What We Learned from Returning to B2B Online EU Conference

One of the great things about getting in on the ground floor of a company and helping it grow into what it is today is the increasing number of milestones I’ve been fortunate enough to experience.

I will always remember the pop of the champagne cork and the “tink” of the plastic glasses as we celebrated the opening of our European offices, our first step towards becoming a global company. There were five of us toasting that day, gathered around that fold-up conference table.

Codifyd returns to B2B Online EU conference
Hotel in Amsterdam where B2B Online EU took place last month.

I’m reminded of this moment every time I attend the European version of WBR’s B2B Online Conference. Hosted this year in beautiful downtown Amsterdam – the famed city of canals, culture, and coffee shops – I was able to experience several “we’ve gone global” moments:

> There were too many currencies in my wallet (US Dollars, GB Pounds, Tanzanian Shillings, Euro, and some Cuban pesos).

> I met several global members of my own team in person for the first time. We’d flown in from America, from England, from India.

> Likewise, I got to meet global teams from many of my client organizations. It’s nice that technology has advanced far enough that we don’t need to be in the same room to meet, but in-person meetings always solidify the relationship.

B2B Online EU in Amsterdam
Codifyd employees finish setting up Codifyd booth at B2B Online EU conference. Rob Stowell, author of this post, in the middle.

That seemed to be a common theme for many of the show’s attendees. The conference tracks were great, but the opportunity for global teams to interact and learn from each other provided an additional level of value to attendees. And what did we all learn?

> Most companies in B2B are struggling to catch up with the global pace of change. We live in a world where even our business models are being versioned. Is your company prepared to embrace Industry 4.0? Are you able to capitalize on the shifts as the Internet evolves from version 3.0 to version 4.0?

> Amazon.com: threat, opportunity, or both? Amazon’s ability to succeed in B2B was highly doubted by many American B2B companies. This is less true of their European counterparts, many of whom see the opportunities that Amazon can provide, and all of whom acknowledge the need to cope with or counter the Amazon effect.

> Opinions? They’re a thing of the past.  Tomorrow’s successful B2B companies are implementing AI and analytics to provide the backbone of information to drive successful decision-making.

For me, one of the best moment of the show happened as we were packing up. We didn’t know what to do with the banners we’d brought to the conference. Our contingencies from the UK and the USA all had multiple stops before we got home, and the costs of mailing the banners was only slightly less than the cost of printing them in the first place.

The solution? Well, the affiliates from our Mumbai office were able to take the banners back home, where they served as the backdrop in a series of “getting to know each other” videos that were later shared with the US office. Sometimes being truly global comes in the shape of watching our logo be carried across countries, across continents, and into the future.

The experience left me, as always, looking forward to the next milestone.

Why Data Governance is the Foundation to Your Master Data Management (MDM) Success

In Digital, data defines success. Data plays a very significant role in any business – it’s simply indispensable. Data comes in all shapes and sizes, and serves different purposes: product data, asset data, supplier data, employee data, reference data, location data, customer data and more. Yet, most organizations still overlook a crucial element to this process: Data Governance.master data management - data governance

Data Governance is an integral part of any successfully implemented Master Data Management system, and it ensures the quality and security of data. Whether you are looking to normalize data or make sure it is available to the right business user, building robust workflow capabilities drives operational efficiency.

 

Data Governance in Master Data Management (MDM)

So what role does data governance play in a successful MDM system?

Maintaining a “Golden Record” 

MDM creates one single source of data, which could come from a person, business, unit or any participant that is accountable for the data in that MDM system. Data governance plays a major role here because it helps maintain that golden record of data and prevents data silos, enabling user access to indispensable data points to inform digital decision-making.

Data of data (Metadata)

In the new age of digital, product content is defined both by the product data and the media that surrounds it. MDM maintains master data as well as metadata for every entity. This, in turn, allows users to analyze and scrutinize the metadata with business logics around it, resulting in high data quality.

Referenced data

Reference data is one of the many types of master data, although not all referenced data can be considered master data, as teams may set up their own that differs from the organization’s. Referenced data is a constant that defines permissible values for data which maintains data standardization, validation and quality.

