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7 Reasons Why Spreadsheets Don’t Work for Product Information Management (PIM)

It’s a manufacturing marketing experience that is all too common, new products are launching or being updated and there’s back and forth as things like product size, weight, shape, case count, etc is worked out and cataloged in the on boarding process. Somewhere along the way the wrong information is accidentally entered into a spreadsheet and is sent to the retailer the team has been trying to land for months, a new key account for the year. With all the back and forth communications around fixing and updating the errors that slipped out, brand trust is lost, a key date is missed, and now the team is a quarter or even a year behind selling into market because the buy-in window was missed. 

Whenever there is a mass of information to track and sort, businesses often take to spreadsheets to try to corral all the details needed to manage an ever expanding product line. But, for product information management (PIM), spreadsheets just aren’t up to the task, especially as consumer demand for new, updated, or broader product categories becomes the norm. Since manufacturing companies are working with hundreds or thousands of products and need to smoothly onboard regular product updates, managing it all in spreadsheets becomes someone’s full-time job and every update is slow and error-prone. 

This outdated process means products are slow in getting to market and the risks of bad customer or retailer experiences from incorrect or inconsistent information out in the market is never ending. We’ve listed some of the reasons why spreadsheets just don’t work as a product information management system, what examples to look out for, the risks involved, and how a PIM can help. 

The Top 7 Reasons Why Spreadsheets Don’t Work As A PIM

Data Entry Errors

Challenge:  When working within the restrictions of a spreadsheet, not only are your teams restricted by the slowness of manual data entry, but they face increased chances of product information errors. This is an even more challenging situation for manufacturing marketing teams who are struggling to manage thousands of products in what becomes an ever unwieldy document with tabs on tabs where scrolling for miles is the only way to track the product number you need. 

Example:  Someone updating spreadsheet cells accidentally enters product information data into the wrong cells, whether by accidentally scrolling and misaligning rows, or from copy and pasting into the wrong location. This becomes even easier to mess up when multiple product items are closely similar, say for example there are five different types of drills, with only one small detail differentiating between them. It’s also very common for information to mistakenly be deleted in other cells when moving larger amounts of data around in spreadsheets.

Risk:  Manual data entry not only presents a significant bottleneck for business operations it also provides an increased risk of product information error opportunities. When the wrong data is loaded and shared during setup, it leads to data accuracy confusion, business disruption, and lack of trust with important customers and retailers.

With A PIM:  With a PIM platform, updates or additions to your product information database are made once and propagated everywhere they need to go. A PIM tool reduces update time, user errors, and confusion. With fewer files to update and correct, there’s less busy work and more time to sell your products. 

Duplicate Documentation

Challenge:  Without a PIM to manage and share product information as the single source of truth, whenever a new customer or retailer needs product data, a separate and customized spreadsheet needs to be created and shared. This results in your company ending up with an ever growing collection of spreadsheets to manage in a mass of folders. This document duplication slows down the time to delivery, creates dangerous opportunities for sharing of wrong information, and makes it difficult to impossible to make timely product data updates across your company. 

Example:  Your team is working to update the product information for all customers on a new product line extension. However each customer/retailer has a unique spreadsheet that lists the specific products they carry and the updates need to be made for every single customer in each spreadsheet document. Time is tight, the updating is slow, and your team is rushing. In the scramble to finish, a few spreadsheets don’t get updated and are accidentally shared with your customer. 

Risk: Duplicate documentation presents a high likelihood of slowed down and duplicate work. It also becomes a challenge when updates to product information need to be made, which in a growing market is a continual body of work. Whenever there are duplicates of the same data, it will always open your business up to a high risk of that information being shared externally to customers and retailers. These costly errors lead to decreased brand trust, damage to customer relationships, or missed sales. 

With A PIM:  A PIM database makes updating and adding to your growing product library easy and quick. Whenever information updates are made in the PIM, those same updates ripple out to any unique collection generated for any of your customers. This quick update feature and single source of truth ability prevents errors, ensures that they have the correct data for what they need, and helps accelerate sales.

Employee Continuity and Information Siloing 

Challenges:  Whenever a team member is out of office or there is employee transition or turnover, loss of key information can easily occur. Without this employee in place there is an inability to access product information whenever product data is needed. This results in an increased amount of coordination and communication that slows down business operations and duplicates the risk for errors which can mean lost sales and a damaged customer or retailer partnership. 

Example:  Your team relies on one employee that has been with you since the beginning and serves as “agency of record” within spreadsheets for all product history and new product information. They’ve been with you forever, but suddenly take a new job opportunity and now the rest of the team is scrambling to source essential data in spreadsheets that are saved all over the place or missing entirely. Work has slows down significantly because every single datapoint needs to be sourced and verified and business opportunities slide due to a lack of results in a competitive market.

Risk:  This scenario opens your business up to significant risks. It results in lost time to recoup the missing product information and data needed to operate business and means a slowdown of getting your products to market. Frequently there’s a chunk of product history that can never be recovered because now there is no one else employed who remembers or knows what happened and why. This unfortunate risk goes on for years since you’ve lost the entire archive of knowledge and information.

With A PIM:  When you stop using a person working in spreadsheets in place of a PIM, it creates a product information continuity and protects your brand from this loss of information. Transition-proof your business with a PIM database that not only keeps a clear record of your products and information and helps you archive your history so you can always go back and see where you’ve been.

