Pistil Case Study

Before Talkoot, our process was manageable frustration that required a lot of extra communication. Life is better now.

Executive Summary

Based in Hood River, Oregon, Pistil is a small accessories brand creating functional-yet-stylish pieces for the active lifestyle. For most of their existence, Pistil has operated in a state of small-team bliss, sitting in the same office and collaborating in real time. They mostly used Excel spreadsheets to manage product data and create copy. Their process wasn’t perfect, but it was manageable. As one person said; “It was manageable frustration that required a lot of extra communication.”

Then Pistil signed a license agreement with a major accessories player, and things changed. The partnership introduces some new operations challenges by introducing a new company, new group of people and subtle changes in processes. Questions or issues that could once be resolved by leaning over to your desk neighbor now became unwieldy. Talkoot was introduced and quickly proved valuable as a centralized communication and collaboration tool. Talkoot took the comfortable small-office feel and brought it to the cloud, keeping everyone informed in real-time.

Using Talkoot, Pistil was able to quickly scale their process without introducing new barriers. In fact, Pistil realized they could have benefited from Talkoot prior to the partnership.

 

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Challenges

Excel is never the right option

Pistil is not a large, complicated or overly bureaucratic company. At most, they had six or seven Excel spreadsheets in play at a time, which doesn’t seem like a lot to manage. Pistil had grown to accept certain realities of Excel.

Excel definitely has its place in the world of number-crunching. But rarely, if ever, is it a good solution for content production when more than two people are involved. For Pistil, Excel hindered their ability to move quickly and exacerbated the difficulties associated with remote employees and dispersed offices.

“The downside is mainly lost time, but also that incorrect information would end up in the catalog that goes out to customers and sales reps. Worse, these mistakes would often carry forward season to season if not caught or corrected in the right place. Frustrating and inefficient.”  – Tood Douglass of Pistil

Miscommunication is not a people problem

Cloud-based options like Dropbox and Office 365 are weak solutions to collaboration and process problems. Pistil, like many other companies, started by moving their Excel problems into the cloud. While this theoretically seems to address many of the issues, in practice it just doesn’t quite cut it.

“We tried Dropbox but all it took was one person downloading the file to work off-line to throw a kink in the process. Not to mention searching and collaborating were still difficult.” – Heather Beamer of Pistil

It’s easy to think that this was a people problem rather than a tool problem. But effective processes and tools work within the realities of human nature — especially busy, creative humans.

Remote employees reveal a broken process

It’s amazing how much can get done with little or no process. Pistil was not overcome by chaos or broken processes, but that was because they were small, nimble and all sitting in the same office. This can create a false sense of organization, because small inefficiencies are overcome by simply walking over to someone’s desk. When employees spend more time working remotely, the cracks in a fragile process begin to show.

“Even though we were emailing spreadsheets to people across the hall, you still had to walk over and provide additional information. Once folks were remote, this somewhat manageable reality became unmanageable.” – Heather Beamer of Pistil

Consistency is key – and it’s harder than you think

Successful brands know the stories of their products, and are able to tell them consistently across all their channels. If content isn’t factually accurate and consistent in tone, it can hurt perception of your brand rather than help it. Consumers are deciding whether or not to trust your brand online, and brands earn that trust by being the most reputable source for information on what they make. Behind the scenes, Pistil’s lack of ability to corral, share and track information was keeping them from telling their own stories as well as they could.

“Consistency of copy was difficult to impossible when copy was all done in Word or Google Docs, because of the disconnect and versioning.” – Heather Beamer of Pistil

How Talkoot helped

Talkoot was introduced just over a year ago and is now being used broadly at Pistil. It acts as a combination-PLM-and-PIM for the whole company. Product designers, managers, operations folks, writers, marketing teams (and in the future, sales teams) are all working in Talkoot from initial design concepts to product launch. Talkoot has helped solve many of Pistil’s challenges, which lets Pistil focus on growing its business rather than managing chaos.

No more spreadsheets = owning your process

Excel is not a great tool for process. By using Talkoot, Pistil was able to move all their data from spreadsheets into Talkoot. Suddenly, all content is centrally located, searchable, configurable, historical and collaborative.

