Codifyd Rooftop Reception During B2B Online Conference

Long conference days are best concluded with a well-deserved cocktail. That’s why following the first day of the B2B Online Conference last Monday, Codifyd hosted a private rooftop reception for our clients and other conference attendees. Eager to show off our beautiful city, we hosted the event at a hotel rooftop overlooking the Chicago River and city skylines. Needless to say, it was a night to remember for both new and old friends.

Continue the conversation or start a new one with us here. We love talking all things B2B digital commerce.

Takeaways from ISA Annual Convention: Move Now, Move Quickly

I recently spoke at the inaugural “ISA 360” speaker series at the Industrial Supply Association Annual Convention in Denver. While there, I spoke to attendees about the dynamic nature of ecommerce and what companies can do to stay competitive in a time when disruptors like Staples and Amazon Business are entering the industry. During the post-program Q&A session, there was an interesting question: “What keeps you up at night?” My response was a one-word answer: “Inertia”. And while I briefly explained why at the time, I wanted to go deeper and share a thought experiment that highlights why distribution needs to overcome that inertia, take a strategic approach to ecommerce, and do it quickly.

B2B Commerce Trends

I’ve been in the B2B space for almost 20 years – meaning I’ve seen both sides of the disruption story. I started during a time when the main tension was between traditional distributors and the “catalog houses” like Grainger, MSC, and McMaster-Carr. But those firms weren’t considered “disruptors” because the catalog business model had been around for decades. In general, while the industry was competitive, change happened slowly and companies could take time to deliberate on all options before setting and implementing a strategy.

Since the turn of the millennium, decisions have to be made at “internet speed”. Not because it’s a “good idea”, but because disruptors entering the space already think that way. If my presentation made people think about maybe putting together a strategic project team to consider exploring the potential of ecommerce between now and year end – I suggest that will already be too late.

Amazon Business Trends

In May of 2016 Amazon announced that their Amazon Business platform had crossed $1 billion in revenue after being open for only one year. But what I found compelling was not the dollar amount but the growth rate. The article mentioned that Amazon Business was “growing at a clip of 20% each month”. That is a much more shocking figure than the revenue figure and simple math can explain why.

  1. For the sake of simplicity, let’s make a couple assumptions:
    1) The month-over-month growth rate will drop at an average rate of 0.33% each month, reflecting the growth due to increasingly large revenue base; this puts the monthly growth rate on pace to drop to 10% by December of 2018
    2) That “degradation rate” stays at a straight-line drop each month. That’s unrealistic, as Amazon’s business in general typically gets a big boost in the 4th quarter, but assuming a straight-line average is a conservative approach
    3) Amazon’s monthly revenue figures as of May 2016 were ~$83.3 Million per month ($1 billion divided by 12 months)

For a number of reasons, these assumptions are likely to be completely erroneous. But they exist because they provide a conservative baseline for the results. The objective here is not to give a forward-looking estimate for Amazon Business revenue, but rather to help show what is possible given some simple (and very conservative) estimates.

Given those assumptions, let’s look at where Amazon Business could trend:

In this graph, each column represents monthly revenue and the blue line represents the month-over-month. It simply extends the figures from May 2016 forward. With the assumptions in place, Amazon Business would already possibly be a $6 billion per year distributor, and we haven’t even hit the “tipping point” yet, which would happen in Q4 of this year.

One also must consider that this assumes Amazon Business stays static – a dangerous assumption. Amazon Business will probably launch new services, add more selection, and create more innovative user experience tools to offer in conjunction with the site. Those possibilities aren’t accounted for in this chart, but neither would any of those slow growth more than what is described here – they would only push the numbers higher.

Move Now, Move Quickly

The takeaway for businesses already in B2B? Whatever plans you may be making, you need to make them faster. Remember Jeff Bezos’ quote: “…most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow”. Amazon’s innovation engine is firing on all cylinders – is yours?