Accessibility 

An important advantage to MDM comes in its ability to un-silo resources. In any organization or system, different entities are available to different people. Because of this, data governance helps secure master data and maintains who can own or access what.

Optimization 

When data governance is applied to all the MDM points above, an optimized data system is created which results in effective and efficient day-to-day operations.

Master Data Management in Digital Transformation

All in all, data governance is an integral part of Master Data Management success because it maintains high data quality and security, avoids operational errors around the data, and ensures day-to-day activities around the data are as efficient as possible.

Master Data Management, then, is a foundational requirement for Digital Transformation: by creating a single source of truth for data acquisition, mastering and analytics, businesses can begin to comprehend what their governance requirements are to ensure data accuracy, drive operational efficiency and develop efficient workflow processes for business units.

How to Achieve Financial Growth and Operational Efficiency with PIM & MDM

As the PIM & MDM Practice Lead at Codifyd, I have the privilege of attending various MDM conferences throughout the country and bringing back new insight so I can better serve our clients. These conferences give me the opportunity to keep up with industry trends and avoid “tunnel vision expertise” as the area of MDM evolves year after year.

The most recent event I attended is the MDM & Data Governance Summit earlier this month. This event is the leading conference in this space, and it’s held twice a year in New York City and San Francisco.

Going to the conference last week in New York City really cemented my ideology because I know this is the evolution of our space. I’m truly excited to continue evangelizing, consulting, implementing and growing with my clients to achieve true financial growth and operational efficiency.

In this post, I share some of my ideologies around PIM and MDM, solidified by the MDM & Data Governance conference I attended in NYC.

The Benefits of Product Information Management in B2B

My work life revolves around solving data problems – mostly in the B2B world, and typically with the core data elements around product content. Centralizing and mastering data within the product world can be life changing for a company. These actions create enterprise organization within departments, efficiency in mastering product data, and overall revenue growth once that beautiful master data is leveraged into a variety of syndication efforts such as e-commerce, custom digital catalogs, and 3rd party procurement.

With a calculated roadmap that matches business goals and the right tools in place, a robust product information management program can turn a business around in ways that organizations may not initially realize.

Solving Data Challenges with Product Information Management

Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients to achieve their data goals. In the recent years, we hear these stories over and over again from clients:

“Get our products on Amazon ASAP!” – says the manufacturer

“Help us refine onboarding processes to compete against Amazon!” – says the distributor

“We need a way to enrich product and SKUs to be purchasable online!” – say both

We love taking data challenges head on. In the case of product information management, the first step is typically to identify business gaps and select a PIM, and then it’s time to roll up our sleeves and create a process to pump life into their product set to 1) increase revenues across the board and 2) stay even in the ever involving digital marketplace.

Master Data Management for B2B Manufacturers & Distributors

But what about the rest of your data? How do we take one element [product] and layer it into an overall Master Data Management philosophy and governance against your vendor data, customer data, competitor data, and other ancillary collected, otherwise known as “Big Data”?  

Master Data Management is not pigeonholed around product for B2B manufacturers and distributors. Customer Master is not exclusive to service industries in financial or healthcare sectors. Organizations must expand their horizons to build on top of PIM and all the inefficiencies included. They must accelerate growth through targeted and curated offerings to current and prospective customers.

It’s time organizations get motivated to act on “multi-domain” master data offerings.  Let’s leverage actionable and predictive analytics that cross data paths between all elements described.

With an equipped tool belt packed with industry knowledge and data expertise, Codifyd is ready for the next frontier. Join us in the new wave of data efficiency.

Partnering with NetPlus Alliance to Solve the Product Content Exchange Problem

This past week I attended the NetPlus Alliance Annual Meeting. The NetPlus buying group consists of hundreds of suppliers and distributors in the industrial MRO and construction sectors united by a single goal: to find innovative ways to move their businesses forward, drive revenues, and reduce costs.

As a first time attendee, the most striking thing I immediately noticed was the level of comradery and passion that NetPlus Alliance members share for their industry. There is an amazing and sincere respect among the members.

