Product Catalog Maintenance
Product Catalog, in its simplest definition, is a listing of sellable products and services, and how they are configured and sold. A robust product catalog is absolutely crucial to a multi-channel, service-provider company's success, as it is one of the foundational blocks to building an efficient Quote to Cash system, and is particularly important within the CPQ environment.
A product catalog can look very different depending on the lens being used.
To a customer, a product catalog may be what is viewed on a website or in a brochure.
The products and services offered often are presented with a tremendous amount of style - nice photos of smiling people, flowery language to entice a purchase, and lots of associated marketing material to seduce customers into a quicker or larger purchase.
To a company's sales reps, a product catalog will have around bundling, discounting, and approvals baked in, as well as opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell their prospective customer.
To the company's service providers, the product catalog is a menu of products to provision or services to perform. Therefore, the product catalog needs to feed the company's delivery and fulfillment engine efficiently with a clean hand-off from how the item is sold and how it is delivered.
Finally, from a financial perspective, the product catalog is the primary ingredient to details understanding cost of goods and services sold and, ultimately, profitability. This is why there needs to be full financial tracking as the product or service purchase is pushed from order to fulfillment.
Product Catalog MaintenanceWhy is a robust Product Catalog so important to service providers?
Multiple Business Lines
Long Billing Relationships
Multiple Charge Types
Complex Selling Processes
Complex Instance Processes
Complex Tax Rules
Billing Product Catalog Database
The product catalog, within the Billing and Collections Engine, documents the various products, pricing, discounting, and promotions that are needed to support the business.
The billing product catalog should demonstrate the billing view as it relates to product monetization strategies for a company. The billing product catalog typically works in coordination with ‘selling’ and ‘provisioning’ product catalogs to ensure products and services are sold properly, activated correctly, and billed accordingly. Coordination of these catalogs is a complex effort, but it is a cornerstone to a successful monetization architecture.
Customer-Facing Selling Catalog - the selling product catalog(s) usually found in mature CRM systems, CPQ systems, ordering systems, partner selling platforms, and e-Commerce.
Billing & Rating Catalog - the billing and rating product catalog(s) that encompass usage, recurring, and non-recurring charges, invoice/statement presentation, AR/GL requirements, and taxation.
Provisioning & Fulfillment Catalog - The product from the point of view of the provisioning, activation, and fulfillment systems required to manage a network service or fulfill a shipped product.
Information needs to be captured at order time to be delivered to the billing system(s). Typically requires integration of the selling & billing product catalogs.
This section represents information required to be in sync between the billing system and network systems to ensure usage is accounted for properly and associated with the appropriate customer account.
This section represents information about the product, service, or bundle that must be captured at order time in order to activate, modify or fulfill a product or service.
Orchestration - BI View
All products/services billed at what they were quoted / ordered. All active services being billed appropriately. All usage has an identified owner. Credit adjustments are minimized. Trouble tickets are minimized.
Product Catalog Key Considerations
How is the product sold?
How will it look for Finance?
How is the product billed?
How will it appear to Customer Care agents?
How will it look on an Invoice or Statement?
How will it be for the Administrators?
Product Catalog Basic Steps
Identify key metrics that will objectively determine if your product catalog & transaction architecture is processing appropriately. Key indicators include:
- Flow through & Fallout Percentage
- Pricing errors at Quote, Order time
- Credit percentage by volume & dollar amount
- Trouble Ticket percentage by volume & dollar amount
- Average Handle Time for quote/order scenarios
Identify strategies for ensuring all transaction source systems are in sync with each other. Ensure active monitoring to ensure all systems are reconciled and any inconsistencies are rooted out immediately:
- Flow through percentage/Fallout percentage
- Pricing errors at Quote/Order time
Product Catalog Components
Product creation is adding a new tangible product to the product catalogs. Typically, a new product will have a unique identifier and include some or all of the following: standard pricing, promotional pricing, cost of goods, freight cost, category, subcategory, dimensions, weight, color, size, and other product parameters.
New product creation is most often done in the Billing & Rating catalog and should be the single source of truth that ties to the Customer-Facing Selling Catalog and the Provisioning & Fulfillment Catalog. The billing product catalog database is tied to the other systems’ product databases to tie images and written content, as well as inventory and channel availability.
