Man in suit pressing interactive screen

Every buyer is also a consumer. This is what distributors really need to keep in mind when deploying digitalization of product data into apps, training programs and, of course, 
e-commerce platforms. 

Almost all buyers are familiar with the ease of use and personalization of the Amazon marketplace. Buyers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, want to be able to find what they need on their own and without being “sold to.” They also want to do so at their convenience and on a mobile platform.  

By 2020, Gen Z will make up a third of the population. This generation was born with high-speed internet, they have super short attention spans, and they are addicted to their devices. They need to be able to get to detailed product information online, immediately and accurately without getting frustrated in the process (Seriously, like they might die of frustration). Kidding aside, if you make customers wait or work too long to get answers, then your company will lose relevance as a resource. 

This is why a Product Information Management (PIM) system is so important. 

Consider that each product has an average of 30 to 50 product attributes that tech-savvy buyers want to search/filter within. If your company has 20,000 products, that is about 800,000 little pieces of data to manage: SKU; color; case count; dimension; weight; scent; manufacturer; pH; price; shipping classification; image; relevant market segments; SDS; literature; substitutes; accessories; warranty; certifications; keywords; benefits; etc.  

How many different formats do you think you’ll receive this data in? If you have 80 to 100 suppliers … odds are pretty darn good you will have 80 to 100 varieties of content, features, formats, linked files, naming conventions, etc. There are some manufacturers leading the pack with great data, fabulous update schedules and online tools, but there are also plenty on the other end. This creates a nightmare for distributors trying to digitize. Not only do they receive the data disparately, but they also need it output in ever evolving formats such as apps, digital catalogs, custom charts, literature and quotes. 

How in the world do distributors stay on top of such robust product data? They use a PIM system, which helps organize all product data in one centralized location, with the primary objective of enabling deployment of product data for seamless omni-channel sales. Trust me, even if you have a few full-time digital marketing specialists, attempting to manage this manually or with spreadsheets is immensely unrealistic. 

There are some legacy “catalog” companies that are managing product data now and offer subscriptions to common information. But they might not be adapting quickly enough to keep distributors competitive. However, there are organizations developing robust PIM systems where they’ve taken into account the needs and insights of numerous distributors. 

Regardless of if you choose to subscribe to a service or go it alone, just understand that this is not a one-time project. You won’t build it and be done with it. Products change every day, and solid, strategic product data management is not going away.

Tina Serio Saunders, I.C.E., MBA, ACT is president of SonicTrain, LLC, creators of The Arena gamification platform, and director of marketing and innovation at Nichols. She is an industry leader in marketing technologies and has led development on numerous sales tools. She has provided training, strategic management consulting and marketing implementation around the country. Her insight comes from over 20 years industry management experience. You may contact her at 419-297-0822 or