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Have you ever tried to do a weekend project, only to be frustrated that you don’t have the right tools to do the job? Quite embarrassingly, I slipped in my attic last weekend and my foot and leg poked a hole in the ceiling of my daughter’s bedroom. Oops. If you’ve ever tried to patch drywall on a ceiling, it’s kind of like trying to nail jello to a wall. Fortunately, my brother-in-law is a world-class handyman and he helped repair my blunder. He had all the right tools and know-how.

The same can be applied to manufacturing companies. For the channel management team of a manufacturing company, one of the most critical jobs is to provide resellers with the tools they need to sell product. Delivering product content to digital resellers is the modern day equivalent of having product on the shelf. Without great product data, specifications, descriptions, images, and other marketing collateral, online buyers are likely to abandon their product purchase — even on a well-designed, beautiful site.

Channel marketers that are unable to deliver great product content quickly to resellers (unlike me accidentally punching a hole in my ceiling) commit an avoidable mistake. So why do channel marketers struggle to get the right product content to their channel partners?

We have identified two fundamental reasons:

  • Marketing does not have ownership of the product content. It belongs to a broad cadre of groups. ERP, MDM and PIM systems that frequently house product content often have been designed and implemented by “systems integrators” and these technologies have not been implemented to address complex business user requirements and workflows.
  • The technology investments have been made to enable IT to “house” content, but there has been little or no investment in automating the process of delivering that content in a useful way to channel partners. It’s like having a warehouse full of Coke with no trucks to take it to the stores.

What are the steps an organization can take to provide channel partners great content quickly, and in the format they need it?

Here are 3 recommendations:

  • Treat product content and data like a REAL product. Organizationally, rename “product data” to something that captures the mission-critical nature of this asset. I like “Digital Product Merchandising” (DPM), as it relates closely to having physical product on the physical shelf in a store. Too often, especially in B2B, we see a manufacturer react quite casually to the fact that it took 6 months to get their new “product content” on the digital shelf. Imagine if P&G produced and launched a new razor, and it took 6 months to get it on the shelf at Walmart. Heads would roll. People would lose their jobs. In the B2B world, we yawn. 6 months lost revenue. Yawn. Six months of product sitting in a warehouse. Yawn. It is essential to create a sense of urgency around Digital Product Merchandising.
  • Ask one hard question: how can I be in a position to respond to any product content request of a channel partner in less than 5 days? Build a cross-functional team to identify the needs of your channels, and then work backwards to figure out how to deliver that experience. We have seen companies combine process and technology to be responsive to nearly any channel partner product content demand within 3-5 days.
  • Enable the channel management process for business users by putting channel management and syndication tools in the hands of the marketers. Marketers should not be making requests to IT every time a channel requests new SKU’s, or when there is a catalog update. Marketers should not be cutting and pasting into Excel spreadsheets. Automate the digital product merchandising process with the priority level that Coca-Cola would use to ensure that all their retailers are never out of stock.

The new currency of product content is speed, accuracy, and highly-customized formats. Treat your Digital Product Merchandising like gold. Your channels will love you, and your buyers will buy from you.