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BDI: How Improving Product Data Improved Channel Partnerships

Manufacturers and distributors often think about data differently, leading to inconsistent data sharing.

In theory, getting information that will help sell a partner's products shouldn't be a challenge. But the reality is that often in distribution, manufacturer partners are thinking about the information in a different way, according to Bill Shepard, vice president of the Midwest region and marketing for bearing distributor BDI, Cleveland, OH. Because of that, they might not be aware that the information they're providing isn't what the distributor needs.

When BDI began building out its product database 12 years ago, "manufacturers would provide product data for use in a print catalog; it was more graphical based on how they wanted it to look in the catalog," Shepard says. It wasn't the type of information BDI needed, nor was it in a format that was easy to transfer into a database for use across new platforms and processes, such as its website and EDI.

And the next time the distributor asked for product updates, the format and data would be different, meaning BDI had to start from scratch once again to make the data usable.

"There was a lot of inconsistency, and that data wasn't as built out as we needed in order to do what we wanted to do," he says.

BDI contracted with Thomas Enterprise Solutions to help resolve the issue. (Hear from Michael Sprague, Thomas' director of e-business development, on the importance of product data in a recent MDM Executive Briefing.)

Along with improving product data quality, BDI improved the transactional data that flowed between BDI and the manufacturers – an essential piece to successful partnerships. "Transactional data is the connective tissue" to the relationship, Shepard says.  You can't have accurate records about what you're selling if those records are inconsistent. In some cases, something as simple as the UPC used for a certain product would vary each time new data was uploaded.

Bringing in an outside company "prevented us from having to be the data cop," Shepard says. And it improved the relationship between BDI and its manufacturers. "They were more in-tune with our needs as a distributor once they became aware of the problem," he says.

Click on the video below to hear Thomas' Sprague on how distributors can overcome the product data disconnect.

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