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inventory-planningSo, you want to be a really effective inventory professional? Do you want your inventory team to be the most admired group in the company? Here are the top 7 areas where you can personally up your game and impact the bottom line.

Inventory planning: an evolving profession that’s still climbing

Companies are realizing that inventory leaders hold the keys to dramatic financial success. If you lead an inventory planning team, your decisions control the business’s most precious investment, inventory. For better or for worse. You influence this investment through:

  • Inventory reduction
  • Service level improvement
  • Profitable deal buys

So if you’re an inventory leader, be bold. Play the part in everything you do! You are an investor and it’s time to perform as a savvy investment professional.

Education and growth in these 7 areas will boost your stock. 


Skill #1: Presentations

We start with one that will scare many people away. During a recent gathering of inventory leaders, one executive pointed to her numerous presentation courses and opportunities 10 years ago as the greatest boost in her professional growth.

When you can become strong at an area which others fear, you rise above the pack.  Everyone has early jitters speaking in front of groups. However, that makes the victory even sweeter. There isn’t a more satisfying feeling than delivering a powerful presentation after hours of preparation and planning. It puts an extra skip in your step, and you walk the halls about a foot higher for hours. Sometimes days.

Presentation skills is an area where, in a matter of a few training sessions, preparation and practice, you can grow from fair to very strong. It’s a quick way to up your game.

Put forth the effort to gather a seasoned teacher and a small group of peers, and you can learn how to create an outline, a compelling title, relevant examples, smart slides and a powerful closing rather quickly. Don’t worry that you will rarely speak in front of a group of 200 people; you will use the skills often as you present your ideas to groups of 2, 5 and 10 people.

An inventory department of professionals who are comfortable preparing and speaking in group meetings and larger presentations will become highly respected and influential to the business. Look for a teacher inside or outside of the company who will come in and help your team become presentation pros.

Skill #2: Business Finance

To be a great inventory investment professional, you must know how your company makes money. The stronger your knowledge of business finance, the better chance you have to perform as a business leader.

The best place to start is the income statement. The income statement is the report card of the business. And in reality, it’s the best report card of your inventory team.   No other department has more influence on every area of the income statement than the inventory team.

Let’s break this down.

  • Your in-stock rates help drive Sales revenue
  • Your deal negotiation will dramatically impact the Cost-of-Goods-Sold and Gross Profit
  • Your ability to drive sales with efficient inventory levels will help maintain low General Operating Expenses
  • All of this will help maximize Net Profit

Once you understand how to read these statements, venture out to view them from as many angles as possible. You can find them online for any public company. Research the income statements for your suppliers and your customers. How do they make money and what do their profit ratios look like?

Find case studies online for various industries and note the difference in average profit ratios for restaurants, airlines, drug chains and others. This will make you think of these companies in a new way as you interact daily as their customers.

There are several sources of learning and many opportunities to research on your own time. Khan Academy is always an excellent source of learning with their 7- to 9-minute videos. Here is one they did on the Income Statement.

Skill #3: Sales (for Non-Sales People)

We know you have a separate Sales team in your organization, but every great company performs with the attitude that ‘Everyone is in Sales!’

Yes, Sales teams can drive us crazy at times and we wonder why we often hear from them only when something is going wrong. However, we need our Sales colleagues as much as they need us. If we want to suggest the fact that Sales leaders need to better understand the complexity of our inventory, we should invest in becoming Sales-savvy ourselves.

One of the greatest compliments you will ever receive is when Sales leaders ask if you or your inventory team can attend a Sales meeting where they are trying to win the hearts of a new customer. When Salespeople recognize that you are their best weapon, you will know you’re hitting on all cylinders.

Prepare for those times by learning some of the foundations of selling. Some of those teachings may sound obvious, but when you dig in, you’ll see they are not. Step One is to build trust.

Ironically, we promise that if your team approaches your Sales leaders to express the desire to have someone lead a course on Sales for Non-Sales People for your team, you will build an incredible initial step to trust!

Skill #4: Leadership (Duh!)