When your product information is centralized instead of siloed within a person, it makes it easier for the rest of the team to source the PIM data they need whenever they need it. This empowers each employee to deliver faster and increase their time to market. 

Version Control & Product Information History

Challenges:  Manufacturing teams are continually expanding product lines. With the launch of these new items, you need a way to archive the old PIM data so that a record is kept of what the previous version was, without risking having the old information shared as the current information. Spreadsheets are okay for tracking numbers, but they lack any archiving abilities or features to truly protect the history of your product information so that it’s accessible when needed, but not sourced by the wrong teams or partners. 

Example:  A new product is coming out and replacing last year’s model and you’re working to update the spreadsheet that contains all of the product data and information for this item. Only, you thought you were finished and accidentally left some of the old model’s information in the spreadsheet. This mistakenly is shared with your customer who is then frustrated to discover what they thought they were purchasing is not correct and they don’t have what they need. 

Risk: Without a way to clearly archive and save your historical product information your company is left open to the wrong or outdated information getting into the wrong hands. This leads to costly product returns and a loss of consumer brand trust and loyalty. 

With A PIM:  When your team works with a PIM, you control what product version is current and shareable, and what is archived. This ensures that what gets distributed is the correct set of PIM data, but that your team always has access to the historical product information any time it’s needed. Protect your brand’s product information history, and ensure the correct materials are delivered to your customer every time. 

Product Information Security

Challenges:  When you’re restricted to managing an ever growing volume of product information within spreadsheets, it opens your business up to significant security risks. Spreadsheets do offer a read-only version of the document, but when this is the primary source for product information management, that isn’t enough or the right level of security for the complex needs of a manufacturing brand. 

Example:  Manufacturing companies are juggling massive databases of information without any way for them to moderate or truly control where this information is going or who is seeing it. 

Risk:  The risk here is significant. When you’re dealing with pricing, or sensitive and key information, if it falls into the wrong hands it can have serious impacts and lead to a decrease in sales and damaged sales relationships for years to come. 

With A PIM:  When working within a PIM, sharing information is easy, fast, and customizable for every team or customer. A PIM database gives your brand the control you need to make it easy for external teams to access customized product collections and allows internal teams to edit at the right level for their position/department. 

No Product Context

Challenges:  Spreadsheets make it impossible to see the complete picture of how essential data points relate or connect to each other. What does another data point or number even matter when it’s one of a sea of thousands? Your team can’t easily make the key connections needed and the context within the data becomes less valuable or lost. Spreadsheets are one of the most common attempts at a solution to manage product information, but they also come with the most risks and numerous challenges for your business. 

Example:  When you’re working with the volume of thousands of products for a manufacturing company, you often need to scroll through miles of cells to get to the next product that you need to compare it against. This makes it almost impossible to find comparisons and key learnings from the product data in a spreadsheet. 

Risk:  When your team misses making these key data conclusions or insights, it leads to missed opportunities and decreased sales. 

With A PIM:  Product information is visible in an intuitive way allowing for key conclusions and optimizations to be easily made. Understand the performance for every piece of content, make quick improvements and optimizations. 

Spreadsheets Aren’t Built For Product Assets 

Challenges:  Spreadsheets work if you’re managing numbers, but that is limiting when you’re tracking and cataloging all of the varied content for a growing product line. Without a good way to manage longer form copy and no way to add or manage digital assets, you’re left linking to other folders and files which becomes a maze of confusion. 

Example:  You’re in a massive spreadsheet looking for the correct materials, but since you can’t load an asset into a spreadsheet, you’re left loading a link to another file of assets. This is tedious work of creating links and loading them into your spreadsheet, made worse when you find out that some of the links break and some were pasted incorrectly so now the wrong assets are attached to the wrong item. 

Risk:  Trying to use a spreadsheet as a PIM results in a slow down or duplication of work, and the wrong assets being shared or attached to a product. It leaves you with no way to manage or connect key assets and results in an increased risk for the wrong materials being shared with the wrong product information. 

With A PIM:  With a PIM in place, you can easily customize and manage your complete product information library in all of the forms your data is in, whether it’s copy, key numbers/metrics, or material assets. 

Ultimately, spreadsheets are useful tools, but they’re not built for the varied and complex needs of product and information management that manufacturing companies require. They open your business up to significant risks and can’t offer the benefits that a PIM that is custom built to manage and deliver the information and materials you need can. The right PIM helps to centralize your product information,which accelerates delivery of your brand’s products. 

Deliver Marketing Everywhere:  More Than Just a PIM

A PIM offers an essential solution for manufacturing marketing teams by offering a single source of truth that organizes and centralizes the ever growing volume of product information and helps businesses accelerate their time to market. It makes sharing your product and brand materials easier, improves your customer experience, and helps accelerate sales. But, product information management is just one small part of a greater whole, and just having a PIM alone won’t get your business everywhere you want to go. 

Here at Image Relay, we’ve seen and experienced the challenges facing marketing teams at manufacturers and built a single unified platform that truly changes how you go to market. We combined the best of product information management, digital asset management (DAM), and creative operation tools all into one holistic and easy-to-use solution. 

We call it Marketing Delivery. And it helps get your marketing to market faster than ever before. Instead of tackling an individual challenge, we built Marketing Delivery as a comprehensive solution to address the lifecycle of how you deliver your brand. 

Learn about Marketing Delivery Here