How manufacturers and distributors can work together to create and leverage data in today’s cluttered B2B e-commerce world.
It’s been more than a year since tED magazine published the 3-part Distributors: It’s Time to Get Your Data Act Together series focused on how electrical distributors can effectively leverage data and use it to set themselves apart in today’s tech-centric business world. Fast-forward to 2018 and the disconnection persists between manufacturers, distributors, and end users on the data front. And while a handful of companies may have it down to a science, most firms continue to face challenges in this arena.
Electrical distributors aren’t alone. According to a recent Forrester survey, 47% of B2B company leaders indicated that the biggest thing preventing them from creating actionable insights from their data was data quality. And, managing data from multiple sources was a challenge for 43% of companies.
“Problem-solving requires access to reliable information as a basis for generating ideas and making decisions,” Louis Columbus writes in Forbes’ Data Sharing Can Be a Catalyst for B2B Innovation. “But it can be difficult to get partners on the same page as far as where that data should come from, how much to share, and how to manage it.”
Getting Partners on the Same Page
Getting everyone working from the same data playbook doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does take a shared understanding of which data is important and why. Justin King, co-founder of the DigitalBranch, and senior partner at B2X Partners, says that for electrical distributors and their suppliers, product data should be split into two different buckets: operational data and marketing data.
Typically supplied by the manufacturer, operational data includes basic information like the weight, size, and other dimensions for a specific item. It also includes data on how the product is sold (e.g., by pallet, per unit, in cases, etc.), the product number, and other relevant facts about the item. “This operational data would typically go into the distributor’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system,” says King, “and basically covers the ‘engineering’ side of the product.”
Marketing data is different, but no less important. In fact, it plays an especially critical role in the B2B e-commerce world, where end users can’t just pick up, touch, and visually inspect and item to make sure they’re selecting the right one. Instead, they have to rely on the information, photos, schematics, and videos available on the distributor’s or manufacturer’s website.
“When it comes to marketing data,” King explains, “manufacturers have to put themselves in the end user’s shoes (versus the distributor’s shoes) and publish data that helps those buyers determine whether they’re selecting the right product.”
At minimum, marketing data must help buyers answer these four key questions:
- Is this the right product (i.e., will it solve my problem)?
- Is it in stock?
- What’s my price?
- When can I get it?
The more answers the end user can extract from the distributor’s website data, the better. And while the operational data is crucial—and gives distributors everything they need to know to be able to sell their products—marketing data is important because it supports the actual sale of that merchandise.
“Operational data puts the critical information into the distributor’s hands,” says King, “while the marketing data speaks directly to the customer.”
“That’s Where the Data Comes In”
Historically focused on helping their product lines stand out from the hundreds (or thousands) of other options available on the market, electrical distributors are good at what they do. But with the explosion in B2B e-commerce, their mission of standing out has become even more critical—and increasingly difficult.
“That’s where the data comes in,” says King, who sees basic product attributes (size, diameter, weight, etc.) as the first step on the data ladder. A 20-amp, one-pole circuit breaker, for example, must be accurately identified via attributes. Skip this step and neither the distributor nor the end customer will be able to discern amongst similar products (e.g., a 20-amp, two-pole circuit breaker).
The next level of data should focus on the products’ marketing attributes—or, those details that allow customers to quickly filter through the options in an SEO-like fashion. If, for example, you wanted a specific product to be found on your website using a Google search, then you would incorporate all of the necessary product keywords and attributes. “You would do the same on your own website,” says King, “with the goal of optimizing the product content so that it shows up first.”
King says manufacturers can play an important role in positioning those products to show up first on an electrical distributor’s website, and in most cases, that’s as simple as supplying the most accurate, up-to-date, detailed information possible to those distributors. Skip this step and it won’t take long for your goods to fall to the bottom of the list when someone goes online to search for related products.
“Manufacturers want their products to show up on the first page of a search engine, and not the second or third page,” says King. “The way to achieve that goal is with good product attributes.”
Product Titles Count
As he looks around at different distributor websites, King is surprised to see that many don’t take advantage of product titles. “They just give a short description, but there’s no thought put into it,” says King, who tells electrical distributors to use the title line to briefly describe the product in a compelling manner. “Again, approach it as if you were trying to get first-page placement on Google,” he says.
For example, the title for the 20-amp, one-pole circuit breaker might include verbiage like, “Easy to install and use in industrial settings.” “Think outside of the box and come up with titles that will not only capture your customers’ attention, but that will also show how a specific product will solve their pain points,” says King, who reminds distributors that their key focus should be on leveraging data in a way that gets them found amongst the online clutter.
“Put an effort into making your product lines stand out from all of the other options that are out there,” he says, “and work with your manufacturers to develop the data and content it takes to make that happen.”Tagged with best practices, data