Companies must have a clearly defined data distribution and management plan to help ensure that accurate product information reaches their prospects and customers when and where they need it.
Fast growing electronic marketplaces, social networks, and mobile applications are changing the way people research, recommend, purchase, use, and maintain products. However, the new ways of researching product data online are changing how customers get their information.
One of the big drivers of this shift is the growth of electronic commerce. It fueled the transition of product catalogs and user manuals from print to digital formats. Until recently, these digital catalogs that were resident on manufacturing web sites and reseller sites were “the place” customers went for information.
Today, the “places” where digital catalogs reach have grown exponentially as resellers and customers alike create collaborative and mobile ecommerce, asset maintenance, and other applications designed to improve access for workers in their organizations. In addition, as more user-generated social content permeates the digital marketplace, customers are turning to user-reviews, best practices, and other sources of information that may contain or reference outdated or incorrect product information. This is a problem because such outdated information can lead to diminished sales or, more importantly, put customers at risk when using or repairing equipment. However, on the flip side, organizations can actually learn new ways their customers use their products providing insight into new opportunities and best practices.
As a result, industrial distributors are faced with the challenge of trying to properly distribute and track their product content in a marketplace that is depending more and more on digital channels. Some of the key questions they must address include:
- Who needs your product content?
- What product data do they need?
- How is it being used? (Purchase? Product Maintenance?)
- Where is it being used? (Types of web sites? Process Control or Asset Maintenance Applications?)
- How do we get our content to these places?
One way companies are working to address this problem is by deploying social productivity tools, such as Microsoft SharePoint, that marry collaboration with process automation. These platforms include applications that power the delivery of information to web sites, portals, wikis, blogs, search engines, and business intelligence dashboards.
However, collaborative applications on their own are not enough. Companies must have a clearly defined data distribution and management plan to help ensure that accurate product information reaches their prospects and customers when and where they need it.
Working with dozens of companies facing these same challenges in recent years, I put together the three key things they must do to help develop an effective data distribution and management plan:
- State of the State: It is essential for organizations to map out the business process of how product data is created and where certain roles, such as new product descriptions, pricing determination, and user manuals, reside in the organization. From there you can determine how to properly organize product data, catalogs and applications uses (Excel? Content Management apps?). For many companies, they need to think beyond sales data to include digital strategies for properly disseminating ongoing usage and warranty data to customers across digital touch points.
- Key Data Delivery Points Externally: The key to effective product data delivery is determining where the data needs to be delivered outside of digital catalogs controlled by your internal systems. This can include processes for updating reseller ecommerce sites as well as customer asset maintenance systems that include valuable repair and warranty information. It may also include providing a portal where accurate and timely product information can be communicated. If your workplace is highly mobile and distributed, mobile applications can be yet another channel for distributing information.
- Engage with Communities: For product managers, it is essential they look beyond current distribution channels to ensure the integrity of product information. As product reviews and other user-generated content reach important industry web sites, organizations must be diligent in responding and ensuring accuracy in public forums. While bad reviews and criticisms cannot always be avoided, inaccurate data can always be corrected.
If your organization can manage these three elements well, you are well on your way to mastering a data distribution and management plan that will better-support your organization’s sales efforts. In addition, you’ll also be able to ensure that your customers get the information they need for more efficient product usage.
Eric Russell is the SharePoint Practice Director for Catapult Systems. As a member of Catapult’s senior consulting team Eric serves as the single point of contact for the SharePoint group, playing a pivotal role in standardizing the delivery and implementation process across the organization.