NetPlus Alliance members are savvy professionals who understand that the world of commerce continues to pick up speed and shows no sign of slowing down. Without exception, they understand that they are both chasing market leaders like Amazon and figuring out how to work with them. There are no longer clear lines between master distributor, distributor, and manufacturer. Instead, channel strategies are more like a tangled ball of yarn.

The Paradox of Choice in Digital Commerce

The challenge so many members face is what psychologist Barry Schwartz famously called “the paradox of choice”. Faced with too many options, people are now less inclined to take action, whether it’s buying a jar of jam or investing in a new technology. In the case of our industry, the paradox of choice touches many areas: digital commerce, supply chain, product selection, and many more. NetPlus Members, like all of us, are working through the challenge of a market moving at light speed and the array of options proliferating at a torrid pace.

Solving the Product Content Exchange Problem

At Codifyd, we are partnering with NetPlus Alliance to provide an answer to this paradox of choice: sharing product content with channel partners. How do hundreds of suppliers and distributors effectively exchange product content so that the buyer always has the right selection and complete information to make a quick and easy purchase decision?

By working together, NetPlus Alliance members can now exchange highly customized product content via the Codifyd Bridge AI platform. The platform fully automates the syndication of product content, while being flexible enough to adapt to the fast-moving demands of the market. With the NetPlus Alliance Connect program, members get to enjoy efficient content sharing, while their customers receive relevant information at all points of the buying journey.

We are honored to be part of the NetPlus Alliance family, and to play our part in helping members move their business forward.

We would love to help you solve your product content problems. Visit our solutions pages, and contact us today for a consultation.

 

Optimizing the Digital Shelf for E-Commerce Success

Your digital product is your lifeline. Without it, prepare to go the way of many sellers who over-invested in the notion that digital adoption was only a facet of their business and not the defining element of company success.

To put this in context, as of June 2017, a staggering 5,300 retail stores have announced they will be closing their doors, even though apparel sales are expected to rise in 2017, with e-commerce accounting for 17% of revenue. It may seem harsh but this is the Now. Very soon 3-D printing, virtual and augmented reality, smart sensors and AI will be tools that businesses regularly harness to engage clients in a unit-level, customized product journey.

So where does digital product content & information fit into this story?

Product content is the core element that enables you to develop your digital presence and prepare to harness the technological disruption that is breaking dawn on the horizon of B2B.

From the days of print catalog to the information you choose to display through your e-commerce platform, and even to your back-end investments in technology (ERP, DAM, MDM, PIM), the persistent element that remains is the data that creates a digital representation of your physical product and drives customer experience.

B2B buyers demand expert content at all points in the buying journey

This attention to product data robustness, customized product user experiences and aligned business objectives that enable digital transformation are even more important in B2B.

The more complex the product, the greater the focus must be on the way you translate your product expertise into digital form and engage customers with expert-level content.

Where once great consideration went into ensuring your brick and mortar locations portrayed your product knowledge and displayed items in an orderly and categorized fashion, it is now time to prioritize the transformation of your organization in preparation of the digital era.

Optimizing the digital shelf with product data

In the end, it is the intersection of your product with customer data that is the driving force behind digital transformation.  In practice, it is in mobilizing product data to effectively interact with users, supported by technologies that enable this process.

As Amazon has shown, your physical product is no longer the first element of ensuring client conversion – it is now final. That’s it. Because by the time the product arrives at their doorstep, the customer has already developed the necessary trust and conducted the requisite research to identify and purchase it.

Your Digital Shelf is the new storefront: open 24/7 and accessible on the go through mobile technology. But does it cater to your customers’ needs and provide them a direct feed of product expertise?

Takeaways from EnterWorks Engage: Engineering End-User Experiences with Product Content

I spent three days last week at the EnterWorks Engage User conference in Nashville, Tennessee. The participants in this gathering came from many different industries—food service and supply, MRO/Industrial distribution, manufacturing, and retail. Many were seasoned users of EnterWorks’ Enable software. Some were beginners showing up for expert training, and others were checking out the landscape of PIM solutions to see what is right for their organization.

