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Digital differentiation for mid-sized manufacturers & distributors is elusive but Product Information Management (PIM) can help

By Harpal Singh

On September 17, 2015

PIMAs I travel the world speaking with a variety of companies, one of the observations I have made is that mid-sized manufacturers & distributors are at a cross roads – they are caught between a history of traditional commerce and the growing digital commerce wave. On one side, they are engaged in the traditional design, engineering, manufacturing and sales operations of the business. On other hand, they need to meet their customers’ expectations and deliver on best-of-breed digital commerce experiences. The need to develop digital differentiation is so urgent that SMB manufacturers and distributors can no longer avoid investing in digital channels to beat competition and respond to various business and industry drivers including:

  • Speed to market- The speed of innovation includes the entire product information supply chain. Companies must beat competitors to market from market analysis to product launch
  • Product Assortment Growth – Digital channels enable companies to efficiently offer more product to customers to grow lifetime customer value and average order size
  • Omni-channel sales – companies must enable all sales channels – traditional and digital – quickly, efficiently and without error
  • Centralized product data hub providing consistent quality product data across the organization including all operational systems
  • Rapid product data onboarding – supporting collaboration with suppliers and vendors
  • Digital Presence- Both for marketing and communications (Marcom) and for online selling to customers
  • Channel support – Need to publish catalogs in electronic format to their downstream distributors, who in turn are being forced by their consumers to get this data
  • Marketplace distribution – Many companies are selling via direct marketplaces like eBay, Google, Alibaba etc.
  • Print automation – the catalog is not yet dead and companies are still looking to lower costs and improve efficiencies in the print publishing process.

Current State of things:

Many years ago, Digital Commerce Version 1.0 was adopted by B2C retailers. They were the early adopters of eCommerce technologies such as personalization, findability, remarketing, consumer feedback, social marketing, among others. These are the companies like Amazon, eBay, Target, Walmart etc.

These companies meet the need of an always-on consumer who wants to shop anytime, anywhere and with omni-channel convenience – Computer, iPads, Mobile, and Printed catalog.

B2C companies are now moving to Digital Commerce Version 2.0 and beyond. This new era promises increased conversion rates, better consumer experiences and even more merchandising opportunities. As B2C companies evolve and deliver digital differentiation, B2B companies – especially medium-sized businesses looking to grow – need to take note. To achieve the promises of the second wave of Digital Commerce, an important and fundamental challenge is around product information management (PIM). In future posts, I will share my thoughts around the product data challenges in this blog thread.

Before taking this topic further, let me ask you about your experiences or pain points in PIM:

  1. What kind of product information challenges are you facing?
  2. What is your #1 driver to launch into a digital commerce initiative?
  3. What kind of selling channels you have today and where you see yourself in next 1, 3 and 5 years?

More to come later.