The market for PIM software and consulting services has been strongly growing for many years worldwide. Researchers expect growth to continue. For example, Mark Smith, the Ventana Research supervisor, claims that by 2021, 50 percent of product organizations will use a modern, dedicated PIM environment to control product processes and to offer high-quality product experiences.
The popularity of commercial PIM software has been growing for a long time, also here in Finland. We have been helping our Finnish customers in Canter with product information challenges and developing our Adeona software with them for over 15 years. We’ve learned a lot on this journey – also when PIM fits in and when it doesn’t. We have also learned that every organization and its situation is unique, so there is no single truth. Here are a few points of view and my thoughts on why you should at least think of these so that you can use them.
Product information is more important than ever…
Implementing an impressive multi-channel customer and product experience that stands out in a constantly changing operating environment has no longer been a trivial task. This challenge affects particularly commercial operators and the consumer business, where cycles are short and consumer preferences are constantly changing. Manufacturers and brands compete for customer favor and for the money by using, among others, visibility, by launching new, improved products that match consumer trends, and by using new business models (the recent generalization of direct-to-consumer concepts is one example of this). Managing a solid brand and the product experience for manufacturers and brand owners is, at the same time, challenging and important.
Numerous studies tell that an accurate and inclusive product information when shopping online is one of the most critical aspects of the shopping experience.
Retailers and chain stores, in turn, compete for the same customers’ favor with their own strategies and strengths. As online shopping has grown more and more, stores have had to innovate their operating models and develop forms of purchase that meet the needs of their own customer target groups to be able to compete well. Numerous studies show that accurate and inclusive product information when shopping online is one of the most critical aspects of the shopping experience. Effective management and transmission of product information in these equations is key. In addition to their own systems, information must be made available to trading partners, either directly or by transmitting sectoral data banks.
…also, in business to business and internally
Investments in digitalization projects are also rapidly growing in many B2B industries both here in Finland and worldwide. New service concepts, ease-of-use, advanced e-commerce, expansion into new markets, and process automation that extends organizational boundaries, are examples of development targets. Companies aspire to create value, engage customers, and stand out from their competitors using these tools. From the perspective of PIM, in the B2B field, there are additions such as the management of customer-specific selections and pricing. In my experience, efficient production of print and other product communications (catalogs, price lists, offers, documents, etc.), both generally and customer-specifically, is still typically an important part of the sales and customer service toolbox.
However, when we aim for the top-notch customer experience, we sometimes -and unfortunately- forget the perfect employee experience. Why should your own staff settle for any worse user experience when running back-office tasks than the final customers experience in an organization? Or why wouldn’t the seller have the most inclusive information resources available in a service situation because customers know more about products than ever before? The more the members of an organization are able to walk in the client’s shoes and use all available information in an easy and quick way to perform their tasks and serve the customer, the more likely they are to have a positive impact on both employee and customer experience.
Why is the question relevant right now?
PIM systems aim to help with the trends and challenges described above. In my opinion, there are three things that make this question particularly interesting and topical:
- Modern, scalable cloud-based solutions have made PIM software platforms available to businesses of all sizes at a reasonable price. What is a quite understandable and a demand-driven consequence when considering how universal the problem we are discussing is.
- Businesses have come up with new uses for PIM systems. With them you can address the challenges of efficiently processing and integrating highly structured and unstructured information. On the other hand, this is reflected in the broader concept of the product, which has spread the use of PIM to industries and scenarios where it has not been used before. And on the other hand, PIM has replaced certain processes and use cases that were previously the responsibility of other systems in many companies.
- Many things in the digital world rely on high quality data and semantic information. Whether it is the development and usability of information-intensive digital services or the automation of different processes or the teaching of algorithms, high-quality and solid data is invariably needed in the background.
What problem does PIM solve?
The PIM system is designed to act as a central stock for product information, simplifying the process of managing and enriching product information, and speeding up the release and synchronization of high-quality, up-to-date information into different channels.
The main functions of the PIM system could be roughly divided into three parts:
- Data flow management: how to import product information from other data sources in a controlled manner, and how to transfer data to other systems and channels in a controlled manner so that different systems understand and interpret the information correctly and do not need to enter the same information in two places.
