Volume 15 | Issue 4 | Year 2012

Recently, I met with the president of a large bearing manufacturer and his data manager. We discussed their process of working with large distributors, and how they support them with detailed product information. Unbeknownst to this manufacturer, my company just had a conversation with one of these distributors, who experienced trouble receiving and maintaining the manufacturer’s product data.
We were assured by the data manager that this wasn’t a problem, and that she had been providing complete catalog data and pricing files for years. However, she had no idea that the format and structure of the data didn’t match the distributor’s systems and needed to be manually adjusted. As a result, only 20 percent of the bearing manufacturer’s products were actually loaded, and 80 percent weren’t being represented at all.

I watched the blood drain from the data manager’s face as she realized her company had missed out on untold sales opportunities.

Unfortunately, this scenario happens every day with manufacturers and distributors in the industrial market. Thomas’ conversations with them illustrate some major obstacles to creating and sharing critical product data. Both manufacturer and distributor are hard-pressed to locate and centralize data, much less keep it up-to-date and digitized.

For manufacturers in particular, this situation not only delays market representation and sales growth, it reduces their efficiencies. For example:

  • Manufacturers unknowingly create extra work in the form of “customer service requests” because their end customers and distributors need additional product information.
  • Providing this information in a format that distributors can use is a big challenge. Each distributor has its own unique data and structure requirements (e.g., power transmission distributors prefer a .PPIF [product and price information format] file. Other distributors may require much more technical product detail in their own unique formats to fit their internal business systems).
  • Most distributors aren’t staffed to handle the work of converting manufacturers’ information into the format they need. Thus, much of the data never gets loaded and manufacturers’ products never get offered.
  • Many distributors receive requests for 2D/3D CAD models and drawings from engineers and sourcing professionals. Distributors who can’t provide them must contact a manufacturer, who in turn must assign an engineer to develop an individual drawing. This delays distributor response time by several hours, and it can even cost them a sale.

Manufacturers that centralize and easily share complete information on every product – including attributes (e.g., hp, rpms, torque), dimensions (e.g., length, width), pricing, part numbers, and CAD models and drawings – have the advantage. These companies are best positioned to improve sales revenues, streamline processes, and increase the efficiency of their channel partners.

Thomas Industrial Network offers manufacturers and distributors a solution.

To improve manufacturer-distributor partnerships, Thomas created a new Enterprise Solutions Group, which specifically addresses problems manufacturers have managing (and then sharing or syndicating) product information with channel partners.

The foundation is Thomas’ Navigator Platform, which houses each manufacturer’s master set of accurate, validated and current product data. Manufacturers can share this data, along with CAD models and drawings, throughout their own organizations and provide it to their distributors and other channel partners.

Thomas’ team of engineering experts work hand-in-hand with manufacturers to define and organize detailed product information and ensure the format meets the individual specs of each distributor. As a result, distributors can easily load the product data into all of their sales and support systems so that it is accessible everywhere: within their organizations, to their websites, and directly to their prospects and customers.

The most obvious advantage is increased sales from full product-line representation. But another huge benefit is the savings that result from increased efficiencies. Consider the value of time saved, and the improved process of extracting and sharing data.

Benefits of sharing 2D/3D CAD models and drawings are particularly noteworthy. Distributors and their customers don’t need to wait for a manufacturer to “drop everything” to provide drawings. Potential customers can easily download the models or drawings and insert them into their designs to ensure an exact fit, moving them one step closer to making a purchase.

The issues creating the “manufacturer-distributor disconnect” affect manufacturers and distributors in every industry, large and small. Here’s a good exercise – ask yourself these questions. If you’re a manufacturer:

  • Are you unaware of how much of your product data is actually loaded and represented by your distributors?
  • Are you tired of spending time and money to get your product data into your distributor’s hands only to find that a small percent of your products are being represented?
  • Is your product information incompatible with the distributor’s required format? (Do you even know what that format is?)
  • Are you frustrated that your distributor cannot find the correct product among your line to solve a customer’s need?
  • Do you feel like you are missing out on sales opportunities because of incomplete product representation by your distributors?

If you’re a distributor:

    • Are you frustrated that your manufacturer doesn’t provide product information in the structured data files you require for your systems?
    • Are you tired of having to re-format and manually edit your manufacturer’s data, whether it’s from an electronic file or – even worse – product spec sheets and catalogs?
    • Are you missing out on sales opportunities when customers come to you for products and you cannot find them because the manufacturer’s data was never delivered properly?
        If you answered yes to any of the questions above, it may be worth taking a closer look at your manufacturer-distributor relationship and the strategies you currently employ to share product information.

I’ll be happy to join you in a conversation, to share how Thomas Industrial Network helps manufacturers and distributors nationwide. Feel free to contact me at msprague@thomasnet.com.

Michael Sprague is director of e-business development, Enterprise Solutions, Thomas Industrial Network. Thomas Industrial Network is an information and technology company that connects manufacturing and industrial buyers and sellers.

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