The idea of a product information management (PIM) system implementation is a scary one for many B2B companies. Projects like this have a reputation for being long, complex, and difficult to succeed with. However, this doesn't need to be the case - to find out more, I spoke to Zooma's Jakob Thornér and discovered how your company can succeed with and benefit from a shiny new PIM system.
If you're a marketer at a B2B company, you probably have a lot of product information to keep track of - even if it seems like your company doesn't have that many individual products. When you consider all the possible product variations, as well as technical data, images and translations, the amount of information you have to handle builds up. In a situation like this, a PIM system can be a good solution. Kind of like a CRM system, the PIM system can act as a single source of truth for all your product information, and it's possible to link it to different platforms like your website, brochures or product configurator to make sure all updates and changes are handled quickly and accurately.
However, implementing a system like this takes time and some careful planning. There's a lot of preconceived notions around how PIM system implementations typically work, so to clear things up, I asked Jakob about:
- What the concrete benefits of a PIM system are for B2B companies
- The main challenge that companies typically run in to during a PIM system implementation
- How long an implementation like this usually takes, from start to finish
Jakob has worked on a number of PIM system projects, so he gave some great answers and managed to make the prospect of a PIM implementation much less intimidating.
As usual, you can listen to this episode and subscribe to the podcast on the platform of your choice using the links below. There's also a full transcription of our discussion that you can read if you're in a rush.
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Doug Bolton: So, welcome Jacob, welcome back to The Onlinification Pod. How are you?
Jakob Thornér: Thank you. I'm fine, glad to be here.
DB: Last time you spoke to Alex, I think, and it was just kind of a get to know you kind of thing. Today, we're going to cover something a bit more concrete, something a bit scarier for many people - PIM systems, product information management systems, which is a topic I thought we should take up because it's often one of these things, kind of like, you know, a CRM project or something that people, you know, think of as like a big deal, one of these time consuming, really eternal projects sometimes. And it's also something that's relevant for a lot of our customers and the kind of companies we deal with. So of course, I thought we should invite you, having been involved in some implementations of these kinds of systems before. So the first question, I guess maybe people will know already if they're listening to a podcast about PIM systems, but what is a PIM system?
JT: Yeah, it's a big question to say what it is, but it's a lot of things. But basically it's, I mean, it's a big database of all your products, in the end. But of course you need to work with your products. So what the PIM system often will give you is ways to, for example, organise all your products. You want to put them in different categories and subcategories and so on to be able to make sense both for you, your internal organisation and for your customers. And also you probably would need to to add a lot of information about your products' different properties and characteristics of the products. And also, in the end, you will probably want to send all of these product data somewhere. Maybe you want it on on your website or on your ecommerce, or maybe you want to put it on Amazon, for example, or you have a fancy brochure that you want to publish that contains all your products, and a PIM system can help you doing just that to publish specific set of products to a specific channel. I would say that is the short explanation of a PIM system.
DB: Yeah, in brief. We spoke a little bit about PIM Systems in the past and my thought before was that PIM systems are really important if you have lots of products as a company and you know, we have some customers who have, if you list all their products, it would be, you know, hundreds or thousands or something. Whereas for maybe companies that have a smaller range of just those core products, it's not so important, but that's maybe not the case, right?
JT: Definitely. It depends on more than just the number of products. It's a combination of of course, number of products is one important factor. If you only have like three products and a lot of companies that are startups, they only sell one or two things just in one product. And maybe for them a PIM system is nothing they need. So of course the number of products is one rather important factor. But I also would say that it's also how complex your products are. If they contain a lot of information and characteristics, and they have a lot of images and documentation to them and relations between products and so on, that's also very important factor. And then also whether or not you are planning to re-use your data in multiple channels, if you just want them in one place, then maybe you can't save it that much. Then you could think about having your your data in the very end system that you're going to use it in, but if you plan to have them in multiple places, then of course that is also very important factor deciding upon whether or not to have a PIM system. So I think it's, it's a combination of multiple factors.
DB: Yeah. Just my thought was kind of based on the place I used to work, which manufactured industrial machines and that kind of thing. Kind of a typical and B2B company. And when I was there, there were discussions about PIM systems, and I remember some of the thinking was, well, we don't really have that many products. We had these machines, and if you looked at the product list that we had on the site, there were maybe 20 or 25 or something, which doesn't seem that hard to to manage, you know. But when you think about it, for each product, there was a different variation, like there was different sizes or different types of fuel and different features, you know, different kind of add-ons and attachments that you could have and stuff. And very quickly, when you take all that into account, you do get into like hundreds of different iterations of the same set of products.
JT: That is very common, exactly what you mentioned. Now people may refer to a number of products, but I mean the PIM system will also contain all of those variations. Sometimes those are called just variations or articles or items, but they're all the same thing. But of course, if you have a lot of those, that's just as important as the number of products you have. The system will need to keep all of that data.
DB: Yeah. And on the projects that you've worked on before, what sort of problems has the PIM system solved or aim to solve?
JT: Yeah, I think the biggest problem that most customers are struggling with is probably that they have their product data in in different places. So a PIM system is an option to get all of the data you have into one source of information. I think that is the single biggest problem that it solves for for at least those customers that we work with. But then it will also give you other things that are good for you, things like it will raise the quality of data because that you now only have one place to edit your data. You won't end up in situations where you forgot to update one system that you managed to change in another system and so on. So that's also a big thing for for most of our customers as well, I would say.
DB: Yeah. Now I can recognize that, thinking about my old job again, whenever something needed to be updated or there was a new product, it was the website, and brochures, like you mentioned, and the configurator. And then there were all these images that had to be in the right place and, you know, in all the different languages as well, we had maybe ten or 15 different languages and all the updates need to be made on the local sites as well. So I guess from a marketer's point of view, you save a lot of work, but I guess also a lot of potential for making mistakes or, you know, not updating something that needs to be updated and things like that.