$2 SKU vs. $50 SKU: A Strategic Approach to Product Content Investment in B2B E-Commerce

In the digital age, e-commerce customers educate themselves by going online. And they want that information fast. When searching for paint, what are the different colors offered? Is the 10 gallon option cheaper? Your data should be customized to relate to the customer’s selection process and it is important to have a strategic approach when optimizing this content. It’s not enough to just build your SKUs. You can spend $2 per SKU or $50 per SKU but you must understand how to best direct this investment and provide incremental value that will give results. You don’t have to spend $50 on all of your SKUs but you spending only $2 on all of your SKUs is much less likely to be successful. So how do you decide on a strategic product content investment?

The Customer Experience is Reliant on Rich Product Information

A critical part of a customer’s buying experience is the ability to drill down to the product they’re looking for quickly and efficiently. A well structured product taxonomy allows you to categorize the product selection in a way customers understand and relate to. This creates an important baseline for your e-commerce experience. Taxonomy and categorization typically follow a standardized vocabulary, consistent organizing principle, SEO research, competitive analysis and the classification of your products to the taxonomy. This foundation helps move customers from the homepage to product pages and gives you the framework to begin investing strategically.

Leading a Successful Product Content Investment Model

The more you invest per SKU, the better defined that SKU will be. The next step in that investment should include well defined attribution and faceted search. What are the most important attributes for a t-shirt? What about a electrical connector? These ideas need to be documented and customized for the selection process of each product. An extra small size t-shirt is much different than a micro size connector, so you need to define the concept of size appropriately for each product.

To enhance your product selection and provide a world class experience for your customers, you need charts, graphs, images and copy that explain why a customer should buy a product from you. Marketing copy, rich media, comparison guides and selection guides not only educate your customers and make them trust your content, they also increase your SEO value drastically, leading to higher traffic and lower cost of customer acquisition as well as improved conversion.

Drive ROI by Investing in SKUs that Perform Best

If you want to differentiate from your competitors by providing the best possible e-commerce experience for your customers, you’ll need to invest in your SKU data. The best way to define which SKUs to invest in is by allowing your customers to lead you; SKUs that generate the most return on investment are a good place to start. Top sellers, new products and high margin items are a good place for additional investment.

Long Term Improvement & Maintenance of Product Content

By following this “investable SKU model”, your product content becomes an asset which must be maintained and managed on an ongoing basis rather than just a one-time cost center. To be a leader, however, you must  improve your product content incrementally over time. Do you want to see the return on your investments? Monitor traffic (more customers), conversion (likelihood to buy) and order quantity (volume) to measure the impact before and after you make a change in your product data model or launch new tools using the attributes or assets you have built.

Your customers want an experience that makes them feel confident enough about their selection of a product to purchase it. In order to feel confident, they need to trust the integrity of the information you provide about that product.

A Straightforward Way for Distributors to Significantly Stand Out Among Competition

My job involves a lot of time thinking about the challenges distributors face in a hyper-competitive marketplace. One particular problem is that of differentiation: how do you, as a distributor, create or maintain a competitive edge online?

A recent report from Advantage Business Media, Differentiation in Distribution, made some good points about this issue. What can you offer as a distributor? The traditional thinking pinpoints a few areas in which distributors can create a competitive advantage.

Product Quality

The truth is, you don’t have much control over product quality. After all, you’re selling the same products as your competitors.

Pricing

How much wiggle room do you really have on pricing? The differentiating effects of price in B2B digital commerce are not comparable to those found in the retail space.

Service

This is the bread and butter of any distributor’s business model. Most organizations invest heavily in building relationships with their customers and offering perks for doing business with them. The downside? Everyone else is doing it! This is expected of distributors as a baseline; it’s not going to help you stand out from the pack, especially in a digital world.

Online presence

According to Industrial Distribution’s 2016 Operations Survey, “[O]nly 56 percent [of respondents] said they are currently generating web-based revenues.” Being part of that 56% certainly plays a part is differentiating you from your peers who refuse to join the 21st century. But a competitive edge can’t be obtained by simply buying the right software. The tool is only as good as the one who wields it, after all.

