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 & Service Providers
Why is a robust Product Catalog so important to service providers?
Multiple Business Lines
Often service providers have multiple lines of business – B2B, B2SMB, B2C, wholesale, and others.
Service providers may have multiple sales & support channels – kiosks, retail locations, call center (in/out), sales reps, e-commerce.
Long Billing Relationships
Typically, mature service provider organizations have long-running billing relationships with many of their customers.
Multiple Charge Types
Today, service providers utilize numerous charge types including usage, recurring, non-recurring, and others.
Service providers’ products and services, as well as the relationship between the two, are complex.
Service providers often bundle their products and services.
Complex Selling Processes
With various types of discounts & promotions (percent off, dollars off, tiered pricing), and a sometimes-rigorous quote approval process, service providers’ selling processes can become quite complex.
Complex Instance Processes
Service providers also have complex instance processes – for example, Cart, Order, Quote, and so forth.
Complex Tax Rules
Federal, state, county, and local taxes, combined with excise and other tariffs, make the whole tax issue very complex for any service providers’ product catalog.
Product Catalog Integration
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.
The billing and rating product catalog(s) Information required to be in sync between the billing system and network systems to ensure usage is account for properly and associated with the appropriate customer account.
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 many different quoting/ordering systems are there and what sort of User Interface is supported? What information do we need the User (sales rep, call center agent, retail clerk, end-user via e-commerce) to enter to create the order into the system? What sort of validation needs to occur at order time?
How is the product billed?
What information is required by the billing system to ensure the product is billed appropriately including any usage, recurring non-recurring charges. Discounts, promotions, bundled pricing, and taxation must all be taken into consideration to ensure the billing engine has all the information it needs to bill and tax accurately.
How will it look on an Invoice or Statement?
How much information do we need to put on an invoice to make sure the customer understands what they are paying and to ensure prompt payment? Does a discount need to be displayed? What is marketing looking for demonstrating value, what does customer care say is needed to reduce churn, and minimize billing inquiry/credit requests?
How will it look for Finance?
What sort of charge codes, GL entries, and revenue recognition characteristics should be available about financial impact of how the product was modeled. This is most apparent in decisions around associating charges at a bundle vs. line-item level.
How will it appear to Customer Care agents?
Will call center agents be able to clearly explain status of quotes/orders to customers including service turn up dates and impact on the first bill? Will they be able to articulate why charges appear as they do on an invoice? Will agents be able to efficiently maintain the product/service including potential up-selling and cross-selling?
How will it be for the Administrators?
Product catalog proliferation is a common challenge for service providers. What is the most appropriate modeling approach that allows for efficient maintenance of existing products and pricing/promotions as well as new market offerings?
Product Catalog Basic Steps
Identify all applicable product catalogs. Identify underlying database technology and any product versions if it is a COTS product catalog.
Identify all applicable selling & maintenance use cases. Be sure to include all channels (sales, inbound/outbound call center, kiosk, e-commerce, partner channels) & all activity (new orders, change orders, moves, deletes, suspend, others).
For each use case and channel, ensure a cohesive set of data ownership rules per catalog the maximizes efficiency and flow through while minimizing data redundancy.
Vet the use cases and ownership strategy against the Product Catalog Key Consideration List.
Validate the transactional integration between product catalog integrations. Pay particular attention to bundle use cases, maintenance use cases (MACD) and transactions originating via channel sales.
Identify who in your organization will be responsible for administration of the various product catalogs, including how this maintenance is synchronized, staged, and deployed.
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 product creation, new services 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.
Product and service 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 upsell 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.
This process is the central method for increasing Average Revenue per User (ARPU), which is an essential growth metric for most service providers. Up-selling is the process of selling more of a particular service. For example, increasing internet speed from 6 MB for $25/mo to 18mb for $45/mo would be an example of a typical up-sell.
Cross-sell is the process of purchasing a separate product or service from what they had originally. For example, if the customer originally had internet service then expanded their purchase to include phone and cable.
The combination of up-sell and cross-sell are the primary methods for driving more revenue within an existing customer base. Another common phrase is walletshare. Many service providers have a goal of increasing the wallet share from their customer base, which is often done through up-sell/cross-sell measures. The concept of ‘bundling’ or ‘packaging’ is a method for accelerating up-sell/cross-sell. Up-sell/cross-sell can be done at time of customer creation, or over the course of the life of the customer.
In the context of a call center, many agents are compensated specifically for up-sell/cross-sell as they perform their typical customer care. “Thank you for you updating your credit card information, did you happen to notice that we have expanded our internet offerings in your neighborhood and are offering a special 3-month free during the summer?”
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 walletshare, 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, upsell/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.
Discounting is 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.
Detailed: People | Process | Technology
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 and I.T. organizations contribute processes to the Product Catalog Maintenance domain.
HQ: Redwood Shores, CA
Company Type: Public
HQ: Redwood Shores, CA
Company Type: Privately held