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Faculty Insights

Supply Chain’s Link to Marketing is the Key to Post-COVID Business

Operations and marketing departments need to be on the same page to take on business’ pressing challenges

By Paul Smirl

September 7, 2022

Supply chain and marketing link

Supply chains and marketing campaigns depend on each other. If a marketing organization within a company pushes a demand for a product, that product better be able to reach customers when they want it.

If it’s in short supply, backordered, or not on the store shelf where people seek it, the company could be in big trouble overall. 

Jake Dean (MBA ’09), director for the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management at the Wisconsin School of Business, has been busy in the classroom and in the media since COVID-19 disrupted the world. 

His once niche area of expertise is now the topic of wide discussion and the beacon of disappointment for many a frustrated parent, unable to acquire baby formula or diapers—not to mention all the other consumers who find themselves without a desired product. 

Name a product, and there’s probably a supply chain issue going on right now, says Dean. Yet, supply chain managers are working miracles to make sure issues are kept behind the scenes and products are delivered smoothly. 

Supply chain managers finding solutions amidst chaos

In a post-2020 world, supply chain managers have to reinvent the way they manufacture, source, and distribute goods, and for the most part, they’re delivering those goods on time to people who need them. Most store shelves are full right now despite the current chaos.

“The work supply chain managers have been doing behind the scenes is incredible,” says Dean, “and that work is invisible to most consumers.”

Dean uses the analogy of a family of four to describe the extraordinary work being done with the world’s supply chains. Most four-person families don’t need a six-bedroom house—it’s simply too much space and too high a cost for a family of that size. 

“The work supply chain managers have been doing behind the scenes is incredible, and that work is invisible to most consumers.”

—Jake Dean (MBA ’09)

Similarly, why would a production facility make 40,000 dishwashers per month when demand has never been more than 20,000 a month? It would be unwise to pay for the extra space, energy, equipment, and workers when buyers aren’t purchasing all those dishwashers. 

Well, when COVID hit and many people decided to update their houses, the excess capacity that dishwasher (or sofa, or dryer, or disinfecting wipe) manufacturers suddenly needed wasn’t there. The demand for certain products skyrocketed like never before when the pandemic unpredictably changed lifestyles for people across the globe. 

Linking marketing with supply chains

As markets adjust and new demands for products emerge, marketers need to be in sync with their company’s operations. 

Marketing departments communicate product needs and get customers interested in purchasing, but if the price, promotion, and demand of the product don’t align with the costs and timeline for production and delivery, customers will be angry and businesses will struggle.

“It’s up to supply chain managers to deliver that product or service at a place, in a time, in a quantity that those customers want. If the supply chain organization is not connected to the marketing organization, you’re not going to have a successful business,” says Dean.

In an economy that is dramatically different from pre-COVID times, businesses need their disparate departments aligned to ensure stability. 

The link between supply chain management and marketing is what started the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management 30 years ago. Dean, in his seventh year leading the center, says that link is embedded in the philosophy of all of Wisconsin’s supply chain courses. 

The Wisconsin School of Business is home to an undergraduate major in supply chain management as well as one-year MS and two-year full-time MBA degrees in the discipline. It’s Dean’s and the Wisconsin faculty’s job to educate students so they can counteract the next great challenge in supply chain management and develop a generation of thoughtful and strategic business leaders who understand the interconnected nature of modern companies. 

Wisconsin’s MS and MBA in supply chain were recently named the #13 supply chain graduate program in North America by Gartner.

Hear Dean on the Badger Talks Podcast

Listen to Dean expound on the current state of supply chain management in a recent episode of Badger Talks, a UW–Madison podcast that highlights campus experts and explores current issues.