So what’s missing from this picture? Quality product content. Enriched, informative content about the products you sell does a whole lot of heavy lifting when it comes to enabling product discovery. Let’s review some reasons:

1. Boosts trust on the part of the consumer

Knowing the details of a product instills consumer confidence: Oh, this is green, 3-¼” and compatible with Model 12345? Yes, this widget is clearly what I’m looking for! Facilitating the easiest possible decision-making for your customer drives conversion.

2. Speaks for your organization

Clean, consistent, and accurate product content advertises your organization’s business acumen and subject matter expertise. Think about a jumbled dollar-store versus a carefully curated, well-stocked boutique. Which of these storefronts projects a more trustworthy image? Who would you count on to supply your business with its essential needs?

3. Acts as a guide to the right product

A robust, well-designed taxonomy, or product hierarchy, enables both browse and search, creating a seamless web experience. Finding the right product with minimal effort is one of the best ways to fight cart abandonment and turn research into action.

It is at their peril that distributors neglect the design, maintenance, and cohesiveness of their product data. It can be the one thing that helps you rise above the crowd in a very crowded commercial space.

Don’t Buy Low & Stack High: B2B E-Commerce Lessons

For decades, retailers operated under the paradigm “buy cheap, and stack it high”. Empires like Tesco and Walmart were built on this fairly simple principle. However, as the competitive advantage of superior supply chain and buying power eroded, buying cheap and stacking it high became a difficult proposition for both retailers and brands.

Changes in Commerce

At the same time, thanks to the power of web, shoppers started to become more sophisticated and empowered, seeking out products that met their specific needs. Brands began realizing that a slick 30-second spot and clever packaging was not a sustainable, winning formula. The world of retail was changing. “Buy cheap, stack it high” transformed to “innovate and personalize”.

In the past several years, three significant changes revolutionized bricks and mortar retailer:

  • The move to digital marketing and digital channels. Consumers took control of the shopping experience via the web and their smartphones.
  • Retailers came to understand that fresh, innovative products were the only way to win and maintain loyalty with shoppers.
  • Brands created the practice of shopper marketing to fine tune their in-store approach to product and shopper segmentation.

Lessons Learned in B2B E-Commerce

B2B E-commerce would do well to learn the lessons of bricks and mortar retail. Here are three lessons that can be applied to B2B e-commerce:

1. Buyer First­

Stop thinking about digital commerce as what your organization wants, or how you want to manage your channels. Acquiesce to the reality the BUYER is in charge, and the buyer will ultimately end up at the seller who makes buying easy and friction-less.

2. Quality Over Quantity

Acknowledge that you can’t just “stack it high and sell it cheap”. While the endless aisle can be part of a strategy, buyers ultimately are looking for something very specific that solves a distinct problem. In the digital world, fresh and compelling product content is as effective as new, exciting products themselves.

3. Channel Management

Think about managing your channels with the shopper marketing precision and hand-holding that brands like P&G and Unilever employ at retail. Break down your channels and serve each segment with care.

Empowering the buyer, becoming authentic in the eyes of the buyer via innovation, and improving your channel management strategies are dependent on great product content. Product content is a key driver for channel management in today’s digital world. If you continue to push average product content while trying to build the endless aisle, you are really just a 1980’s retailer trying to stack it high, and sell it cheap.

Why “Microvation” May be Your Company’s Next Secret Weapon to B2B Ecommerce Success

What is “Microvation” in B2B Ecommerce?

In a recent post on LinkedIn, I shared an article discussing Amazon’s recent patent for an “airborne fulfillment center” and how the culture at Amazon promotes innovation in a way that makes outsiders assume Amazon can make things like blimp-based warehouses actually happen. While the “big idea” innovations are the ones that grab headlines, an innovation culture makes companies equally as passionate about finding smaller, more focused ways to work faster, more efficiently, or with higher quality than before – even if it’s just incremental improvement.

These small, incremental innovations, or “microvations”, are key in product data work, which includes organizational structure, product attribution, images, descriptions – all information shown on a screen that helps explain and sell a product online. Design, implementation, and maintenance of product data has historically been a time-consuming and error-prone process due to the work’s manual nature. To better explain, I’ll discuss a few examples.

