Product Experience Management Requires Next-Gen Digital Technology
Having just completed the 2023 Ventana Research Value Index for Product Experience Management, I want to share some of my observations about how the market has advanced over the last two years. The product information management software market is quite mature and products from any of the vendors we assess could be used to effectively deliver information to help your organization improve its operations. But as we established the definition of product experience management (PXM), the requirements for experiences to external parties—from consumers to customers and from partners to suppliers—places new requirements on vendors to meet an expanded set of requirements for organizations and expectations.
In most organizations, product information is spread across websites, applications, digital asset management systems, databases, spreadsheets and other systems, each of which can have its own approach to presenting the information, resulting in disparate product experiences. A related issue is the difficulty of exchanging, integrating and synchronizing product information across the diverse systems and services used directly by buyers, customers and business partners, typically outside of enterprise systems, and in cloud computing environments such as digital commerce, marketplaces and CRM systems. Slow and incomplete integration processes prevent organizations from easily gaining a single view of products for controlling and updating the information to enable a product experience that is consistent for employees, partners and customers.
Every organization should start by assessing all short- and long-term efforts related to the product experience and any approaches already in place. No matter where an organization manages product information—whether from a dedicated approach such as an ERP or CRM system, or worse, from a tangle of spreadsheets—it must continuously improve the product experience.
Furthermore, organizations that have not yet moved PXM to the cloud must make this an immediate priority. It is more difficult to readily access product information when it is managed on-premises, and this approach does not provide an acceptable level of resiliency for business continuity. It is essential to go beyond conventional wisdom. Applications in the cloud are basic steps in digital transformation, but that does not mean everything will be just fine. We have all witnessed the peril of this mindset. Many current approaches lack agility and require continuous improvements in processes and technology.
Organizations should cultivate product information that encourages buyer and customer engagement, whether in the physical world or through digital systems like commerce and websites that present products, services and subscriptions, to bolster more interactive experiences. This requires more intelligent, streamlined and automated product information processes so responsible parties can focus on areas that need immediate improvement, be it velocity and volume of interest and sales, or outdated product information. The product information should include the price and promotional aspects that determine if the items will be purchased or subscribed to in any process or system.
An organization’s investment in its products will always determine its success, and success is impossible without high-quality, seamless digital experiences. In fact, Ventana Research asserts that by 2025, one-half of organizations will realize digital experiences that are not intelligent or automated fail to meet the readiness requirements of organizations.
Product success is about more than just merchandising and maintaining product information on a digital shelf, increasing levels of productivity, and sustaining those efforts in the best and worst of times, under pressure and over time. It is about increasing effectiveness in digital engagement and bringing new value to the process itself. Applications should do more than just enhance productivity in managing product information and provide insights into usage such as new product introduction (NPI) and end of life (EOL).
The product experience unifies an organization’s efforts to not just maintain continuity but bring new value to digital merchandising and marketing efforts, helping exceed buyers and customers’ expectations. Optimizing the product experience is more than just a nicety. It is essential for every organization that looks to make the most of buyer and customer engagement and relationships. This effort is especially important when depending on digital commerce to sell products and services. Without an optimized product experience, an organization will not be able to elevate the customer experience.
Many organizations have managed product information across an array of business applications, but few of these applications support a dedicated focus on optimizing the product experience across a range of business processes. The information for a quality product experience requires the right technology, which we currently do not find in the traditional ERP or CRM applications, or even in legacy PIM approaches or technologies designed for MDM. It is important that an organization make investments into supporting PXM that use an automated and intelligent approach to optimize priorities and resources, simplifying the execution of product-related tasks and activities to improve outcomes. The current movement in PXM technology can help enhance the digital and virtual elements of products and use a common platform that can author and support endeavors to optimize interactions with customers and buyers.
Using the right technology creates opportunities for breakthrough growth that far exceed mere productivity improvements. Sustainable growth through effective product information is only possible when the organization is deliberate about the technology it uses to work collaboratively with customers, partners and suppliers. Organizations with a unified approach will find it easier to achieve organizational agility when blending digital communication and work platforms that can help increase the velocity of engaging in and executing product-related work.
Organizations also should prioritize investments that enable more effective digital merchandising and price management. They need a view of not just one product but the digital shelf and should be able to virtualize products from packaging to specifications for buyers and customers. Simply posting an image and description was possible a decade ago, but that lacks an actual product experience. In cases where the product is equipment, extended reality (XR) technology can virtualize and augment the product experience, significantly enhancing buyer and customer engagement and often answering their questions without losing valuable time on a phone call or chat with a customer service agent. Embracing methods that use mobile devices to virtualize products in context, whether in a facility or a living room, can further enhance the product experience, thus increasing likelihood of a purchase.
