manufacturers and retailers to step back and look at their common consumer—the shopper. SCN: You indicate there is a lack of Category Management expertise in many companies which hinders their ability to advance this discipline. Wade:  I wouldn’t want to attribute an uptick in training and certification purely to the paper which we – the CMA – wrote.
We are seeing continuing growth in the number of companies that are signing up, and within companies, the number of people taking training on the way to getting certified on one of three levels—category analyst, category manager, or category advisor.
SCN: Where do you think innovation in Category Management will come from in the near future?
So the next wave of innovation will be driven, in my judgment, by the combination of these disparate data sources that will be enhanced by predictive analytics.
In this process, my team and I had to do exactly what you talked about in identifying the common consumer: what was the end goal and how did our interests align in this happening? Finding the common denominator and recognising the significance of that in category management facilitates a step change as both retailer and supplier suddenly see that they have a common goal – the consumer.
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Where do you feel the majority of companies are at on this curve, and why do you think this is so?
For example, some companies have enormous amounts of data, but aren’t very good at analytics.
The C-suite usually isn’t very knowledgeable about category management because they did not come up through the discipline. A company I founded created category management in the early 1990s working with the industry committee known as ECR, efficient consumer response, a committee of retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and brokers.
Since your paper came out, have you seen an uptick in interest in training or your certification programs? There are specific competencies that people must demonstrate at each of these levels which are tied to specific training regimens. We are creating and collecting more data every day than any one person could consume in a lifetime. As a supply chain major at the McCombs School of Business, category management is a much-talked about topic.
If the company continues to collect data, then it can have a better picture of where it should procure its resources.
Though it was difficult at times, engaging in conversations with suppliers of our product, our team emerged with a healthy understanding of how to optimize our contracts for the end goal, the general public. Like you said, the C-Suite isn’t all that full of people with an operations background, and it is exciting going through school knowing that this is a fun and exciting field that is quickly gaining interest and importance in the business world. However many companies do not have the luxury to have a full time HR professional to ensure that employees are fully engaged, reaching their potential to achieve high performance levels and being well looked after. We offer HR expertise at a fraction of the cost, with the full service you would expect from an in house HR department. Prima Voca has partnered with Lorman Education Services to provide continuing education in a variety of topic areas.
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With his excellent supplement and nutrition suggestions, I am no longer wasting money and time with all the unneeded guess work! So they need to understand what the attributes are and ascertain where they are on each of these attributes.
But the fact of the matter is that there is a significant uptick in interest in training and certification.
This is helpful when evaluating candidates to understand what kind of training they have received. But with that data comes the opportunity to really understand our businesses and our customers like never before. So if you think of the maturity curve as measured across the five attributes, some companies are quite advanced in one of the attributes, but may be relatively weak on another attribute. We are seeing a lot of companies signing up for certification—in some cases small companies are certifying four people and large companies are certifying as many as 30 people—who all go through a battery of training modules.
It‘s an objective measure where we can say this person has passed these 10 courses which lead to these 10 competencies. However, on the whole companies tend to march ahead in reasonable lockstep across the five attributes such that companies that are pretty good at data tend to be reasonably good at analytics. They can look at an attribute, such as analytics, and see there are 4-5 characteristics of analytics maturity. They saw any discussions as sort of a wrestling match over a 100 cent dollar—if I get 51 cents, you get 49 cents. What category management said was stop worrying about yourself and start focusing on bringing better value to that shopper.
Also, because we are independent, we are not locked into specific solutions and can build a solution that is right for you. If you do, you will grow that 100 cent dollar to a 110 cent dollar and there will be more for both of you. That message of engendering cooperation was the single most important thing that category management did. To get a legal license you have to pass the board exams in the state where you want to practice. Thus, the first thing the C-suite has to do is a self-analysis of the attributes and characteristics so they can find out where they are, and can begin to develop a program that will help them improve in any area where they are not precisely where they would like to be on the maturity curve. We tell them what they have to pass in order to be certified and they develop the training programs designed to meet those standards.
Right now about 90-95 percent of the third party category management training capacity in the United States trains to CMA’s certification standards.

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