Examples of Microvation in B2B Ecommerce

Earlier in my career I ran a team responsible for ingesting large numbers of new products as they were added to our selection. With so many SKUs coming in, it was difficult to identify relationships (e.g. different sizes of a particular type of fastener that were all designed for the same application). At the time relationships between SKUs were identified and created manually, but I realized that it would be faster, easier, and more scalable to automate that process using product attribute data submitted by suppliers at the time the SKUs were loaded. Once we realized the value this could create to the company we filed for a patent on the process which was granted last year. Even though implementing new processes and tools to take advantage of will take time, we had to protect the idea quickly before someone else made it their own.

Another example of a microvation success stemmed from working with clients on ways to manage data for manufacturer part numbers (MPNs) in their databases. MPNs are notorious for being complex and in many cases involving atypical characters (e.g. hyphens, spaces, symbols) in addition to more conventional characters. Because humans tend to be inconsistent in how they work with data, MPNs often suffer from information degradation over time and they are often entered into databases inconsistently, increasing the chances of product redundancy. By leveraging research originally done on identifying duplicate records for people in databases, we used pattern recognition to identify the ways people typically modified MPNs to identify duplicate records in an automated way – speeding time to market for new SKUs.

An Innovation Culture that Celebrates Small Improvements

Both these examples highlight the key role microvations can have when working with product information. As most technologies that support product information are mature, using them lends itself to targeted and incremental improvements. Finding new ways to organize, classify, maintain, and optimize product data using algorithms and technology has led to new service offerings, tools that improve client results, and ways of doing more work faster.

The takeaway for businesses considering ways to promote innovation is to communicate with your teams that innovation doesn’t always need to be the next “big idea”. Valuable innovations can come from smaller, microvation improvements to existing processes or tools. By fostering a culture that values, rewards, and promotes small changes with as much support as the big ones, companies can find reduced costs, provide superior customer experience, and drive revenue that keeps them a step ahead of competitors (even if the competition’s warehouses are airborne).

Forrester Response Post: Building a Successful Digital Commerce Solution with PIM

After reading Forrester Research’s latest evaluation of Product Information Management (PIM) solutions in “The Forrester Wave: Product Information Solutions, Q4 2016“, it is clear to me that Forrester has done their homework very well. In my 20+ years of experience working at the intersection of technology and digital commerce, I have had the opportunity to participate in PIM implementation projects with 5 of the 10 PIM solutions referenced in the publication.

While I found the previous evaluation in Q2 2014 to be weak in their assessment of some features, this latest evaluation is spot on – most likely enhanced by a more robust methodology and greater number of valuation touch points. Furthermore, Forrester’s discussion on why PIM is now indispensable in digital commerce included all of the key arguments that my clients’ stakeholders reference as drivers in their selection and use of PIM technology.

So, can you now comfortably rely on this latest publication to help your organization adopt PIM technology in support of a digital approach to commerce? Yes and no. Yes – because its evaluation of the current features, strategy, and market metrics of each included vendor’s solution is largely accurate. No – because this evaluation does not dive into the broader set of factors required to be successful in digital commerce.

Selecting the Right Product Information Management

How does Codifyd recommend that your organization proceed with the evaluation and selection of a PIM solution?

  • After identifying a set of criteria and associated weights for selecting a PIM, use the Forrester Wave publication as the starting point in selecting candidate solutions.
  • Define step-by-step use cases for all critical processes associated with product data. These use cases can serve as the basis for the agenda topics for each vendor’s on-site demonstration. An on-site demonstration by each candidate vendor is essential. Do not allow the vendor to set the agenda as this would result in a demonstration that highlights all of the PIM’s strengths and none of its weaknesses. Insist on agenda topics that focus mainly on the defined use cases and key selection criteria. If each vendor demonstrates their solution by following your agenda topics exactly as specified, then you will have a strong apples-to-apples basis for comparing the solutions.
  • To facilitate gathering feedback from the stakeholders that participate in each demonstration, draft scorecards that reference each agenda topic – allowing the participants to (1) numerically rate how well the vendor’s product addresses the topic and (2) add relevant comments.
  • Compile the scorecards. Your organization will then be in a strong position to whittle the candidate list down to one or two vendors. Depending on the results of this round of demonstrations, a second round may be necessary to get to the final selection.

