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The End Of Commercial Management

June 21, 2011

At this week’s IACCM Member Meeting in London, some 60 participants engaged in a lively discussion over trends in recruitment, career paths and emerging skill needs for the contracts and commercial community.

The delegates represented the typical IACCM mix of buy-side and sell-side professionals, with a good number of lawyers among the audience. I will write more about this session in a future blog, because it addressed a number of pertinent and interesting points for the entire community.

But one question that caused lively exchanges was: “Is the term ‘commercial manager’ helpful, or should it be abandoned?”

Job titles are always contentious. IACCM research last year showed that there are around 60 variants within the community it represents. This is far more than the variations in job roles.

The problem with ‘commercial manager’ appears to be that it is used in a wide variety of contexts (unlike a title such as ‘contract manager’). It may be applied to business development, or sometimes sales. Generically, it may refer to the ‘commercial processes’ within a company, covering areas such as Finance and Marketing. It is also applied in a context of skills, to differentiate from ‘technical skills’. But as a former IACCM Chairman once observed, ‘Lawyers oversee law, project managers oversee projets, accountants oversee accounts; what do commercial managers oversee?’

So the point of the question was to ask whether we would actually be better (and more influential) as a community if we tried to unite around a lesser array of titles, with a specific purpose or area of responsibility connected to them – and specifically if we eliminated ‘commercial management’ from our vocabulary.

Traditionally, the title Commercial Manager appears to have emerged in the UK and spread to various other geographies, initially countries like Australia and South Africa, more recently to the US and Canada. It used to be distinguishable from the Contracts Manager because a) it tended to be much wider in its remit (for example, typically carrying pricing or financial authority) and b) it was generally focused on pre-award winning of contracts, wtih post-award work passing to the more administrative ‘contract manager’. It gained virtually no traction outside the English-speaking world.

Even the distinction between commercial and contract managers has changed and the picture is much more confused. Contract Managers (pre and post award) are abundant. The post-award role has greatly increased status. The terms no longer depict a meaningful or reliable difference.

So does continued use of the job title ‘commercial manager’ distract from our community’s professional standing? Or is it simply another variant like ‘attorney’ versus ‘lawyer’ or ‘project manager’ versus ‘program manager’?

What do you think? Is it time for us to kill off the Commercial Manager in the world of contracts and trading relationships and to begin the task of simplifying our job titles and descriptions? As someone who came to contracts via ‘Commercial Management’, I have to confess to an emotional attachment …. but I also have fond memories of the pre-computer era and yet I accept those days have gone …. So is it time to say goodbye to Commercial Management?

  1. Sterling Whitehead permalink

    Granted I’ve only been in the contracts field for 2 years, but I haven’t met a single “commercial manager”. If the term no longer rings with practitioners, it might be time to toss the title into the trash bin.

  2. How about dropping both terms and going to “relationship management” or “enterprise relationship management?.”

    When I first looked at the term “contract manager” from the purchasing perspective I though it missed the point, which was to manage the relationship with suppliers, with contracts being but one tool. Given the perspective of this organization’s involvement in both purchasing and sales, “relationship management” seems to make sense.

    • Dick, I agree with this. It is relatively clear for the purchasing organization that their future will gravitate increasingly around outcome delivery and therefore a growing integration of contrscting with relationshp management. It is probably less clear on the sell-side, not least because the contracting activity acts as a counter-balance to the inclinations of Sales to be rather optimisitc in the commitments they make (driven by their measurement and reward systems). So for as long as relationship management remains connected with sales activity, the integration will be hard to achieve. But could it be that the Account Management teqm will become more business-oriented? I think tha is quite possible and potentially beneficial – though in that case, the breadth of role might truly justify the title ‘Commercial Manager’!

  3. Kai Jacob permalink

    “Commercial Manager” and “Relationship Manager” are nice titles to describe the fact that there is more between contractual parties then just single business transaction(s). In this regard we also use the term “Commitment Manager” – but on a business card I would still have preference for “Contract Manager”!
    But let me add: How do we define job levels within “Contract Management”? Junior/ Senior Contract Manager, Contract Management Expert, General Contract Manager, Head of Contract Management Services or do should we use the “Contract Manager (CM)” enriched by a business title, such as “Director of CM”, “Senior Director CM”?

  4. I have been saying this for a long, long time. My official job title is at present Snr Commercial Manager. Doing roughtly the same thing over the past 25 + years (in different organisations and at different levels) I’ve been everything from contracts specialist to commercial director via legal counsel and contracts and legal services manager. In my opinion, none accuraely represents what I actually did/do and more importantly, what it is not (salesperson, finance services manager, procurement manager etc). Usually, when I give my job title, I then have to explain that what this actually means, and to be frank it’s hard to explain is mainly neither commercial or management! To me, “commercial” in its true sense means relating to commerce- very wide, I am sure you’ll agree. The problem is what do we then call ourselves? The breadth of what we do is the problem, so I think it depends what one actually does- for ecxample, some people manage contracts- so they are surely contract managers; some spend much time in new business negotiations- are they not contract negotiators? If someone is a specialist in the contracts (the actual documents, drafting, advising and so on) then they are a contracts specialist in that field…so for example in IT, and IT contract specialist. I understand that there is some pride involved here-commercial director sounds a lot better than contracts specialist, which does sound a bit like a junior role.

    • Isobel, you have nicely summarised the dilemma. I guess our issue is that many job roiles vary in their content, but they tend to operae within a specific domain (legal or finance or product development etc). IT is our domain that tends to be difficult to describe. Is a contract ‘a domain’? Historically, those with a ‘contracts’ title tended to be strongly focused on ‘the contract’ – whether drafting, managing changes, overseeing compliance – it was more focused on administering / managing within a defined scope and rule-book. ‘Commercial’ was a more creative role that sought to integrate across a wide range of stakeholders and make sense our of their often conflicting positions.

      Those differences remain – but the titles have become more and more confused. And of course, the ‘commercial’ name is also used by others and means different things. In the end, the business has very real need of these creative integrators (they are almost ‘Organizational Engineeers’) but it remains hard to define and capture the true value withinn a job title.

  5. B.R.Sirkantth permalink

    How about Techno-Commercial Manager for those holding jobs in organisations which require consdirable technical knowledge?

    • I think some in this role are called Contracts (or Commercial) Engineer – though that can also be a bit confusing, be3cause for some it means a more technical focus, for others it is about ‘engineering the contract’.

  6. I’m pround to be called a Commercial Manager. It is a job title I feel very comfortable with and reflects the breadth and depth of commercial issues that I am being asked to manage on a day to day basis.

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