Aside from the delicious food (Nashville hot chicken? Johnnycakes? Don’t mind if I do!) there was a massive amount of knowledge to take advantage of. It was a real pleasure to interact with such an intelligent and driven group, and to present on the importance of data governance.

Don’t Allow Product Content to be an Afterthought

The one thing that all these users had in common was the acknowledgement that product content is a driver of their business, not an afterthought. Investing in the tools to manage your content is the first step in creating a world-class digital experience. It was enlightening to see how people from many different backgrounds approach the complex demands of engineering with the right kind of digital assets to match their business goals. Regardless of industry, there were some common themes I saw come up over and over again. Here are my takeaways.

1. Focus on end-to-end solutions

Purchasing software is not a magic bullet for all your business woes, and anyone who claims otherwise is either naïve or trying to fleece you. It’s not that there aren’t amazing software solutions out there, rather, software alone can’t dictate strategy, governance, or content standards.

I spoke during the conference on best practices in data governance, a complicated topic whose surface I could only barely scratch during my half-hour time slot. An effective data governance approach requires both discipline and enforcement, but also flexibility and quick adaptivity when quantitative measures dictate a new direction. Leadership in content means thinking about the ultimate end user of your data. These days, you’re not just identifying a product on the web, you’re engineering an experience.

2. Choose your partners for maximum advantage

Codifyd is a preferred implementation partner for EnterWorks. In fact, we partner with several PIM solution providers, and what really impressed me about the folks I met at EnterWorks is their intellectual engagement. They’re always looking for ways to improve not only their product, but their relationships with their users.

3. Work towards a minimum viable product

Shifting your focus to using content strategically can seem daunting. There are so many things to consider: defining workflows, constructing integrations between upstream and downstream systems, and cleansing or building out your existing content. By the time you’re ready to go live with the results of an eighteen-month-long project, the industry will have moved on. Things happen in the digital age at, quite literally, the speed of light. Jump in. Identify, target, and prioritize the categories, products, or process improvements that will move the needle.

4. Push the boundaries of what content can do

From resolving channel conflict with sophisticated automation tools and analytics, to approaching web content with an eye to design, to playing with augmented reality, the industry is serious about leveraging their content to go above and beyond. Don’t get left behind!

Overall, I truly enjoyed learning more about the challenges businesses are facing when it comes to managing their data. And it seems that with the right combination of technology and people, organizations are meeting these challenges in innovative ways. If these are some of your organizational goals for the upcoming year, chat with us. We’re happy to guide you towards digital success.

Stop Driving Blind: Business Intelligence in Digital Merchandizing

Voted one of the most famous cartoon characters of all time, Mr. Magoo was a wealthy retiree whose extreme near-sightedness and refusal to recognize the problem at hand always landed him in trouble. However, through amazing streaks of luck, everything seemed to always turn out just fine for Mr. Magoo. Although created before my time, I loved watching these re-runs as a child.

Product User Experience in Digital Commerce

The failure of many digital merchants to provide a great experience for their buyers reminds me of Mr. Magoo. Too often, a lack of vision prevents us from seeing the obviousness of the situation, and stubbornness limits our ability to identify the problem itself.

Unfortunately, unlike Mr. Magoo, digital merchants who provide poor product experiences do not have a screenwriter to create an improbable, magical ending that serves as an erasure for our faults. Instead, sales and customers are lost.

Frequently, those of us in the product content and information world like to blame the problem of a sub-par user experience on lack of technology. Much like Mr. Magoo famously yelling “Road hog!” at everyone he cut off, we incorrectly think that by screaming “Technology!” we will solve all problems. Or, we blame “lack of resources” – a code word for something that is simply not a priority to us.