- Organizing and enriching information: how information imported from different sources and manually maintained is classified and organized by selection, product type and product group. How products are categorized, linked, turned over and narrated into compelling content, solutions and packages generating additional sales for sales and marketing, as well as for different customer groups, market sectors and contexts.
- Channeling and publishing information: how categories and products are directed to the right selections, how the right information goes to the right channel and target audience in a controlled and timely manner, and how various commercial materials, campaigns and electronic catalogs are created from products and selections thanks to automation.
Why should perfect product information only be available for customers? Your own salesperson is likely to have better results when they have inclusive product information available in a service situation.
Who is PIM suitable for?
PIM can be for your business if some of the following apply to your case:
- products are marketed and sold in many channels
- there are at least hundreds of products in your product range
- impressive product information plays a key role in your business
- product information is needed to get organized
- the goal is streamlined PIM and its transmission
- the goal is to manage, harmonize and make transparent the quality of product information
- the goal is to optimize and automate content processes
Product information and selections
- there is a need to manage different products and information related to them. In addition to a physical product, the product may be a service, a recipe, an apartment, a software, material, training, a reference, etc.
- there is a need to manage different commercial product structures such as product families, assortments, collections, product sets, etc.
- there is a need to control the links and relationships between products (e.g. spare parts, accessories, replacements, up-sell, cross-sell, etc.)
- files management (pictures, videos, documents, etc.)
- there is a need to manage sortiments and sales catalogs
- there is a need to localize product information: managing content in multiple languages, and managing country/market-specific information and product versions (e.g. currencies, voltage, units)
- there is a need to monitor the stage of preparation and enrichment levels
- there is a need to make mass changes to data
- there is a need to define and grant different levels of access rights to information
- there is a need to benefit from taxonomies and standards when managing product information
Architecture and integration
- product information needs to be easily and safely communicated both internally and externally
- there is a need to get from one part of the truth of product information to one truth across the organization
- existing systems do not bend or are not worth bending
– managing rich and multilingual product information
– modern goal architecture
- existing background modes should not be integrated into foreground systems and electronic services
- there is a need to open up a modern data interface for product information for application developers
Who is PIM not suitable for?
PIM doesn’t necessarily have to be for your business if some of the following apply to your case:
- our company only sells in one channel (successfully)
- our company doesn’t do marketing or sell at all through the internet
- our company is small and in its early stages
- the product range is small
- product information is managed in one language only
- you don’t have to regularly communicate product information with your partners
- products are so simple that they do not require inclusive information or management of commercial structures to present and sell them
- the whole business works well enough with existing systems and Excel
Does one size fit all?
It is self-evident that there are differences in software. The strengths of one platform may be focused on certain capabilities and those of another platform can be focused on others. There are also differences in the operating and delivery models of service providers. Some platforms are quickly deployed as cloud computing services through supervised introduction, while others require more boost from their organization, for example, to operate technical infrastructure and systems. Therefore, when choosing a system and a partner, it is important to start with your own (business) needs and to start with at least a current mindset of analysis.
When choosing a PIM system, user experience should be a key selection criterion. It is essentially much easier for people to get interested in incorporating their work into a system that is easy to use.
I believe the importance of user experience can never be overemphasized because, at least in my experience, it usually has a direct impact on the successful implementation and adaptation of the new procedure and system among end users. New generation software usually has an intuitive user interface designed specifically for people responsible for products and their sales and marketing. Many basic use cases are also often commoditized as features. At the other end of the line segment, there are platforms in the true sense of the word that begin to define data modeling and processes at a very low level and may require technical qualification and code knowledge. This means that you can comfortably find the supply for different needs and preferences.
PIM is not an IT project, but a strategic choice
Taking a more holistic view of commercial PIM, the matter is, of course, about a broader set of tools and technologies that are connected to the company’s strategy, organization, management and processes, just like any other function or competence. And accordingly, no three-letter abbreviation is a silver bullet for all the challenges. Each company must face problems like scarce resources, so they look for process efficiency and future critical capabilities in all operation sectors. The most common business benefits (that companies seek through PIM) are better customer experience, increased gross margin of sales, faster time-to-market, expansion to new markets, and intensifying teams and operations.
Contact us if you got interested or if you wish to talk more about this topic from your company’s point of view. I will gladly have a conversation about these topics.