Other Factors in Building a Successful Digital Commerce Solution

The selection and implementation of the right PIM technology is only one of many factors required to build a strong digital commerce solution. So, what else is needed to ensure success?

  • Understand the quality and maturity of your organization’s product data and associated processes. Identify gaps and build a roadmap to address those gaps – see SCP below. A PIM solution delivers many benefits. However, it will not enhance or clean up poor quality data and weak processes without explicit actions.
  • Study the approach to digital commerce followed by the leaders in your industry. Assess whether their approach is right for your organization. Are they driven by analytics? Do they continuously gather feedback from their customers on their digital commerce practices? Do they have clear owners of product data? Do they follow a digital-first mentality?
  • Establish a Strategic Content Program (SCP). PIM technology may be the cornerstone of product data. However, a short-lived PIM implementation project will not sustain long-term strategic results. An SCP should be driven by vision and mission statements, principles, and associated goals. These, in turn, can support the definition of scope for a comprehensive program.
  • A fully scoped SCP commonly includes a Data Governance Workstream, a Content Workstream, a Process and Change Management Workstream, and of course, a PIM Implementation Workstream.
  • The Data Governance Workstream creates accountabilities around product content and the means by which an organization ensures the content in the PIM remains a living business asset. Components include charter, organization roles and responsibilities, policies, guidelines, processes, business rules, and metrics.
  • The Content Workstream contains the activities around creating a PIM-based data model (product category hierarchies and attributes) and the content that lives in the model. The right product content is essential to ensure PIM technology can fuel business goals.
  • The Process and Change Management Work stream focuses on the organization’s ability to fully integrate new product information technology and other work stream changes into existing business units and operations. Importantly, the key participants in this work stream are also the managers of communication out to the rest of the business.

In summary, the right PIM solution will only fully address your business goals for digital commerce if you see the problem as one that requires a well-architected mix of people, processes, content, and technology. So, start with the Forrester Wave report, select the right PIM solution using a use-case driven methodology, and follow through with a comprehensive SCP.

The Pursuit of PIM: Starter Questions When Choosing a PIM Provider

Product Information Management is on the forefront of e-commerce necessities today, fueled by the insatiable demand for product data and SKU content to stock the millions of digital commerce storefronts competing for your online spend. So you may find yourself in an evaluation of PIM or MDM solutions to help your company manage this exploding complexity.

The Pursuit of Product Information Management

To help frame your decision making process, our Senior Solutions Architect and PIM expert, Steve Thomas, explains the steps your company should make in order to land on the right PIM for your organization.

1. Determine your desired outcome.

Using a 5-year planning horizon, how much improvement in your organization’s sales and reduction in product data processing costs are you expecting in conjunction with your PIM solution? Do you have metrics from similar organizations on their experience in outcomes associated with a successful PIM implementation project? How much of your organization’s revenue is generated today from digital commerce? In 5 years, what do you expect that number to be? How would you assess the current level of your organization’s product data quality? How mature are your product data onboarding and maintenance processes? How well governed are your processes? How loyal are your customers? Do your customers enjoy a positive digital commerce experience that keeps them coming back for more? Do you have access to the necessary data to answer these questions.

2. Evaluate your current state.

What does it cost for your organization to add a SKU to your digital commerce offerings today? What will it cost in 5 years after a successful PIM implementation? How long does it take to add a SKU and associated content? Does your organization lose out on sales because of delays in adding new SKUs? If you address the implementation of a PIM solution with a comprehensive (versus minimalist) approach – as implied by the previous questions – how much financial lift do you expect in your organization compared to your answer to the first question in this paragraph.

3. Determine the type of data you need to manage.

Do you plan on consolidating only marketing-related product data in your PIM or all varieties of non-transactional product data? The scope of product data should be accounted for when choosing a PIM solution as some solutions are not well suited to handle all varieties of product data.