The ability to create new products in the Billing & Rating catalog should be restricted to as few individuals within a company as possible because of the inherent risks that are present.
Much like products creation, new services creation should live in the Billing & Rating catalog with supporting data residing in the other systems’ databases.
Services can be built using flat-rate or unit pricing, and can either be a one-time charge such as a connection fee, or a recurring source of revenue as with cellular service. A consistently communicated message, both with the sales team and the customer, must make the distinction whether the service being provided is a single charge, or a service being given at a unit rate (hourly labor charge, mileage, or GBs of data, for instance).
Product phasing refers to the transition from one offer to another by a customer. For example, a company may provide a 30-day trial of their product and, at the end of the period, automatically upgrade the customer into their base pricing plan unless the customer specifically declines.
Product phasing is common in B2B service organizations as a means to put a product or service into the hands of potential customers using free or discounted introductory offers. The method employed by companies to transition users into new or full versions of their offerings can have a marked effect on customer satisfaction and brand perception if the transition is handled in a transparent manner.
Conversion metrics and customer satisfaction indices are important indicators that should be closely monitored with product phasing.
Associating a price to a product or service is more than just a gross margin calculation. Standalone products and services have a base price but also often have tiered pricing based on methods of payment, terms and conditions, and a multitude of other potential parameters. Generally speaking, mature product catalog systems can use the data input during the quoting process to apply previously defined business rules to determine the net pricing.
Products and services pricing in large service-provider organization can be run through a decision framework consisting of dozens of potential factors to determine perceived worth.
A product or service’s parameters are its conditions or selling rules spelled out in a database. These parameters define the product or service, give it distinction from those other available products and services, and lays the foundation for the business rules engine.
Parameters may define where geographically a product is available to sell, which other products and services it may be combined with, associated products and service available for cross-sell, and where in the up-sell hierarchy it lives.
Parameters are also key to business reporting, as selling performance is looked at from both a bottom-up and a top-down perspective. Parameters provide the granularity to allow for actionable reporting.
Up-Sell, Cross-Sell & Expansion
These sales processes are the central methods for increasing average revenue per user, an essential growth metric for most businesses using a recurring revenue business model. These businesses also focus heavily on annual contract value.
Up-selling is the process of selling more of a particular service. For example, moving from 6 MB internet speed for $25 per month to 18 MB for $45 per month is a typical up-sell.
Cross-selling is when a customer purchases a separate product or service in addition to what they had originally anticipated buying. For example, if the customer originally intended to buy internet service, but the sales representative convinced them to purchase phone and cable services too, the sales representative successfully performed cross-selling.
Expansion is the process of broadening the selling engagement with the customer to additional locations, business units, or channels. This process is not independent of up-selling and cross-selling, but it refers to specifically growing the size and buying power of the customer. For example, if a sales representative is selling software to the accounting group at John Deere in Missoula, MT, and they expand the sale to include the sales team plus two other locations, they have achieved expansion. A good CPQ application assists this process by allowing many child accounts, groups, and locations to be quoted at once.
The combination of up-selling and cross-selling is the primary method of driving more revenue within an existing customer base. Another common phrase is wallet share. Many service providers have a goal of increasing the wallet share from their customer base, which is often done through up-selling, cross-selling, or both. The concept of bundling or packaging is a method for accelerating an up-sell, cross-sell, or both.
The Product Catalog Problem
The product catalog is a simple concept – it is a list of a company’s products and pricing. However, the waters muddy quickly as companies grow and product data starts innocently scattering throughout a myriad of applications and databases.
Catalog Sync is an important part of enterprise data integrity, and paramount to maintaining a single source of truth in the Billing and Collection Product Catalog. How an enterprise syncs their catalog databases depends on whether the databases are cloud-based or on-premise.
If a company is syncing product catalogs (Billing & Rating, Customer-Facing Selling, and Provisioning & Fulfillment Catalogs) that are on-premise or on a physical machine the company owns at another location, generally log syncing is the choice. Having the access to the database logs are obviously a prerequisite.
