September 9, 2016 / Andrew Brown

Use Data to Drive Product Stewardship Objectives

Product stewardship helps ‘future-proof’ a company’s portfolio, but only if it anticipates customer requirements. That means building customer insights around environmental attributes that could turn into strong drivers.

Because marketing departments and R&D focus on product performance, product stewards need data to show that environmental leadership also matters. Jon Ortiz, director of product stewardship at HP, offered strategies for gathering the right data.

The government, NGOs, competitors and customers are all sources of data. For example, as more companies incorporate sustainability initiatives, they issue corporate sustainability reports. These are sources of information about what they’re doing in the marketplace. Safety data sheets and annual reports are also sources of competitor data.

Eco-labels are another source of competitive analysis. If your competitors tout a certification, you can relay that back to senior management. “If you’re competitors are doing it, nobody really likes to be behind,” said Ortiz.

Eco-labels also foreshadow future market access requirements. Take the individual performance attributes necessary to achieve the eco-label and compare how well you match to competitors. If regulators propose a rule around the attribute, competitors won’t argue with it and you’ll be behind. Showing design teams how far you are behind can influence changes, said Ortiz.

Internal Data

Companies can also generate data internally. For example, a team at HP gathers every customer inquiry about environmental attributes, whether it’s a consumer phoning the call center or an enterprise prospect whose RFP requests additional information. The team responds to the inquiries but also tracks and categorizes the requests “Most of you have some mechanism for receiving customer inquiries, but actually tracking and parsing the data – how many do you get, etc. — is trickier,” said Ortiz.

Insights from this data are folded into future product design. For example, the team received many inquiries about air emissions, so the company created documents to address the inquiries and made them available.

Likewise, if an RFQ worth millions of dollars specifies certain requirements, product stewards will use that data to influence the design team. In packaging, for instance, the customer may not want polystyrene foam. “We might have to eat the cost to do a paper-based alternative, but now here’s the dollar value that could be lost, and showing that is powerful,” said Ortiz.

He recommends incorporating a bid and tender tracker that shows revenue wins and losses. When you show the amount of dollars tied to an attribute, like packaging with paper instead of foam, ‘that’s extremely powerful stuff,” he said.

What Works and What Doesn’t

Ortiz also shared some practical advice for achieving buy-in from executives. He reiterated that speaking about compliance doesn’t affect change. When talking about possible regulations, for instance, executives want to know the likelihood they’ll be enacted, which can be hard for product stewards to quantify. Likewise, conversations about lifecycle analysis and carbon footprints have less impact on design teams than data about competitor products.

Finally, environmental data is not a real driver in many customer focus groups, but if you look to leading-edge customers and extreme users, they will point in a direction you can show to marketing departments.

Andrew Brown

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