Product catalog analysis and curation is essential to your business

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By Keith Anderson

Do you make or sell more than one thing? Who in your company devises new products, and does that person or team also have the responsibility for discontinuing old items? How long has it been since you looked through the entire list of anything that a customer could purchase from you? Strong companies have a process for reviewing their product (or service) offerings, in order to re-focus both engineering and sales teams toward more essential, high-performing products.

Product curation is one of the most important (and often neglected) tasks any manufacturing or retail management team performs.

The way you think about your products, how you organize them on paper or digitally, what information you provide customers and/or potential customers — as well as what their relative value is to your organization — directly impacts how you sell, what you sell, and your company’s bottom line.

Unfortunately many companies don’t perform annual product, or even just product-data audits. Most companies are so busy keeping up with fulfilling orders, innovating and iterating on new products, that any self-analysis and prudent editing of their offerings falls by the wayside. If you are not curating your products and the data describing them, you may be selling the wrong products, increasing inefficiencies, and possibly confusing your sales team.

Every time an organization undertakes a project that touches product data (a new website, an annual catalog print, the implementation of a new ERP module) is a golden opportunity to clean up and reorganize the associated data. With the focus on the new project or implementation, many companies can miss this opportunity; the groups involved may assume it is not their place to curate and organize the data, but rather follow a mandate simply to “make the data work.”

If you are going through a rigorous process of implementing a system (say a website) and are spending a good portion of time “making the data fit,” that means that you either do not understand how the product data is truly organized, or that the product data is confusing and probably error-ridden. If your data appears that way to you, how can any of your customers get clarity and take action on what you are offering to them?

How does an organization effectively re-focus their product data and overall offerings?

1. Determine what products are customers buying.

2. Narrow the list of products to the top 10%.

3. Identify what products you want customers to buy. Is this based on margin, or certain products that encourage the upsell of services or other products?

4. Is there a disconnect between the products customers are buying, and the ones you want them to buy?

5. Rearrange the final product list to include the top 10%, and the list of what you want customers to buy.

6. If a product did not appear in the top 10% but it is on your “must sell” list, identify which products it is most related to in the top 10%. If there is no correlation, there is a disconnect between product development, marketing and sales, and those orphaned products must be re-evaluated from the ground up.

7. Organize the data on the final product list. What product attributes are most important to customers? How do products relate to other products? Chances are good that some of this information is missing or out of date. Standardize the information (product attributes) across product groupings.

8. Understand what products are the most unique in your final list. Are there products that are almost a carbon copy of the same product? Could you eliminate or deprecate those nearly duplicate products?

9.  If you cannot bring yourself to remove the 90% of products that did not make through these nine steps, what is the justification for keeping them? Arguments like “we are known for those products” are invalid, if no one is buying.

I know 10% sounds extreme, but the larger the product catalog, the smaller the final percentage you should aim to represent. If it makes your product and marketing groups more comfortable, start with a higher percentage, and then narrow the percentage at a later opportunity.

Conversations about your product offerings are key opportunities in growing or re-aligning your business for growth. Make the most of these opportunities by using your product data as the spark to organize and move those conversations to produce solid and actionable results.