The other type of catalog syncing that is commonly used is via a scheduled or triggered API. This is required when some or all of the data lives in the cloud. How often catalogs need to be synced is an internal business decision, but data critical to day-to-day business needs to be as real-time as possible.
Product bundling occurs when one or more product or service is offered together at a rate lower than they would be available separately. The ability to seamlessly bundle is important to an organization for a number reasons, including increased wallet-share, a means to introduce new products and services with established ones, an ability to tell a savings story in its marketing collateral, and a way to differentiate the organization’s offerings from its competitors.
Bundling occurs in a number of different ways.
Sometimes a company will simply put together several products or services and discount the total price; other times, a free product may be allotted with the purchase of another product or service. Often tiered bundles are available in which a customer can get expanding value based on their initial spend. For instance, if they purchase the Silver Plan, they receive three months of HBO free; if they opt for the Gold Plan, they receive both HBO and Showtime free for three months.
Business rules are decision-based true/false statements that constrain or define some aspect of a business. They are utilized to assert business structure or assert control or influence on the behaviors of a business.
In the context of a product catalog, business rules use parameters to define who, what, where, when, and how products and services are offered. Business rules may determine pricing, availability, up-sell/cross-sell, qualification, and a myriad of other decisions. Automated business rules engines are crucial to narrowing the time gap between quoting and ordering.
Business rules should be well-thought out and carefully ordered to optimize the entire Quote-to-Cash spectrum.
Scripting allows an organization to add customized actions on top of their parameters and business rules, outside of the normal features offered by a billing solution. Since not all billing vendors offer scripting, this can be a tipping point for many companies searching for a new billing system.
An example of the benefit scripting offers would be the ability of a service provider to offer different products, services, and pricing across different selling channels or geographic regions. Essentially, with scripting, if it can be dreamed – and you have the supporting decisionable data – it can be done.
Menu placement refers to the categorization and visibility of products and services. Again, using the business rules engine and parameters, the product catalog can include a product or service with other similarly grouped products and services, require certain qualifications for an item to be available, or only show certain items based on the results of triggered business rules.
Discounts are another business-rule driven sub-domain of the Product Catalog. An individual or group of products and/or services can be set to different tiered discounts based on the output of a business rules engine. Discounting may also be driven by actions taken by a potential customer (“Click here to save 10%”), inaction by a potential customer, and a host of other triggers.
The takeaway is that the discount rates/amounts are present in the product database and driven by the rules engine and the product or service parameters. Discounting can be a head-spinning activity as different layers of qualification, bundling, and stacking present a web of decisions within the business rules application.
People, Process, and Technology of Product Catalog Maintenance
Product Catalog Maintenance is a pretty exclusive domain as far as the number of organizational units that interact with it regularly, and rightly so as many security concerns are presented when it comes to a company's product and services. Cost, price, discounting - all are part of the product catalog, and access is necessarily controlled.
Obviously, the Product team calls this area home, and they are responsible for most of the tasks discussed in the above sub-domain paragraphs. Additionally, the Finance-Billing, Operations, and I.T. organizations contribute processes to the Product Catalog Maintenance domain.
FINANCE - billing
ATG maintains a set of 99 key business processes to support the management of Customers and Revenue for Service Providers. Twenty-one of these processes originate, or are impacted by the Product Catalog function. Below are the key processes that are touched in Product Catalog, categorized by the Organizational Unit that owns the process:
Bundled Product Introduction Process
Configuring and introduction of a bundled product or service to the product catalog and supporting systems. Includes definition of product/bundle attributes, pricing rules (usage, recurring, non-recurring), discounts rules, product/service lifecycle, revenue recognition, and reporting attributes.
Management of active products and services within a customer account.
New Pricing Introduction - Existing Construct
This process is for creation of a new pricing rate for an existing construct. For example, creation of a $24.95/mo. plan for a geography that previously had been at $27.95/mo.
New Pricing Introduction - New Construct
This process is for creation of a new pricing construct for an existing product or service. For example, creation of a monthly subscription where previously there had only been annual.
New Product Introduction Process
Introduction of a new product or service to the Product Catalog and supporting quoting, ordering, contracting, provisioning, ticketing, invoicing, payment, usage, and revenue recognition systems. Includes definition of product attributes, pricing rules(usage, recurring, non-recurring), discounts rules, product/service lifecycle, revenue recognition, reporting attributes, and bundling concepts.
