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100 Category Manager Skills Tips from the Most Influential Category Managers in the UK Grocery Industry

Category Manager Skills Tips

Do you want to improve your Category Management? We are on a mission to build the best Category Tips list in the world. A list containing the top 100 Category Manager Skills that will lead to more profitable Category wins for you. So, we thought, who better to ask than some of the most influential Category Managers in the country? The following list contains tips from some of the top Category Managers from the UK Grocery Industry and beyond.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far. If you’re a Category Manager with a top skills tip, get in touch with us and see if you can make it into this exclusive list.

Tip #1: Walk Every Store

Every retailer retails. Don’t confine yourself to one aisle, or one format, walk the store, walk every store. The corner shop can teach you about what customers want. DIY stores know how to manage forecasts. Estate agents know how to market the crappiest flat in the most eloquent way. I guess it’s thinking like a shopper always, and seek inspiration outside your category.

When I joined Molson Coors I made my team tell me about my products at premier foods, they struggled but they got there and now do the same to their team. We have reviewed dishwasher tablets, protein, and cheese lately. We sell beer, but we look outside.

Deborah Mayo-Saunders, Account Controller, Molson Coors

Tip #2: Shopper Insight is Your Friend

Be the shopper champion in everything you do because they represent the intersection of your own and your customer’s plans.  Insight doesn’t have to be expensive and getting your hands dirty and doing it yourself can really help connect you to the shopper.  Having said that there is no substitute for a great agency partner to help you develop shopper capability so seek out the best you can to help you unearth the insight.

Andy Page, Confectionery Category Development Lead, Mondelez

Tip #3: Think Like a Customer

When you move to a new category always think like a customer rather than a Category Manager. You cannot be a category expert in three months so do not try to just keep asking questions. In my experience manufacturers and Buyers that get caught up in the jargon miss great opportunities. I remember being new into consumer electronics and visiting a big Korean Brand and asking why all of their TV’s were black and pretty much being laughed at. 3 years later and our own brand sales were 50% non-black.

Ian Chaplin, Category Director, Groupon

Tip #4: Tell the Story

As a Category Manager, you need to help your audience understand how your recommendations come from your insights. Demonstrating the objectivity of your analysis is fundamental in earning the trust of those you’re making recommendations to, whether they’re internal or external stakeholders. Consider how you order the information so the narrative has a logical flow towards the conclusion, just as if you’re telling a story, and if anything feels superfluous, ditch it. The most impactful category recommendations are concise, clear and compelling.

Tony Walsh, Marketing Controller, Kanes Foods

Tip #5: Say It as It Is

We often feel the need to use ‘jargon’, whether that’s to try and show how clever we are, or how we are ‘experts’ in what we do.  However, the power of ‘saying it as it is’ is underestimated.
Increased penetration.. we all know this means ‘more shoppers’.. ’increased FOP’.. we all know this means shoppers buying more often….so rather than using jargon, why don’t we just say ‘here’s a great way we can get more shoppers to buy more often’ – this means that we get to the point, cut through the BS, and know everyone understands what we mean!

Category Manager Skills

Nick Bentley, Head Of Customer Marketing & Innovation Delivery, A G Barr Plc

Tip #6: Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

The simplest way to improve your Category Management Skills and make a real difference practically in-store is not to be ashamed to copy! Until you are the acknowledged best, don’t be afraid to shamelessly copy the current best in class. Who else in your category, in your industry does Category Management the best? And don’t forget to look at best in class examples in other categories, in other industries and across different channels and formats. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery for your competitors, but if it delivers results and moves you ahead……why not do it!

Andrew Grant, ex-Tesco Trading Director and now MBM Senior Consultant

Tip #7: What Do You Want the Shopper to Do?

An effective category management proposal needs to be focused on how the retailer will benefit and should contain the following content:

  1. A sizeable consumer driven proposition (without this any category growth proposal will flounder in the long term).
  2. The shopper behaviour change that needs to occur to drive category growth (detailing the main shopper profile groups that need to change and the prominent outlet types where this change needs to occur).
  3. Detail how this shopper behaviour change will enable the retailer to achieve their bespoke stated objectives (e.g. size of prize, market share, shopper profile growth, traffic growth etc).
  4. Explain what the supplier is going to do to ensure this retailer beneficial behaviour change is going to happen to the max. (i.e. how the supplier will invest in driving the shopper behaviour change through e.g. NPD, promotion spend, above the line advertising, investment in fixture etc).
  5. Highlight what the retailer needs to do to facilitate maximising this beneficial shopper behaviour change (e.g. promotion slots, distribution, fixture layout implementation, prominence in shopper communication tools, NPD support etc).

Develop category growth strategies (shopper behaviour change) and tactical solutions (NPD, promotions, range proposals, layout recommendations etc) that enable the retailer to achieve their stated objectives; explicitly show the retailer how the category proposals deliver against their objectives; and develop an implementation plan with the retailer to enable the required behaviour change to happen.

Philip Annets, Category Management Strategy Specialist and former IGD Category Management Trainer

Tip #8: Focus on Changing Shopper Behaviour

Be clear about the outcome you are looking for and focus on the insight that drives action. Before launching into the work think about the problem you are trying to fix. You may be responding to a customer request or maybe you have a hunch about an opportunity. Start with a hypothesis. Test it with your stakeholders to make sure there is agreement on the outcome. Then, immerse yourself in the data. Visit the POP (physically or virtually) and observe shopper behaviour. Develop your hypothesis into insights. Be ruthless with yourself. Are your insights just interesting observations? Or can they drive the shopper behavioural change that will fix the problem you have identified?

Afshin Amirahmadi, MD, Arla Foods UK

Category Manager Skills Tips: The following are reserved and waiting to be added

  1. Be curious about the world around you.  Getting your head OUT of the data and looking for new and interesting sources of insight is so powerful.  Food trends from restaurants, fashion or technology changes from bloggers, retail concepts from other markets, winning executions from other categories.  This all helps ensure a true strategic lens can be applied to your plans and will add value to your offer as a category manager.   Suggested Action:  Identify sources of info that can bring a new perspective, key bloggers and influencers.  Go to trade shows and walk the floor with an open mind….  Cost £0-100
  2. Try to imagine walking in your (retail) customers shoes and take the time to ask lots of questions about them.  What are they trying to deliver?  What role will your category play?  How can you help best?  You won’t always be perfectly aligned but it certainly helps to know where the opportunities lie.  Suggested Action: Prepare a list of open questions for your next conversation with your customer.  Listen to their answers and don’t try to solve in the moment.  Reflect and come back with your thoughts on how you can help.  Cost £0
  3. Test and learn – try stuff, be prepared to fail as often as you succeed, but measure things properly and objectively to ensure you learn as you go.  Suggested Action:  Build a relationship with your local store and encourage them to help you try your ideas out.  A proof of concept even if in one store can help you learn and take things to a proper scale trial.   Cost £0-????.

Andy Page, Confectionery Category Development Lead, Mondelez


For further Category Manager skills tips and information, you can take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Category Management and our Category Management YouTube Channel. Also, check out our award-winning blog to see more Category Management tips and articles.

Darren A. Smith

About Darren A. Smith

Darren has been working in the world of UK Supermarkets and Suppliers for over 20 years. He began his career as a buyer at one of the big 4 UK supermarkets and after rising through the ranks he decided to leave after 13 years and set-up Making Business Matter.For the last 14 years he has run MBM, which is a training provider to the UK grocery industry. Helping suppliers to the big four supermarkets to develop the soft skills that will secure them more profitable wins.

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