Whether you distribute thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of products, you face a daunting task of managing the information associated with those products. Against the backdrop of increasing competition and rapidly multiplying sales channels, the complexity of managing dozens or hundreds of attributes about each of your products is staggering. And it gets even more challenging, because the kind of basic product information that’s useful for logistics and planning typically isn’t the kind of content needed to persuade today’s customers. They expect in-depth descriptions, detailed product specs, images, videos, diagrams, reviews and much more.
Successful distributors are discovering that an integrated strategy of acquiring, managing and leveraging product information can build new revenue and competitive strengths. An integrated strategy ensures that these market leaders are creating complete and compelling product content, and delivering it to multiple sales channels for maximum sales impact.
To determine if a product information strategy can help you, first ask yourself if any of these statements ring true:
1: Even basic information about your products is inaccurate and incomplete
If you’re not confident that your product information is complete and error-free, meet someone who’s likely to have even less confidence: your customers. The quality of your product information, including its currency, accuracy and completeness, has a direct impact on its value at every step of the product information cycle. That cycle begins at the moment you take in the data from your suppliers, to the point at which a transaction occurs (or doesn’t occur) based on that data. Poor product information not only discourages new sales, but also hurts sales to current customers, where the lower cost of marketing should be helping to drive higher margins. In today’s buying environment, where the pace is getting faster and buyers’ choices are multiplying, customers frustrated by insufficient or erroneous product information typically don’t complain. They simply go elsewhere.
2: Importing product information from your suppliers is complicated and time-consuming
Successful distributors maintain a powerful and reliable product information engine fueled in large part by product data flowing from suppliers. Unfortunately, many distributors find their “fuel line” clogged with inbound spreadsheets, text files, PDFs, hardcopy sell sheets and more.
Are your employees spending too much time sorting through e-mail attachments from suppliers and constantly chasing down missing product information? These and other manually intensive efforts are probably costing you delayed or missed sales. A product information strategy can include supplier portals, through which suppliers can upload product content and distributors can push product information out for suppliers to review for accuracy and completeness.
3: Images, videos and other digital assets aren’t available to persuade buyers
Effective product information consists of far more than item SKUs and descriptions. Buyers today expect instant access to photos, videos, diagrams, illustrations, MSDS sheets and much more. Rather than merely describing a product, this kind of content persuades a buyer to purchase. A video can show your product in an environment that resonates with your customers. Digital assets such as logos can leverage a supplier’s well-known brand to help you drive sales. If you aren’t managing this type of rich content — ensuring that it’s readily accessible in whatever format is needed — you’re probably losing sales.
4: Your product cross-selling and up-selling is lagging
If you’re like most distributors, the majority of your sales come from existing customers. If you’re not identifying add-on, cross-sell and up-sell items throughout your product information, it’s likely you’re slowing your revenue stream over time. Imagine the opposite: an online catalog of all your products on a sales rep’s tablet computer. Not only does the rep have complete and compelling product information (features/benefits, images, specs, videos) at his or her fingertips, but also a sidebar on the screen suggesting high-margin accessories and other add-ons. Successful distributors are doing exactly this, but only because they’ve solved the product information management puzzle. They’re leveraging the relationships and associations within their product information that drive lucrative cross-selling and up-selling opportunities.
5: Buyers become frustrated when searching for products on your Web site
The most common product search problems (and the ones most frustrating to your customers) are searches that return too many results, too few results, or the wrong results. Many distributors spend a lot on new and improved search technologies, yet their customers are still having problems finding what they’re looking for. The reason? These distributors don’t have a search problem; they have a data problem.
No matter how much you’ve invested in the latest site search technology, you won’t fix the problem if your product data isn’t optimized to take advantage of that technology. Products need to be categorized in multiple ways so customers can find them easily while navigating a site. For example, a pair of lineman’s electrical pliers should be found under Hand Tools > Pliers and Wrenches > Pliers > Diagonal Cutting Pliers as well as Electrician’s Tools > Pliers > Lineman’s Pliers.
Organizing and classifying your products into useful hierarchical sets of categories and subcategories allows your customers to quickly browse through the categories of interest to them until they find the items they want. Managing your product information means creating new custom taxonomies, importing your own taxonomy structure, or modifying pre-packaged industry-standard taxonomies such as UNSPSC (Universal Standard Products and Services Codes) and NAICS (North American Industry Classification System). It means your products are viewable in multiple taxonomies, providing a context for the product that’s relevant to the customer’s task at hand.
6: Your product information isn’t available where it’s needed most
Even the best-managed product information has reduced value if the people who need it most for selling purposes can’t access it. If your products are sold through dealers or member stores, for example, those operations must have immediate access to the most current, accurate and complete information about your products. Dealer and member portals can deliver views of product information ideally suited for regionalized and in-store sales. Sales personnel in the field need every bit of persuasive product content in their arsenal to rise above your competition, and sales portals can deliver the front-line product information that sets your distributorship apart from others.
7: You’re not developing multiple sales channels
Are your sales limited to a handful of channels? Is it too cumbersome to format and package your product information for additional channels and selling partners? Achieving steady growth in product sales calls for consistently delivering rich content simultaneously to multiple selling channels. Managing your product information must include leveraging the improved content you’ve created so that all sales channels get the identical content, properly formatted for online or print distribution. Having a mix of outdated product information, or elements like pricing inconsistencies between channels, hurts sales and weakens customer loyalty.
If any of these statements sound familiar, it’s likely your operation could benefit from acquiring, managing, and leveraging your product information better. As distributors of all sizes are discovering, a product information strategy can make a real difference by delivering — quickly and consistently to every channel — the kind of persuasive content that sells.
Warren Jones is the Vice President of Marketing at Enterworks, Inc. (www.enterworks.com), which provides product information management software for distributors and wholesalers.