New Product Introduction Process - Mobile
Configure attributes and introduce new products and services, with specific focus on making the product available on mobile devices.
Promotion & Discount Introduction
The configuration of standard, pre-defined promotions and discounts of products or services.
Configuration and management of trial products that do not bill at all during an agreed-upon time frame, or under a certain set of use restrictions. Includes processes for provisioning and reporting.
Inventory Management - Logical
The process a company uses to manage the consumption of non-physical asset inventory levels including inventory creation and deletion.
Inventory Management - Physical
The process a company uses to manage the consumption and replenishment of tangible inventory levels.
Quote - Product / Service Approval
Configuration of required approvals for products, services, discounts, and pricing configurations prior to the sale.
Service Provisioning / Activation
The process of activating or de-activating a service or product for a particular customer.
Cross-Training of Monetization Ecosystem Components
Process for training organizational resources
Data Stewardship Across Monetization Ecosystem
Process of assigning ownership and sources of truth for data within the organization.
Maintenance & Oversight of Monetization Ecosystem
Process around assuring that all touchpoints and connections in the ecosystem are optimized and working to their full potential.
Monitoring & Testing of Vendor Functional Releases
As ecosystem components release updates and patches, each is checked and tested to confirm all systems are working together as required by the business' requirements.
Security Oversight of Monetization Ecosystem
Process for maintaining and controlling access and permission to ecosystem components.
Vendor Management of the Monetization Ecosystem
Management of ecosystem component vendors including proactive communication of changes and general relationship nurturing.
Bill Run Operations
Tasks and functions associated with initiating and maintaining the billing process, including bill cycle management, usage file management, payment batches, credit card rejects, etc.
Billing Setup Process
Tasks and functions associated with setting up the billing processes for given products and services.
Daily, Periodic, or Ad Hoc Reporting (ETL, Report, Dashboard)
Movement of data between domains to create a single source of truth for reporting and dashboarding. Includes key metrics such as revenue analytics and other KPIs
Many of today's Billing solutions have a Product Catalog baked in, but rarely is it sufficient to meet an enterprise's needs out of the box. Some customization is almost always required to align a companies' depth of products and services detail to a billing system's one-size fits all product catalog architecture.
Stand-alone and suite-based product catalogs, both on-premise and cloud, are available via the vendors shown below.
Key Product Catalog Vendors
HQ: San Francisco, CA
Company Type: Public
Delivery Method: Cloud
Salesforce is designed to support sales, marketing, and customer support in both business-to-business and business-to-customer contexts. Salesforce Sales Cloud is a fully customizable product that brings all the customer information together in an integrated platform that incorporates marketing, lead generation, sales, customer service, and business analytics and provides access to thousands of applications through the AppExchange.
PRODUCT & SERVICES:
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Revenue Cloud
Salesforce targets organizations of all sizes and stripes.
- Athena Health
HQ: Redwood City, CA
Company Type: Privately Held
Delivery Method: Cloud
Informatica is an independent provider of data integration software. They assist organizations around the world to realize their information potential and drive top business imperatives. Worldwide, over 5,000 enterprises depend on Informatica to leverage their information assets from devices to mobile to social to big data residing on-premise, in the Cloud, and across social networks.
PRODUCT & SERVICES:
- Big Data Management
- Cloud Integration
- Data Integration
- Data Quality
- Data Security
- Informatica Platform
- Integration Platform as a Service
- Master Data Management
Informatica tends to target customers on the Fortune 100 list within a broad mix of industries.
- Thrifty Car Rental
HQ: Denver, CO
Company Type: Privately Held
Delivery Method: Cloud
Vendavo is designed to help B2B organizations optimize pricing and selling in order to achieve predictable, profitable commercial outcomes. From CPQ solutions or deep pricing optimization Vendavo has many proven-in-practice solutions and experts to help organizations reach their goals.
PRODUCT & SERVICES:
- Pricing Analytics
- Price Management and Optimization
- B2B Pricing
- Pricing Science
Vendavo targets organizations in many industries of all sizes.