The main differences in my mind between CPG category management and B2B category management are as follows:
- Many B2B companies have multiple products that have to be sold as an integrated solution, making SKU rationalization more complicated;
- So many different B2B deployment environments (compared with relatively few different retail formats) require countless variations of what would otherwise be almost exactly the same SKUs;
- Configuration is de rigeur versus low configurability (except for private label goods) in CPG;
- Declaring "end-of-life" for products is harder, as the installed base for products from the distant past may continue to be sizable and upgradability for these customers can be difficult;
- Salespeople have much more influence over marketing than in CPG companies, in which marketing is general management.
Ironically, both the lack of B2B end-user data and the relative power of the sales team means that B2B company category managers end up less focused on the actual end-user needs than in CPGs. Hopefully the emergence of demand for B2B category management experts indicates a change towards more end-user focus. I personally hope the rise of this group as a real discipline (already showing up years ago in industry leaders like W.W. Grainger and John Deere & Company) will mean that B2B product sets will become more user-friendly over time, which will be a real relief to those of us who have to order them, configure them, and use them on a daily basis.