Organizations can better determine sentiment about the product experience by collecting feedback from customers and related parties at the time of purchase or when the product is used. If an organization is unable to capture and monitor interactions and online feedback from all relevant parties then it is probably missing the insights required to effectively improve the product experience. Continuous feedback can help increase productivity and, more importantly, the effectiveness of the organization. Additionally, sharing feedback digitally through product reviews can establish confidence with buyers and customers. Organizations should seek to establish or expand a Voice of the Product (VoP) program with a set of processes and technology that uses customer feedback and sentiment along with analytics and machine learning (ML) to gain insights.
Organizations must not neglect digital investments in the product experience, especially if that experience has not previously been a focal point of executive leadership or a team involved with product processes, whether marketing, selling or servicing. A superior product experience demands technology that supports processes to improve productivity and the overall digital effectiveness of product information. Leadership that invests in managing products, including services and subscriptions, can have a profound impact on buyer and customer engagement and an organization’s ability to reach expected revenue and financial performance.
Continuous improvement is a shared responsibility across business and IT leadership, and impossible to do without PXM designed to optimize the product experience. Antiquated methods such as spreadsheets, databases and other tools or methods inside of ERP, CRM or digital commerce are not always designed for a modern digital product experience. And old approaches can decrease productivity, diminish accountability and increase risk. It is critical that organizations, especially in times of duress, use business continuity as a driver to improve planning for—and the intelligent use of—PXM and related communications and work, and thus should examine their investments in technologies.
The use of digital technologies to reinvent the product experience from the outside in and from the inside out requires the right lens that supports business continuity rather than distracts from it. Organizations should optimize underlying product processes and technology not just for internal use, but for buyers and customers, suppliers and partners as well. This can have an immediate impact on top- and bottom-line results and reflects the priority an organization places on product experience. Organizations should ensure that existing and future PXM technology investments are designed for effective engagement and a fantastic product experience, not just for automation and efficiency. Organizations need only to look at how they manage prices and the related promotions for revenue management as an example. The product experience is much more than just the physical usage of a product, the digital usage of a subscription or the user experience (UX) of software. An organization with an effective approach to digitally secure and open communications, along with the right tools for PXM and leadership committed to delivering an optimal product experience, is built to last.
Ventana Research believes a methodical approach is essential to maximize competitiveness. To improve the performance of your organization’s people, process, information and technology components, it is critical to select the right vendor and product. Our research analysis placed fewer than 1 in 7 organizations (15%) at the highest Innovative level of performance in their use of PXM. However, a caution is appropriate here—technology updates alone are not enough to improve the use of PXM in an organization. Doing so requires applying a balanced set of upgrades that include efforts to improve processes and information as well. The research finds that such improvements are not only necessary but desired, as fewer than one-third (32%) of organizations are satisfied with their PXM processes and even less are satisfied (15%) with underlying PIM efforts.
The goal of PXM is to establish a reliable single source of product information that can be shared across channels. Getting it right is not easy; almost one-half (46%) of organizations have more than five sources of product information that they must integrate and manage efficiently. More than one-half (59%) of the organizations participating in our Benchmark Research acknowledged that standardizing product information requires significant or substantial effort, and less than one-quarter (22%) said they completely trust their product information.
In their efforts to produce a reliable product record, most organizations use laborious, time-consuming methods: 23% develop custom code and 27% rely on manual effort. Almost one-half (48%) of all organizations still depend heavily on spreadsheets and a little less (41%) use them moderately to create their product records. And nearly all spreadsheet users (94%) find major or minor errors in their records.
Processes and tools are available that can automate much of this work. If properly deployed, PXM systems can synchronize all attributes and definitions used in the identification, description, sales and fulfillment of products across all channels that customers, suppliers, trading partners and workers use.
Organizations must effectively manage and improve product information outside their channels and systems to ensure accuracy and consistency across the entire enterprise’s efforts. This approach enables organizations to better align their products to their specific activities and processes, but it requires applications that allow an organization to manage product information to an effective digital experience. The benefits of using dedicated PXM technology can be significant. More than one-half (55%) of organizations said it can help eliminate data errors, gain a competitive advantage and improve the customer experience through consistent product information. And if addressed effectively, the improvement can ensure an organization can achieve satisfaction in product experiences as only one-third (32%) do today.
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Partner, Head of Software Research
Mark Smith is the CEO and Chief Research Officer of Ventana Research and leads the firm’s global market agenda for business and technology as a subject matter expert in digital business and enterprise software. Mark is a digital technology enthusiast using market research and insights to educate and inspire technology buyers and suppliers.