4. Establish where you need to send data and its requirements.

Do you need to syndicate data to distributors, punch-out solutions or major digital commerce resellers and aggregators such as Amazon, Walmart, The Home Depot, Target, and GDSN? Did you know that most of the major resellers have very specific requirements and constraints around product content? For example, for products assigned to a specific product category, one reseller may require exactly 5 feature bullets while another may require exactly 6 feature bullets. Some PIM solutions offer out-of-the-box syndication capabilities with popular syndication partners. Developing and maintaining reseller-specific content can be very time consuming and costly. So, going with a solution that offers built-in syndication features may save your organization both time and money.

5. Decide who in your organization will own and manage the data.

Does your organization have a large, diverse group of product data specialists who will all need to work directly with the PIM solution in support of multiple use cases? If so, you may want to consider building a workflow-driven custom user interface for each planned use case to help enforce strong data governance. Since the capability to build a workflow-driven custom user interface is not available in many PIM solutions, be selective in your search.

6. Run through all associated costs.

Using a 5-year planning horizon, how much do you plan on spending to maximize the benefit of licensing and implementing a PIM solution? Did you include costs associated with optimizing your product content for digital commerce? Did you include costs associated with addressing data governance goals? Did you include costs associated with ongoing enhancements and periodic release upgrades to the PIM solution?

7. Consider implementation costs versus effort of various PIMs.

Knowing the costs and benefits associated with the implementation of a PIM solution is essential to establishing the right budget amount for both the initial implementation costs and ongoing annual costs. The cost of licensing PIM solutions varies greatly as does the cost of implementing one solution over another. Do you know the total licensing fees up front and annually thereafter? This is typically easy to find out. But, just as important, do you know the differences in initial implementation efforts and periodic upgrade efforts among the PIM solutions you are considering? Some PIM solutions may take twice as long to implement as other solutions. In addition, some solutions may take 4 times as long to apply major upgrades. Did you factor in this cost above? Many organizations can readily justify the additional effort and associated costs because of the value associated with specific features. Can your organization?

PIM can offer many valuable benefits to customer and product-centric businesses, whether heavily invested in digital commerce or not. Unpacking the answers to the right questions is the first, most important step toward success. Please remember – PIM is a business practice supported by technology, not an IT initiative to support business users. Business sponsors must be the ones seeking the answers and making a business decision on PIM.

Everyone’s Talking PIM, Here’s Why You Should Too

Product Information Management in Today’s Digital World

It would be hard to miss all the recent noise that PIM (Product Information Management) solutions are making in the marketplace in 2016, and heading into 2017. You may be noticing exponential increase in media coverage, conferences, events, analyst coverage, and of course, sales calls from solutions firms.

This is largely due to the explosion of digital commerce, the relentless pursuit of great online customer experiences, and the proliferation of new selling channels.

How do all these things relate to PIM? The connection is customer expectations – and revenue! It’s the sales, merchandising and marketing desire to win a greater share of customers’ digital commerce spend. And, as in the print catalog era, the belief that a bigger, better catalog approach will bring in the orders. The B2B focus is now on “digital product merchandizing” (we call it Product UX).

It is also more than interesting that venture investors are pouring many millions into PIM solution firms. They must see an upside. That capital is buying R&D and marketing.

But why PIM? And Why PIM Now?

Here’s a short list for starters (check back for a much deeper dive):

  • CMO ownership and investment in digital commerce, wanting advanced, personalized merchandizing capabilities (not possible without well attributed and clean data)
  • Digital commerce now exposing years of product data sins (search bars will find your bad data that catalogs were able to mask)
  • Great and normalized product content (data + information + rich media) is the #1 driver of a great customer experience (the exec buzzword these days)
  • Explosion of the amount of product data & content to manage (deeper attribute data pools & endless aisles everywhere)
  • Executives being more intolerant for slow speed to market to get products to channel and on the digital shelf (time-to-market must be days/weeks, not months)
  • Distributors and Manufacturers growing aggravation with the cost, inefficiency and quality issues with syndication models, leading to penalties, pulling product lines, or other punitive measures (antagonism usually does not lead to more sales)
  • Recognition that current platforms such as Content Management, eCommerce, DAM, Portals, ERP systems do not provide an answer for digital catalog merchandising, nor efficiency at the overall “product information supply chain” level, thus hampering those who are accountable to sell products and hit their numbers

The eyes are now looking at the organizational, process and technology investments that are helping the B2B industry leaders get ahead of the crowd. Chants of “we want to be like Grainger, or McMaster-Carr, or MSC Industrial, or (of course) Amazon” ring through the investment and proposal decks meetings across segments of industrial B2B.