The idea of leadership is often misunderstood. A leader is not just the head of the department. A leader is someone who performs in a way that everyone wants to follow and mimic. Your entire department can be a team of leaders. Some of the best leaders in your company might be individuals who don’t care to ever manage people. However, they provide great value to the organization every day.

Leadership is not something you typically learn in a sit-down class. It comes through mentoring, coaching, team-discussions and having role models to follow.

When people look to you as a peer or a leader, they are actually making decisions about you based on these common three questions:

  1. At what level can I TRUST you?
  2. Do you CARE about me?
  3. Are you committed to EXCELLENCE?

Through these steps you establish your identity and create the foundation of your leadership and level of influence. Good things happen from there. Trust leads to influence and influence leads to results.

Grab every opportunity to grow as a leader whom others want to follow.

Skill #5: Personal Finance

This one is becoming more common for great reason… It’s hard to be a strong investor of your company’s money if you struggle to manage your own.

For many years, guidance and education on personal finance was rarely taught in high schools or colleges. Often it wasn’t even a subject discussed in detail at home.   That is changing rapidly.

One of the best things to offer young professionals coming into inventory planning is personal finance education:

  • What’s the impact of starting to save for retirement at Age 25 vs. 35 or 45?
  • How do you prepare and save for a home mortgage?
  • What is the difference between a 15- and 30-year mortgage?
  • What are the financial and emotional benefits of escaping debt (and staying out of it)?
  • What type of life insurance is best and when do you need it?

There is no question that a financially savvy and sound team member will walk into your office each day more prepared for success if they are not under a heavy financial burden. Yes, there are programs out there that can be brought into your organization to help with this. Do some research online and ask partner companies for their experiences.

Skill #6: People

Number six on our list is huge. Have you ever sat through a full-day DiSC Personality Profiles course? It will be the most beneficial day of education you’ll ever experience. The information in those types of courses is incredibly valuable in adapting to the styles of people around you.

You will use this knowledge as much in your personal life as you do in your work life.  DiSC and Myers Briggs are two of the most common programs and courses, but work with your HR team to find the best solution for you.

You will learn more about your own style and realize why you love your style. More importantly, you will learn how to quickly read the styles of others. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to adapt to and collaborate with the diverse styles of others. This final step will lead you to greater success in every part of your life.

Diversity of styles in people is what makes movies and TV shows interesting. Why do we love to binge on our favorite dramas or sitcoms? The writers of those shows incorporate the various styles into their characters. The differences between styles create comedy and tension, and that’s what keeps us coming back. Watch “Seinfeld” and you will find all four of the DiSC styles within the four main characters: Dominant, Influencer, Supportive and Conscientious. Who’s who? We’ll leave that up to you!

Diversity of people is both inherent and important to a company’s success:

  1. Every person is a perfect blend of the various styles
  2. Those who believe that other people need to work harder to become more like their style will be disappointed in life
  3. Those who work to read and adapt to the styles of others will be the most successful and most content

Skill #7: Customer Service

Yes, you also have a customer service department. However, we all provide service every day. The service you deliver can be to customers and partners outside of the company, but more often you may perform ‘customer’ service within the company.   Odds are, you already have a service image and identity, whether you realize it or not.

We feel your level of service in the attitude you use to answer the phone. We experience it when we read your email replies. We sense it when you copy my boss when you send those emails. We live it when we see how quickly you get back to us.   We learn from it when you take that extra time at the end of a call to see how you can help in other ways. We grow from it when you check back a few days later with more ideas.

There is a framework of how to properly perform customer service, whether those customers are customers in the literal sense of the word, or simply other departments in the company.

Take the time to learn the framework. Acknowledge where you need to grow. Ask for feedback and confirmation on areas where you believe you are performing well.   Encourage others who are performing these steps well so that they continue to do so. Hold roundtable sessions to learn from and assist each other.

It is rare that a company serves their customers at a level higher than they serve each other. Become great internally, as a family, first. This will set the tone for how we serve our outside customers.

There are many more areas, but this is a great start. Being an inventory professional is a great career. Keep investing in your career and your influence and results will keep growing.

Related podcast: 10 Inventory Analytics Numbers Every Exec Should Care About