Product lifecycle management was born in a world where customers walked into a store to buy and being social meant inviting friends over. While retailing has evolved significantly since the 1980s, PLM has pretty much been stuck in the same groove.
Traditionally, PLM addressed certain elements of a product lifecycle, focusing on stakeholders within an enterprise and the roles they played in bringing products to market. This more narrow-casted view does not address today’s market dynamics.
We pose a new PLM model, which reflects and leverages the way customers act and think today, and the increasing globalization of commerce. This model expands to include integrated product information management, a critical but missing factor in PLM, especially for the emerging omni-channel commerce model.
Here are five ways in which retailers can bring PLM into the Web 3.0 world.
Omnichannel Applies to PLM
Omnichannel is the buzzword du jour. The multiplicity of channels demands that retailers have one place where they can manage product information, and then push that data out across all these channels. Integrated product information management is the solution, providing one version of the truth to customers so they can have a seamless experience with your company, regardless of the channel they are using to seek information. You can have a bricks and mortar, e-commerce and mobile system, but the product data – pricing, style options – a customer sees must be uniform. This can be achieved by new software technology that easily enables this centralized data repository and the means to distribute to all channels.
Expand Your Circle of Influence
Customer-facing information is one aspect of PLM Web. 3.0 but PLM now must also fully embrace the ideas and concerns of all stakeholders, many of whom are located around the globe. Suppliers are a key factor here and need to be drawn much farther into the circle to streamline the back and forth between them and product managers. The solution is one central collaboration place where all stakeholders – external suppliers and internal partners from sales, marketing, operations, etc. – can access and share critical information. To be competitive and get products to market faster, we need real-time consensus and course correction. Cloud-based, collaboration software technology can answer this need by providing stakeholders with a platform for searchable content that enables fast information sharing from beginning to end of the product lifecycle.
Engage Your Customers Upstream
A successful multichannel retail strategy lies in end-to-end execution of product management processes that are integrated with customer engagement processes. Customers want a voice in product design, functions, and usability and they feel this power through social media and reviews, where they are comfortable to either ding or praise your products. Going further and employing a full-scale PLM Web. 3.0 strategy enables you to integrate social media activities into other collaborative techniques such as focus groups, test marketing, and idea sharing much further upstream in the process. What good does it do if you’re posing a product to a customer when it is ready to ship? Through collaboration you can create Pinterest-style boards for customers to feed input to, bring in suppliers earlier on to share with them customer sentiment, and in the end, push products to the marketplace that are more in tune with customer needs and wants.
Product Selection Needs More Love
To our point of moving the collaboration process further upstream, product selection is one area in which e-tailers also need to step up their game. Product selection, whether driven by vendor displays or tradeshows, can be more fully integrated into PLM and with cloud computing and mobile apps, the tools to do so are easily at our fingertips. Take an average e-commerce operation in which some of your products are designed in-house while others are selected from what suppliers around the world have to offer. Typically you’ll send a few team members to a trade show or vendor displays, and they come back with their recommended choices. Through the cloud they can now upload pictures, videos, and product data, and within minutes your entire PLM team and select customers could be looking at this visual and data information in a shared environment. This enables much faster, collaborative decision making so you can respond more quickly to changes in marketplace trends. Before anyone writes a purchase order your company now has a leg up on the competition, with priceless feedback from your stakeholders. With the virtually endless buying choices consumers have today, the more attention you pay to product selection, the better your chances of offering merchandise the customer really wants.
It’s Not Just All About Shoes
It’s important to note that the concepts of PLM Web. 3.0 collaboration and moving stakeholder interaction upstream are just as valid for those engaged in B2B ecommerce. B2B decision making often can be a painfully slower sales cycle to close, and better feedback and interaction between suppliers and other stakeholders can be of great advantage to moving the sales process faster. Integrated product information management in B2B ecommerce is also a much-needed improvement. It’s pretty easy to find online different versions of the truth for one widget. E-commerce companies focusing on B2B sales and marketing can competitively differentiate themselves by incorporating collaborative technology and integrated product information into PLM.
As the online marketplace becomes even more competitive and diverse, product lifecycle management needs to evolve into a platform in which all stakeholders – including customers – have one go-to place for information and collaboration. The goal is to create central visibility into end-to-end product management processes from conception to post sales. This should support customer identification and engagement from the product development and merchandise selection phase through post launch sales, integrate with mobile and social platforms as well as enable smart decision making by integrating web analytics, social media analytics, and customer data in your product management cycle.
Your internal and external stakeholders, whether you’re selling shoes, fashion, dinnerware, or smartphones, all need to be engaged further upstream so you can mitigate the risks of manufacturing errors, develop products that more clearly addresses customer desires, and get these products to market faster than the competition.
PLM Web 3.0 answers the complexity of the marketplace today and embraces it by recognizing e-commerce is global, but the individual voice is more powerful than ever.
Edited by Blaise McNamee