JT: Yeah, absolutely true. And also I would say if you have a lot of products or variations, then it will probably be difficult for a person maybe who's new to the company to to find all your products and variations. So a PIM system really helps with that as well. I would also say to give you search capabilities that you would probably not have in other systems to be able to filter out what you're looking for.
DB: Yeah. And obviously you've been involved in implementing systems like this before, and it would be tempting to think for a company that thinks, alright, it's time for us to, to get all our product information into one of these systems, that it can just be handed over to someone like you. And then you produce a fantastic system by the next day or something. But you know, all that information needs to come from somewhere. And I guess at the end of the day it's the customer are the person who orders the the job that has to be responsible for that, right?
JT: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it's not one person. It's usually a lot of people within the organization that needs to come up with the information about the products and how they are categorized within the company. But then we assume we are probably good at giving the other perspective, the outside perspective of the customer, and what they are probably looking for in a product. So it's a combination of of a joint effort here to come up with all of the information that we need about the product that should be in the system and how they should be categorized. And that requires some work in order to get that done. And once that is decided upon, then of course you need to actually add all the information in the system about all the products. And that usually takes some time as well.
DB: And is that usually done like manually populating all that information, or?
JT: Some of the information can can be automatic. Like for example, if you have an existing ERP system with all your articles and variations, you can start off by importing those. So you have something to start with. But if you normally don't have all of that, if you call it technical information about things like size and color and stuff like that in just one system since before. So usually you end up doing at least some of that work manually.
DB: And I guess that's probably quite a good exercise as well for the company to actually finally gather all this information in one place, because it probably all exists somewhere, but it's spread out over a bunch of different sources.
JT: It is. It is. And usually it gives some new ideas to them and also in discussion with us and so on, you might end up understanding that you probably need some more information about your products that you don't have today and work on ideas on how to add that.
DB: And I guess also there needs to be lots of different departments from the company who are involved, you know, because again, if I think back, if we're thinking about industrial machines or something like that, from my perspective as a marketing person, it would be, you know, the important stuff would be like all the images and brochures and descriptions and stuff. But maybe for sales it would be like the technical info. And for someone else it might be, you know, some other field that I haven't even thought of yet. Do you often find that that you need to kind of cover everyone to make sure the system works out?
JT: Very common, this is exactly the situation that you end up in, that different people want to showcase different information about the products and you need to to make one, we call it the data model, which is what you create. You decide on which of these properties on a product should exist and how they should be presented in the end. And all the relations between different products and categories and between products and so on. All of that is like put together in what we call it the data model. And different areas within your organisation will definitely say that this is more important or this is more important. So you need to combine that into one.
DB: Yeah. In the projects you've worked on, is there anything that usually creates problems, like kind of challenges that these companies run into during during the implementation or during the setup?
JT: There is definitely some about just getting all the information in, and they might realize that things like images, for example, are not up to date when they have to create images for all the products and variations, or there could be other things like technical documentation that might not exist on everything and so on. So usually it's eye-opening for the company to realise what they are maybe missing as of today, when they have to put every product into that kind of same data model and decide which of the information should we actually fill for this product, which should we not use. And also another challenge is sometimes where you want to to put your data. Do you want to send it to your website, or do you want to use it on your ecommerce site or you want to integrate it with Amazon? As I mentioned before, those steps to actually channel your data to different places, that could also be a challenge.
DB: So there's quite a lot of preparation really, it sounds like, before you can actually start populating the system and doing the actual setup. There's quite a long period of, you know, just getting everything ready.
JT: I suppose it doesn't have to be very long. But yeah, there is some preparations about deciding about what we call the data model. But once that is done, then of course you can start populating in the system long before you have to use it anywhere. But then in the end, one of the reasons why you bought the system in the first place is because you want to use your data somewhere, you want to show it for your customers or so.
DB: And I just realised this whole time I've been saying it's such a long period and there's so much preparation and stuff, just because I think that's kind of the, the thing that people think about when it comes to implementations like this. But is that fair? Do you think that that it has to be a super long, difficult process, or?
JT: I would say a typical implementation period for deciding about this model, it's usually done in a number of workshops where you gather all the people that need to be in there, that could be done in weeks, and then depending on totally on how many products you have and in what state the data is in today, populating all your products can take anywhere from from one month up to half a year, depending, as I said, on how many products you have.
DB: Yeah. So I guess it's, you know, how many resources and how much time you have to devote to it and whether you want to, you know, rip the plaster off straight away or try and fit it in around other things, I suppose. Is there anything you would say maybe to a company who, I don't know, has maybe been sitting on their hands for a while and thought yeah, we would really benefit from a from a PIM system, and okay, it's time to get started. Like going into a project like this, are there any kind of tips or advice you would you would want to give them?
JT: Start off by contacting us!
JT: No, but really, but of course, all the things I mentioned before that you have to kind of analyze your your situation. What will you do with the system? What will you do with the data once it's in there? Is it for your own benefit or is will it be put out to different places. How complex is your data? Could it be managed in some other way or do you need a PIM system to do it? There are these questions that need to be asked before you just decide that we need a PIM system. And I think Zooma is a good partner to to have those discussions with.
DB: Yeah. But I guess if you recognize that you have a lot of challenges managing product information and keeping it updated and keeping everyone in the loop, then maybe that is a good reason to look into it at least.
JT: Yeah, absolutely.
DB: Great. Well, thank you very much, Jacob, for chatting with me today and shedding some light on this topic. Hopefully people don't think it's as scary as as they might have done in the beginning, but you can never know. All right. We'll see you next time.
JT: Thank you. Bye bye.