Product Information has to Tell the Full Story

Well-translated product user experience in commerce starts with a clear vision and robust information to tell the story of the products you sell. At Codifyd, we see two key reasons why organizations fail to invest wisely in product information:

  1. They do not understand the cost of status quo
  2. They do not have a way to demonstrate the ROI

Data & Business Intelligence in Digital Commerce

The root of this problem of “unknowing” is typically not a lack of technology, rather a lack of relevant data and business intelligence to lead exactly where and how to invest in product user experience. Most manufacturers are literally “driving blind” when it comes to product content and the impact it has on their buyers. They frequently do not know where the information resides, when they send it to distributors, and if the product content makes it to the digital shelf. They simply hope for the best. Fortunately, things have changed since Mr. Magoo went on the air in 1949!

Leveraging Data with Product Content Syndication Technology

Holistic product management and syndication platforms are now delivering business intelligence by connecting to distributor channels via API. This means real user data connected in a meaningful way to your product content. To compete in digital commerce, there are a few basic data points you need to have to make informed decisions about product content:

  1. Are my products on the digital shelf and/or do I know when they hit the shelf?
  2. How are buyers reacting to my product content?
  3. Which product content is converting buyers and which is causing abandonment?

Most importantly, you need to understand why buyers are responding to your product information in a certain way. Why drive blindly when you can take meaningful data and leverage it for your organization’s success?

At Codifyd, we are experts in helping organizations gain the insight they need to drive the best possible product user experiences. With the right mix of strategy, technology and people, your customers will be happier and your digital revenue will hit the numbers you’ve been waiting for.  

Learn more about Codifyd’s on-boarding and syndication platform, BRIDGE, here.

Codifyd Rooftop Reception During B2B Online Conference

Long conference days are best concluded with a well-deserved cocktail. That’s why following the first day of the B2B Online Conference last Monday, Codifyd hosted a private rooftop reception for our clients and other conference attendees. Eager to show off our beautiful city, we hosted the event at a hotel rooftop overlooking the Chicago River and city skylines. Needless to say, it was a night to remember for both new and old friends.

Continue the conversation or start a new one with us here. We love talking all things B2B digital commerce.

Takeaways from ISA Annual Convention: Move Now, Move Quickly

I recently spoke at the inaugural “ISA 360” speaker series at the Industrial Supply Association Annual Convention in Denver. While there, I spoke to attendees about the dynamic nature of ecommerce and what companies can do to stay competitive in a time when disruptors like Staples and Amazon Business are entering the industry. During the post-program Q&A session, there was an interesting question: “What keeps you up at night?” My response was a one-word answer: “Inertia”. And while I briefly explained why at the time, I wanted to go deeper and share a thought experiment that highlights why distribution needs to overcome that inertia, take a strategic approach to ecommerce, and do it quickly.

B2B Commerce Trends

I’ve been in the B2B space for almost 20 years – meaning I’ve seen both sides of the disruption story. I started during a time when the main tension was between traditional distributors and the “catalog houses” like Grainger, MSC, and McMaster-Carr. But those firms weren’t considered “disruptors” because the catalog business model had been around for decades. In general, while the industry was competitive, change happened slowly and companies could take time to deliberate on all options before setting and implementing a strategy.

Since the turn of the millennium, decisions have to be made at “internet speed”. Not because it’s a “good idea”, but because disruptors entering the space already think that way. If my presentation made people think about maybe putting together a strategic project team to consider exploring the potential of ecommerce between now and year end – I suggest that will already be too late.

Amazon Business Trends

In May of 2016 Amazon announced that their Amazon Business platform had crossed $1 billion in revenue after being open for only one year. But what I found compelling was not the dollar amount but the growth rate. The article mentioned that Amazon Business was “growing at a clip of 20% each month”. That is a much more shocking figure than the revenue figure and simple math can explain why.

  1. For the sake of simplicity, let’s make a couple assumptions:
    1) The month-over-month growth rate will drop at an average rate of 0.33% each month, reflecting the growth due to increasingly large revenue base; this puts the monthly growth rate on pace to drop to 10% by December of 2018
    2) That “degradation rate” stays at a straight-line drop each month. That’s unrealistic, as Amazon’s business in general typically gets a big boost in the 4th quarter, but assuming a straight-line average is a conservative approach
    3) Amazon’s monthly revenue figures as of May 2016 were ~$83.3 Million per month ($1 billion divided by 12 months)

For a number of reasons, these assumptions are likely to be completely erroneous. But they exist because they provide a conservative baseline for the results. The objective here is not to give a forward-looking estimate for Amazon Business revenue, but rather to help show what is possible given some simple (and very conservative) estimates.

