I often get questions from our clients about the platforms we implement. One question that has become common is: Why should our company invest in a Product Information Management (PIM) system?

4.6.19

BY NIKET ASHESH

Sometimes clients ask this question because they believe the unique needs of their business processes can’t be adequately served by a commercially-available platform. In some instances, they have developed their own IT systems for handling product data; in others, they have created a complex workflow involving Access databases, spreadsheets, Word documents, and InDesign files. In all cases, they worry about losing control of their data or about the expense.

The problem is this: Omnichannel sales and marketing is extremely difficult, if not impossible, without a PIM. Although omnichannel marketing was once a cutting-edge option, consumer (and even some B2B customer) expectations have made it a business necessity. So, let’s discuss a few of the concerns companies have about implementing a PIM solution for their businesses.

But, first, let me explain a little about what a PIM is and how it functions as part of a technology stack.

WHAT DOES PIM DO?
The simplest definition of a PIM is that it’s a hub for storing, enriching, managing, and publishing your product information. For many companies, product information comes from a variety of sources, such as suppliers, manufacturers, internal product development teams and business units (for pricing, etc.). Some of these entities are geographically local, and some are international. Additionally, units of measurement vary (Is it “each” “ea,” or “piece?”), as do file formats for sending information (.csv, .doc, etc.), not to mention the file formats needed to feed online and print marketing channels (.indd, .mp4, .jpg).

If all of that information, across all of those sources, in all of those formats is not carefully managed, it becomes content spaghetti.

No one likes content spaghetti. Especially the person who has to manage and clean it!

PIM provides not only a single source of truth for your product information, but also opportunities to ensure that the information is complete, compliant, flexible, marketable, and portable. It works with systems such as your ERP, your content management system (CMS), and your e-commerce and social marketing engines. It automates many functions, particularly workflow, and simplifies the transition from manufacturing specs to marketing speak to consumer engagement and sales.

Pretty impressive, isn’t it? But you (and our clients) still have questions, I know.

CAN'T WE JUST EXTEND OUR CMS OR ERP?
Both are powerful systems, but just as a hammer makes a lousy screwdriver, so do these systems make lousy PIMs. You might make them work, for a while, but you’ll be disappointed in the results since they don’t have all the functionality that’s baked right into a PIM.

A PIM system consolidates the data from your Enterprise Resource Planner (ERP) or Content Management System (CMS), and, along with additional product information needed by marketing and sales, makes your products available to your customers wherever they encounter your brand.

No matter how complete your record-keeping within your CMS or ERP, the data structures don’t meet the needs of sales and marketing resources, who must “enrich” (apply brand language, graphics, video, and other resources) to the information before it is published as a catalog item, social media post, or any number of other content pieces. If they don’t have access to the tools they need, marketers often develop their own resources, such as spreadsheets, to manage the information.

This results in multiple, decentralized data sources. And that means inaccuracies, lack of version control, potential compliance issues, and a lot of other problems that introduce risk to your business.

Also, although ERPs, in particular, support a multitude of product lifecycle processes, they do not adequately address marketing and publication roles, workflows, and usage tracking. Again, this usually results either in creating manual processes (such as emailing files back and forth, which puts unnecessary strain on those systems) or in attempting to build home-grown solutions that are costly to maintain and time-consuming to update as needs change over time.

One last word about extending your ERP: Remember that your financial data is in there. A PIM provides an additional buffer between your financials and the rest of the world.

WILL I RETAIN CONTROL OF MY DATA?

With a PIM, you won’t just retain control, you’ll improve it. Because the PIM offers a centralized way to store, enrich, and maintain data, it becomes the “source of truth” for your product information.

Most PIM solutions come with completeness checks to ensure your product data is correct, versioning control to make sure it’s up-to-date, usage data reports that tell you where and how bits of content were used, and a score of other tools that give you powerful and flexible control of your data.

WILL A PIM PROVIDE A SIGNIFICANT ENOUGH ROI TO JUSTIFY BUYING ONE?
I won’t lie: Data transformation is not cheap. But the cost of losing customers (or suppliers) is far more expensive over time. No matter how great your product is, if the information you make available to your customers is flawed or inconsistent, the quality of your product won’t matter because people won’t buy it. (Or they’ll return it because it wasn’t really what they wanted.)

You also have to consider the ongoing business costs of manually maintaining multiple databases and spreadsheets, home-grown systems, and content distribution channels.

Most of our clients have realized these measurable benefits with a PIM:

  • Data quality increases across business units
  • Conversion rates significantly increase
  • Product returns drastically decrease
  • Time-to-market speeds up
  • Productivity increases (without adding resources)
  • Planning and budgeting become easier with increased data visibility and transparency


When their people are less tied up in the details and drudgery of data management, businesses can focus more on new ideas, new products, and the strategies for getting them in front of their customers.

That, by itself, is worth the price of a PIM implementation.