So in the last year or two, PIM (in the context of leveraging product content as an asset to drive more sales) has been recognized as one of the potential “keys”, and is now generating tremendous interest and evaluation from that crowd.

For the right goals and business models, a PIM is a great decision. Yet now, there are more solution options than ever. And no current PIM is a complete solution for the “product information supply chain”.

Now what? Start with a clear vision, strategy and ecosystem model based on your marketplace, customers, and channels – identifying where and how product information can be a key business asset. Then look at the solutions through that lens. Then move fast – as the B2B environment is evolving very rapidly.

The Problem of Channel Management: Who Owns the Product Content?

Have you ever tried to do a weekend project, only to be frustrated that you don’t have the right tools to do the job? Quite embarrassingly, I slipped in my attic last weekend and my foot and leg poked a hole in the ceiling of my daughter’s bedroom. Oops. If you’ve ever tried to patch drywall on a ceiling, it’s kind of like trying to nail jello to a wall. Fortunately, my brother-in-law is a world-class handyman and he helped repair my blunder. He had all the right tools and know-how.

The same can be applied to manufacturing companies. For the channel management team of a manufacturing company, one of the most critical jobs is to provide resellers with the tools they need to sell product. Delivering product content to digital resellers is the modern day equivalent of having product on the shelf. Without great product data, specifications, descriptions, images, and other marketing collateral, online buyers are likely to abandon their product purchase — even on a well-designed, beautiful site.

Channel marketers that are unable to deliver great product content quickly to resellers (unlike me accidentally punching a hole in my ceiling) commit an avoidable mistake. So why do channel marketers struggle to get the right product content to their channel partners?

We have identified two fundamental reasons:

  • Marketing does not have ownership of the product content. It belongs to a broad cadre of groups. ERP, MDM and PIM systems that frequently house product content often have been designed and implemented by “systems integrators” and these technologies have not been implemented to address complex business user requirements and workflows.
  • The technology investments have been made to enable IT to “house” content, but there has been little or no investment in automating the process of delivering that content in a useful way to channel partners. It’s like having a warehouse full of Coke with no trucks to take it to the stores.

What are the steps an organization can take to provide channel partners great content quickly, and in the format they need it?

Here are 3 recommendations:

  • Treat product content and data like a REAL product. Organizationally, rename “product data” to something that captures the mission-critical nature of this asset. I like “Digital Product Merchandising” (DPM), as it relates closely to having physical product on the physical shelf in a store. Too often, especially in B2B, we see a manufacturer react quite casually to the fact that it took 6 months to get their new “product content” on the digital shelf. Imagine if P&G produced and launched a new razor, and it took 6 months to get it on the shelf at Walmart. Heads would roll. People would lose their jobs. In the B2B world, we yawn. 6 months lost revenue. Yawn. Six months of product sitting in a warehouse. Yawn. It is essential to create a sense of urgency around Digital Product Merchandising.
  • Ask one hard question: how can I be in a position to respond to any product content request of a channel partner in less than 5 days? Build a cross-functional team to identify the needs of your channels, and then work backwards to figure out how to deliver that experience. We have seen companies combine process and technology to be responsive to nearly any channel partner product content demand within 3-5 days.
  • Enable the channel management process for business users by putting channel management and syndication tools in the hands of the marketers. Marketers should not be making requests to IT every time a channel requests new SKU’s, or when there is a catalog update. Marketers should not be cutting and pasting into Excel spreadsheets. Automate the digital product merchandising process with the priority level that Coca-Cola would use to ensure that all their retailers are never out of stock.

The new currency of product content is speed, accuracy, and highly-customized formats. Treat your Digital Product Merchandising like gold. Your channels will love you, and your buyers will buy from you.