You’re probably here because you just watched Brian Walker (Chief Strategy Officer of SAP Hybris) and, former executive, Charlie Lawhorn discuss how “Ecommerce Flexibility Starts and Ends with Your Data” via Facebook Live. And feel free to watch it again by clicking the link to the side.

We think they are dead on about data. It is critical that you provide your enterprise with every possible advantage over your competition.  You must use analytics and insights to create or source the products that your customers want most. You must improve your time-to-market for product introductions (read more on that here). And, of course, you must provide your customers with the best possible experience across all possible channels or they will go elsewhere.

This means starting to personalize their experience.  It definitely means providing them with the products, and relevant description information and digital assets they need when they want it and delivered on any channel where they want to receive it.

And, to accomplish those initiatives, you have to begin by getting your house in order. As Brian and Charlie pointed out, Customer and Product domains are the key data assets to address first.

Why Improve Product Data?

Your customers demand accurate and useful information about the products that you sell.  Studies show that the more information available to a shopper, the more likely they will become a buyer. And, the information of most use to potential buyers may not come in the traditional formats of SKUs, specifications, product photos, and prices.  It might be installation guides, customer reviews, detailed feature and benefit statements, romance copy, or videos or photos that highlight the product in use.

Think about the overall “information supply chain” that generates all the data you display about each product and the challenges that come with maintaining the accuracy and timeliness of all this information.

Whether you source the product from a supplier or manufacture the product yourself, data that is relevant to your customers starts at the source. And in today’s highly competitive environment, providing your suppliers with easy to use means to onboard products and product information into your ecosystem may mean the difference between maintaining healthy relationships with your best suppliers and losing them.

The next stop on your product “information supply chain” is to enrich the product information with the details and extras that provide you with a competitive advantage.  This process requires interaction between teams throughout your enterprise, your suppliers, and possibly digital agencies that are creating copy, images, and videos for you. Without the flexibility to allow these teams to collaborate securely and with oversight, this can be a process that is inefficient and likely to introduce inaccuracies and delays in getting your products to market.

And once you finally get all this information ready, your team publishes it all out to the multiple sales and marketing channels for your sales teams, partners and customers to consume.  Whether they consume it on a website, a mobile device, an app, a kiosk, a brochure, a catalog, a coupon, an ad, a shelf tag, a product package, or via signage –  the data needs to be consistent.  If you don’t have the ability to manage all of this information in a single, central location and publish to multiple channels – you can’t compete effectively in today’s economy.

Know Your Customer

Improving your customer’s experience in any way, be it through personalization efforts, customization, or simply delivering products and bundles that your customer will want begins with a deeper understanding of who your customer is. Because your customers interact with multiple departments and systems across your enterprise, there is likely a considerable amount of duplicate customer data sitting in silos. That makes it extremely difficult to really know your customers.

A B2C customer may have a rewards account and profiles in your POS system, in your customer service system, on a mailing list, and in your online systems.  They may also have a store credit card.  Each of these systems and tools has it’s own slice of data about your customer, but not a single holistic view.

A B2B buyer is associated with a corporate account that has pre-negotiated rates, billing options, and delivery locations.  And, that corporate account typically has relationships with other accounts that may have completely different rates – due to complex corporate structures or mergers & acquisitions.

Each duplicated or partial record sitting in systems across your enterprise contributes to an increasingly fragmented view of your customer. Some systems have incomplete, inaccurate, or out-of-date information. Some systems only maintain a small subset of the attributes relevant to understanding your customer. More importantly, rarely does anyone line of business have a complete view.  This siloed data chaos leads to inefficient processes, duplicate mailings, inappropriate cross-sell or up-sell suggestions, billing or contract disputes, or orders shipped to wrong locations. Not only can these actions result in wasted time and money in the present, but they may contribute to lost revenue or lost customers in the future.

And yes, there are other critical data domains to manage, including…

  • Supplier
  • Location
  • Asset
  • Employee and more (we’ll discuss these in future blog posts).

What Can Be Done?

If your company is not able to eliminate the department and system-centric silos in your Product and Customer data – you’re in trouble.  It’s really hard to run a successful company if you don’t know what you’re selling, or who you’re selling to.

There are lots of strategies available to you, based on your particular circumstances, to improve Product and Customer data. And, there are technologies available. Product Information Management (PIM) and Product Content Management (PCM) platforms for Product data and Master Data Management platforms for Customer data. We believe that more technology isn’t always the answer, but in this case, the right technology is, because you have to make sure that you can adequately integrate disparate silos and make key information inherently available to the entire business.  Brian and Charlie opened the discussion about where to start.  We are happy to continue that conversation.