B2C and B2B buyers have higher expectations than ever before. Calls for more products, more channels through which to buy – as well as more delivery options – continue to mount. To say we live in a content-rich world is an understatement. To compete effectively, brands, retailers and resellers must deliver better, more detailed and more tailored content to their customers, partners and suppliers at every touchpoint.
Within the supply chain, the burden to navigate the plethora of choices and content often falls on the reseller, who has to manage multiple, complex data streams to present buyers with the best, most relevant option for them.
And as our demand for detailed production information has increased, being able to manage growing volumes of high quality, rich and consistent information emanating from multiple data feeds and being pushed out across multiple channels has become a massive challenge.
The product information management challenge
Somehow, companies have to get their heads around managing the deluge of content that is being created both internally and by external partners and suppliers. This content can take many forms, from images and video, to product manuals, warranties, case studies, social media or SEO content.
Making sure this product information management is consistent and relevant has become business critical for resellers. Equally, ensuring they are able to manage their product data quickly and error free – and make sure they can onboard new lines as quickly as possible – are all considerations.
The IT supply chain, in itself, is incredibly complex. New products are constantly entering the market and it’s not unusual for resellers to be holding information on more than 100,000 items at any one time with, say, 150 features or descriptors for each product. That’s not a task for the faint-hearted, particularly if you’ve historically been managing product information on spreadsheets.
And that is the reality for many. Before the term ‘big data’ was even on our radar, organisations have used time-intensive manual systems such as Excel to keep track of their ever-expanding product data. But, given the scale of what’s involved today – the multiple channels in and out of the organisation, the sheer number of products and attributes, and the possibility for human error – this is way too restrictive for the modern IT distributor.
Cloud-based PIM joins the dots
IT resellers are taking inspiration from some of the bigger retailers who have already introduced cloud-based Product Information Management (PIM) and Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems into their organisations.
A PIM system provides a central repository that enables people from within the organisation to create, edit and manage their product information. Accessible to all within the content ecosystem – from channel managers needing up to date product manuals, to the sales and marketing team who can co-ordinate campaigns, using the most up-to-date rich product information across every customer touchpoint.
Manufacturers and suppliers can also feed product information directly into the PIM, creating better workflows throughout the supply chain.
Our habits as B2B purchasers are no different to those we display as consumers. Buyers of IT expect to be able to research their purchases online and are often some way down the sales funnel by the time they interact with the vendor in person or over the phone. Product information therefore has to be accurate, comprehensive and compelling.
PIM is the bedrock for resellers and distributors who need five key deliverables from their product information strategy:
· Richer content – in order to deliver the best possible customer experience, the richer, the better.
· Reliable and consistent – given the varying quality and presentation of the data feeds being received from suppliers, and content created internally, companies need to feel confident that their product data is consistent and error free.
· Responsive to change – prices can change at a moment’s notice in the IT supply chain. Being able to manage and remain up to speed on the price attached to each product is possibly the most important factor for an IT reseller.
· Intuitive and accurate across all channels – that includes everything from ecommerce websites, social media and print. A PIM platform ensures that the right content appears on the right platform, at the right time. For example, you may want a shorter, mobile-friendly version of product specifications for people browsing on a smaller screen or you may only include video on the website or on Facebook.
· Rapid – in an industry that moves as quickly as IT, to get new products listed as swiftly as possible is a key competitive differentiator. Because of the improved workflows between external and internal teams, a PIM system slashes the time taken to get new products out to market.
PIM – creating a golden record
PIM software hosted in the Cloud delivers on these five pillars as it consolidates all data feeds into one – effectively creating a ‘golden record’ of each SKU. SaaS-based PIM solutions can also flag when actions – including a price attribute query – need to be addressed. As discussed, currency fluctuations within the IT supply chain mean that product prices can change daily, hourly or even by the minute, so teams can jump on to required changes immediately after an automatic notification comes through.
PIM’s golden record ensures that, regardless of whether a description is required for your own website, a customer’s website, eBay, Amazon, search engines or in print material, the core information about the product is always consistent.
And while some resellers will question whether making any changes to product information management is ‘viable right now’ or is just too daunting, this is where cloud is your friend once again; SaaS-based PIM solutions make a real difference, as the on-boarding time for the system itself is dramatically reduced. And it beats the time taken trying to manage spreadsheets hands down.
Within the volatile, fast-paced industry of IT, distributors need a solution that makes product information management a differentiator, not a hindrance. As with so many other industries, the cloud is providing the answers. Solace indeed.
Colin Wells, director, Pimberly
Image Credit: Chaiyapop Bhumiwat / Shutterstock