We all know that the internet is today’s go-to library for product information. But it’s not just consumers who are researching purchases online. B2B buyers and procurement officers are increasingly exploring options online before they buy as well. The trouble is, the product information they find online isn’t always comprehensive, current or even trustworthy.
Just look at these statistics:
- 64 percent of B2B buyers research half or more of their work purchases online.
- Buyers place a high value on trustworthiness of their content. 95 percent are open to considering vendor content as trustworthy.
- When visiting a vendor’s website to conduct research, the single most influential aspect is “relevant content that speaks directly to [my] company.”
- The first-place buyers go are supplier websites and search engines.
- Buyers have a strong preference for supplier websites. 83 percent of procurement officers go to supplier websites but are not satisfied by the information they find.
If your product content isn’t trustworthy or the information you provide doesn’t meet the needs of your buyers, you’ve got a problem. B2B buyers will find another manufacturer’s website or dealer website that has more information — just not on your products!
What’s the genesis of the problem? Why do manufacturers struggle with wrangling and sharing product data? The answer lies in the fact that, often, manufacturers are slow to realize that ALL product information is an invaluable corporate asset. This asset must be recognized, valued and ultimately managed well. The age-old axiom is true: “you cannot manage what you do not measure”.
Product Data is Everywhere
Catalogs, images, technical specs, schematics, spare parts, warranty information, even video are typically scattered across the corporate landscape. Some of it resides with an engineer, other times with sales or marketing, and other data is found in accounting. Some of it is up-to-date, some of it isn’t. There’s rarely any comprehensive plan, consistency, or control over any of it.
This limits the ability for dealers and manufacturer reps to serve themselves when the need arises for product questions, training, or technical specifications. Without comprehensive product data, it is difficult to respond to dealers who are looking to sell your products online or even educate their reps on your product lines. They need access to the latest product information that you have. How do you respond when you don’t have your arms around any of it?
Here’s another scenario. A buyer is researching products that you sell. They find your website on Google. The click on it, but the product information lacks detail to the specific question(s) they are seeking answers for. Next, they navigate to one of your dealer’s pages — nothing there either. They move on to a competitor in the same product category, and you just lost a sale to a manufacturer who recognizes and possesses rich product data.
How can manufacturers organize and make all the data they produce useful in a world of online research and online selling?
Have a Strategy for Excellence
Corporate culture must adopt the mindset that “data is an asset” and must be managed. An “excellence with data” strategy is pointless if you don’t embrace the reality that every bit of product information across the enterprise is an asset. There are at least three steps to take in building this strategy:
- Identify where product data resides within the enterprise. Usually, a product’s multiple attributes are “owned” by different organizational stakeholders.
- Hold product data stakeholders accountable for accuracy and availability of product attributes they’re responsible for creating or updating.
- Identify an enterprise-wide strategy which pulls together ALL product data into a single view — often called a product information management (PIM) system or product data management (PDM) system.
That way it becomes easy for everyone (sales, marketing, product management, the channel) to find and use that data in real-time. Instead of wasting valuable time hunting down product data and sharing it in inflexible formats (paper, PDFs, etc.), manufacturers can transform the previously manual-intensive task of managing product information – across sales channels, teams, and order workflows — via a centralized platform.
Here are six best practices to consider as you implement your strategy:
No. 1 - Invest in It for the Long Haul
This isn’t a one-time occurrence; your data management strategy is organic and should be woven into the fabric of your business. Otherwise you’ll encounter the same issues over and over.
No. 2 - Get Buy-In
Ensure that company leaders and data owners buy into the strategy and are frequently engaged in ongoing data governance conversations. Corporate culture needs to adopt the mindset that “data is an asset”. It is especially important to partner with technology partner(s) who will implement and sustain your strategy.
No. 3 - Educate
Train and re-train teams on how to ensure data is being accurately entered and maintained. The PIM solution you select should be integrated into the normal operational tempo of product management through assembly and shipment.
No. 4 - Start Small but Comprehensive
Stagger your roll-out by focusing on a smaller, but comprehensive data set, such as a new or popular product line (including accessories) or complex products that require a more consultative sale. Some companies choose to first make their aggregated product data available to their sales channels in the form of a digital catalog. Sales reps could use this data in customer meetings with the ability to easily share spec sheets, videos, manuals, warranty info, etc. electronically. As you continue to add new products into your solution, you can then explore making the data available to other channels to extend your reach such as distributors who are interested in selling your product directly to end user buyers. Starting small ensures that you’ll quickly see incremental results and assure buy-in for next steps.
No. 5 - Consolidate
Consolidate all existing product data sources that you plan to integrate into your early product management efforts. This includes data sheets, specifications, warranties, images, videos, and so on. Ensure you have stakeholder buy-in to the value of each product attribute that rolls up into a consolidated picture.
No. 6 - Assess ROI
Keep revisiting outcomes. Is the channel selling more of your products online as a result of your product data management strategy? Has your brand reputation improved? Are sales teams seeing positive outcomes now that they have centralized access to product data?
Put Data Wrangling Behind You
Getting your arms around your product data is essential to sustaining and growing new channel and revenue opportunities. Forward-looking manufacturers seeking to differentiate themselves are already integrating many of these best practices into their product data management strategy. Don’t let data wrangling hold your business back. Act now to put those woes behind you.
Tom Frommack is President and Chief Operating Officer at ePurchasing Network.