Given those assumptions, let’s look at where Amazon Business could trend:

In this graph, each column represents monthly revenue and the blue line represents the month-over-month. It simply extends the figures from May 2016 forward. With the assumptions in place, Amazon Business would already possibly be a $6 billion per year distributor, and we haven’t even hit the “tipping point” yet, which would happen in Q4 of this year.

One also must consider that this assumes Amazon Business stays static – a dangerous assumption. Amazon Business will probably launch new services, add more selection, and create more innovative user experience tools to offer in conjunction with the site. Those possibilities aren’t accounted for in this chart, but neither would any of those slow growth more than what is described here – they would only push the numbers higher.

Move Now, Move Quickly

The takeaway for businesses already in B2B? Whatever plans you may be making, you need to make them faster. Remember Jeff Bezos’ quote: “…most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow”. Amazon’s innovation engine is firing on all cylinders – is yours?

$2 SKU vs. $50 SKU: A Strategic Approach to Product Content Investment in B2B E-Commerce

In the digital age, e-commerce customers educate themselves by going online. And they want that information fast. When searching for paint, what are the different colors offered? Is the 10 gallon option cheaper? Your data should be customized to relate to the customer’s selection process and it is important to have a strategic approach when optimizing this content. It’s not enough to just build your SKUs. You can spend $2 per SKU or $50 per SKU but you must understand how to best direct this investment and provide incremental value that will give results. You don’t have to spend $50 on all of your SKUs but you spending only $2 on all of your SKUs is much less likely to be successful. So how do you decide on a strategic product content investment?

The Customer Experience is Reliant on Rich Product Information

A critical part of a customer’s buying experience is the ability to drill down to the product they’re looking for quickly and efficiently. A well structured product taxonomy allows you to categorize the product selection in a way customers understand and relate to. This creates an important baseline for your e-commerce experience. Taxonomy and categorization typically follow a standardized vocabulary, consistent organizing principle, SEO research, competitive analysis and the classification of your products to the taxonomy. This foundation helps move customers from the homepage to product pages and gives you the framework to begin investing strategically.

Leading a Successful Product Content Investment Model

The more you invest per SKU, the better defined that SKU will be. The next step in that investment should include well defined attribution and faceted search. What are the most important attributes for a t-shirt? What about a electrical connector? These ideas need to be documented and customized for the selection process of each product. An extra small size t-shirt is much different than a micro size connector, so you need to define the concept of size appropriately for each product.

To enhance your product selection and provide a world class experience for your customers, you need charts, graphs, images and copy that explain why a customer should buy a product from you. Marketing copy, rich media, comparison guides and selection guides not only educate your customers and make them trust your content, they also increase your SEO value drastically, leading to higher traffic and lower cost of customer acquisition as well as improved conversion.

Drive ROI by Investing in SKUs that Perform Best

If you want to differentiate from your competitors by providing the best possible e-commerce experience for your customers, you’ll need to invest in your SKU data. The best way to define which SKUs to invest in is by allowing your customers to lead you; SKUs that generate the most return on investment are a good place to start. Top sellers, new products and high margin items are a good place for additional investment.

Long Term Improvement & Maintenance of Product Content

By following this “investable SKU model”, your product content becomes an asset which must be maintained and managed on an ongoing basis rather than just a one-time cost center. To be a leader, however, you must  improve your product content incrementally over time. Do you want to see the return on your investments? Monitor traffic (more customers), conversion (likelihood to buy) and order quantity (volume) to measure the impact before and after you make a change in your product data model or launch new tools using the attributes or assets you have built.

Your customers want an experience that makes them feel confident enough about their selection of a product to purchase it. In order to feel confident, they need to trust the integrity of the information you provide about that product.