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Surefront at NRF: Retail’s Big Show

Ahead of our exhibit at the National Retail Federation’s 2022 expo in New York, we wanted to talk about some key topics that have been floating around the enterprise software space. NRF presents a massive opportunity for Surefront to show the retail industry exactly what a Next Generation Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) platform can do for suppliers and retailers. 

We’re accelerating the way brands bring their product concepts to life and sell to their retail partners. On the retailer side, we’re streamlining the way buying teams source products and communicate with their suppliers, merchandisers and manufacturers. The result: the most innovative software solution to hit NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show.

We’re building better relationships with better solutions for buying, selling, and manufacturing products. Check us out at booth 1526 at NRF, from Jan. 16-18, to see how Surefront calms the chaos of emails, spreadsheets, and data silos by combining all the product data and communications you need in a single, secure, cloud-based platform.

Now, let’s get into an important distinction we need to make ahead of the show - there’s a lot of blurring between what a PLM platform does and what a B2B marketplace provides. Let’s clear that up.

Comparing PLM Software and B2B Wholesale Marketplaces

When we think of retail software, our minds often race to customer-facing, business-to-consumer (B2C) solutions like point of sales (POS) programs or ecommerce solutions. These tend to garner the most attention and media as they affect our private, everyday shopping experiences. The often less-known tools are the business-to-business (B2B) software solutions that facilitate collaboration and transactions between two organizations. Though they are less-known, B2B software solutions hold critical importance in the way products become available to retailers and, in turn, to the consumer.

B2B software is where both Product Lifecycle Management software and Wholesale Marketplace solutions fit in. Though the two have substantial impacts upon how suppliers and retailers develop and source products, each platform has its own set of benefits with very little overlap. Somehow along the way, the retail industry has blurred the lines between PLM software and B2B Wholesale Marketplaces, assuming the two are nearly one in the same.

This assumption is false.

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With the growing sophistication of Product Lifecycle Management software (particularly Surefront PLM), it has become an increasingly robust suite of tools for both brands and retailers to develop products and bring them to market. B2B Wholesale Marketplaces, which serve users in a broader yet shallower capacity, are often compared to PLM providers. This is like comparing apples to oranges. Or maybe, seeds to apples. Let’s dive a little deeper to draw the line between PLM Software and B2B Marketplace technology. Here’s what we’ll go over:

What is a B2B Wholesale Marketplace?

A B2B Wholesale Marketplace is exactly as the name suggests. It is an open platform for suppliers and retailers to connect and complete one simple process - buying and selling. One of the biggest value propositions of a B2B Marketplace is it’s matchmaking functionality. 

This is analogous to a dating app. Suppliers who are eager to sell their products can register on a marketplace under their area of expertise and show off their wares. Think about profile building on a dating app. You put your best foot forward by talking about your healthy outdoor activities, interesting hobbies, and maybe some great food and drink photos. Brands do basically the same on B2B Wholesale Marketplaces. They list the items that they are looking to wholesale to attract buyers.

On the retailer side, buyers can enter the marketplace, filter for the types of products they are looking to buy and complete wholesale purchases right then and there. Think filtering for age, traits, and other qualities to find prospective matches on a dating app. Once the match is there, like the ultimate goal of setting the first date on the dating app, B2B Wholesale Marketplaces allow the buyer to make their purchase within the platform.

Good marketplaces, have match-making features that help the user navigate to find the right brands/retailers based on categories, product types, or other fitting qualities. That is generally the extent of a B2B wholesale marketplace. It serves solely to spark the relationship between the two sides of the wholesale transaction and goes no further. 

What about the work that goes into a supplier-retailer relationship? Communication. Collaboration. These building blocks of any good, long-lasting relationship. This is where PLM Software comes in. 

What is PLM Software?

PLM Software stores and organizes all information throughout the entire lifecycle of a product – from ideation to design to manufacturing and distribution of said product. Traditional PLM software simply serves as a repository for all data from a product's conception and onward. Companies can then use that data over a series of cycles to improve quality and profitability.

Ideally, PLM software should lead to:

  • Lower product costs
  • Greater product quality
  • Faster time to market

Company’s do this by using the data in their PLM to analyze where they can make improvements across the Concept, Design, Production, and Distribution phases of the PLM cycle. 

To learn more about the 4 phases of PLM and more, check out our deep dive.

The Difference with Surefront Next Generation Product Lifecycle Management

Where most PLMs are tools for growth and improvement within your own company, Surefront breaks those barriers and expands the role of your PLM.

The key difference is that not only can you engage in product development in the platform and store product data, but you can also engage your 3rd party partners directly in the platform. This is a game changer. For the better part of the last 2 decades, suppliers (brands) and retailers have had to rely on dated, inconvenient tools to communicate with each other.

Think about how many emails you receive in a single day. How many times you get an important memo or attachment in an email. Now think about the dangers that lie in hinging your entire business on this kind of communication. We’re in 2022 now, and this just isn’t enough for the modern retail industry.

Surefront combines all the elements of your traditional PLMs but upgrades it with workflows for tracking critical tasks across your entire value chain along with in-platform communications. Each page in Surefront is equipped with a chat function that allows you to discuss, develop, and decide things with your internal team as well as 3rd party partners who you invite into the platform.

Think of how much this streamlines showcasing a new season of handbags or homegoods to your buyers. You can communicate directly on the page with the product and all the specs and info you want to share, directly visible on the page. Or, if you’re on the retailer side, consider how much simpler this is to request quotes, discuss product specifications and variations with your supplier.

The best part is that each piece of communication is object-oriented, meaning it’s tied to the product detail page, quote, or purchase order. Instead of long chains of scattered data silos created by emails with attached spreadsheets just to settle one order, suppliers and retailers can use Surefront to engage each other, with all product data easily accessible on the page.

So, if we made the dating app analogy earlier for a B2B Wholesale Marketplace, you can see that PLM software, especially Surefront’s solution, is about relationship building. It’s not about match-making and sparking the connection like a marketplace, rather, it’s about fostering the relationship and everything that comes in building a truly functional partnership after you meet.

Who Uses Each B2B Software Solution?

Here’s where some of the overlap might occur and where some of the confusion on the difference between PLM software and B2B Wholesale Marketplaces may occur. Both brands and retailers can use both types of solutions. The difference lies in the depth and breadth of users.

On the supplier side, only sales people would use a B2B Wholesale Marketplace to upload their products to try and attract buyers. As you might guess, on the retailer side, buyers use these platforms to find deals on products and widen the range of their offerings. Both sides use this to find new buying and selling opportunities, which they complete directly in the platform.

PLM software has a far greater range of users (especially with Next Generation PLM). Surefront attracts users from product development and sales on the supplier side and users from category management and buying teams on the retail side. This is designed to take products all the way from concept to market streamlining the communications and business dealings for both sides of the transaction over the entire lifetime of the products as well as the entire duration of the relationship between supplier and retailer.

If you want to learn more about PLM and the benefits it can bring your company, visit our NRF booth or check out a quick recorded demo of Surefront in action.

Surefront PLM users are experiencing 10x ROI for their organizations with individual contributors saving an average of 20% of their time that would have been spent on data entry, or re-entry, without the efficiency of the platform. This is giving product development and merchandising teams an entire extra day of work per week to focus on other initiatives, driving further growth and profitability. 

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