What Is a Supply Chain?
We have discussed the channel partners, the roles they fill, and the structures they create. Marketers have long recognized the importance of managing distribution channel partners. As channels have become more complex and the flow of business has become more global, organizations have recognized that they need to manage more than just the channel partners. They need to manage the full chain of organizations and transactions from raw materials through final delivery to the customer— in other words, the supply chain.
The supply chain is a system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer. Supply chain activities involve the transformation of natural resources, raw materials, and components into a finished product that is delivered to the end customer.
The marketing channel generally focuses on how to increase value to the customer by having the right product in the right place at the right price at the moment the customer wants to buy. The emphasis is on the providing value to the customer, and the marketing objectives usually focus on what is needed to deliver that value.
Supply chain management takes a different approach. The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) defines supply chain management as follows:
Supply chain management encompasses the planning and management of all activities involved in sourcing and procurement, conversion, and all logistics management activities. Importantly, it also includes coordination and collaboration with channel partners, which can be suppliers, intermediaries, third-party service providers, and customers.
Supply Chain vs. Marketing Channels
The supply chain and marketing channels can be differentiated in the following ways:
- The supply chain is broader than marketing channels. It begins with raw materials and delves deeply into production processes and inventory management. Marketing channels are focused on bringing together the partners who can most efficiently deliver the right marketing mix to the customer in order to maximize value. Marketing channels provide a more narrow focus within the supply chain.
- Marketing channels are purely customer facing. Supply chain management seeks to optimize how products are supplied, which adds a number of financial and efficiency objectives that are more internally focused. Marketing channels emphasize a stronger market view of the customer expectations and competitive dynamics in the marketplace.
- Marketing channels are part of the marketing mix. Supply chain professionals are specialists in the delivery of goods. Marketers view distribution as one element of the marketing mix, in conjunction with product, price, and promotion. Supply chain management is more likely to identify the most efficient delivery partner. A marketer is more likely to balance the merits of a channel partner against the value offered to the customer. For instance, it might make sense to keep a channel partner who is less efficient but provides important benefit in the promotional strategy.
Successful organizations develop effective, respectful partnerships between the marketing and supply chain teams. When the supply chain team understands the market dynamics and the points of flexibility in product and pricing, they are better able to optimize the distribution process. When marketing has the benefit of effective supply chain management—which is analyzing and optimizing distribution within and beyond the marketing channels—greater value is delivered to customers.