Getting data into a central repository is only step one of process change. Once data is in a flexible centralized tool, the real fun can begin. Heather from Pistil worked closely with the Talkoot account team to rethink and refine their existing process. It’s kind of like moving into a new home: an awesome opportunity to evaluate what’s truly needed and what can be thrown out. The added bonus with Talkoot is that its flexibility allows ongoing adjustments and new ways to view the data, all without worrying about losing or messing things up.

Pistil now feels confident in their process and workflow. Teams have expressed their gratitude, saying they can’t picture returning to the old way, hunting for information buried within multiple spreadsheets.

Communication; instant, accurate, fulfilling

In a process with deadlines, parallel tasks and inevitable changes, it can incredibly stressful when you lack confidence in your own visibility into the work. Knowing that all the work is centrally stored, and that all changes are instant and visible, allows dispersed teams to work seamlessly together without all the stress.

Communication starts with easy access to the data — but more importantly, teams need to understand the state of the work. Meaning: who is working on what, how far along are they, do they have questions, is anyone blocked? This kind of visibility relies on a system that puts communication at the heart of its functionality. Talkoot is not just about centrally located data. Its true power is in how it helps teams hang together gracefully through the lifecycle of work.

Accommodating remote teams means greater security, scalability and adaptability for the future

Scalability was not on the forefront of Pistil’s mind, but it was a nagging unknown that lingered just below the surface. Expanding the team and adding remote workers brought attention to once-imperceptible issues with their process. For example POs and pricing require critical product data and accuracy. Most of this work was done off-site without product representation. Having information easily accessible eliminated a lot of questions. Now teams can work more on their own schedule with less dependency on busy folks like product manager always being available.

There are broader considerations beyond just solving problems for remote users. Working with Talkoot became an opportunity to evaluate how Pistil can move faster, navigate change better and imagine the future impact of even more people in the system. It’s about solving immediate challenges for today, while also preparing for the future. A major benefit of Talkoot is its ability to adapt, expand and grow with businesses of any size. It’s why Talkoot is used in large Fortune 100 companies and small companies alike.

Bonus benefit: Agility

“The graphic designer who works throughout the copy process loves that he can send models incrementally and see the process go through writer to editor to final approval.” – Heather Beamer of Pistil

The notion of an agile product lifecycle is relatively new and increasingly important. Pistil did not set out for Talkoot to improve their agility, but teams are immediately recognizing this benefit and starting to take advantage of it. Pistil is already seeing significant gains in time-to-market, an unexpected outcome they’re very happy about.

How Talkoot was implemented

Change: it’s tough

Talkoot was introduced to Pistil because both businesses were based in the Pacific Northwest town of Hood River. Though Pistil was actively seeking a change, it was still a tricky transition for the team.

“Change is always difficult for people sometimes. There was resistance at first. Everyone was so used to Excel. Now they love it and don’t know how we didn’t have it beforehand.” – Heather Beamer of Pistil

Talkoot is intuitive and simple to configure. But change involves more than simply picking up and using a tool. Pistil was interested in working with the Talkoot account team to evaluate their current process and identify ways to help them improve.

“We find that Talkoot’s intuitive UI helps get teams on-board quickly. With a little guidance here and there teams are off and running. It was fun with Pistil to help strategize on their process to find the best flow within Talkoot.” Anne Bowman Talkoot Account Manager

A plan was put into place, and over the course of a year, Pistil rolled Talkoot out to different teams. Slowly but surely, Pistil began adjusting and adapting their process to take full advantage of Talkoot’s features.

“We really formed our own version of Talkoot to make it what we want, which is so awesome.” – Heather Beamer of Pistil

In order to sway the Excel junkies, it was important to emphasize the features Excel doesn’t provide such as bulk edit, advanced filtering, custom views, carryover and brandcheck. Looking back, these users don’t know how they lived without it.

Getting a little help from your friends

Sometimes you need a little help. If your process doesn’t support contractors coming in to help, it can feel limiting. Because Talkoot is a SaaS solution, with permissions and workflow designed to easily bring people in for a specific task, Pistil was able to bring in Thread (a copywriting agency) to quickly and efficiently help with product description content and other e-commerce needs.

Integration: InDesign

Pistil does not have very complex integration needs, but they do use InDesign. The process of importing the Excel used to take multiple days of cutting/pasting/organizing/tweaking to get the content into a format that could be imported. Because Talkoot can export custom, easily configurable views, it’s now possible to complete this process in minutes rather than days.

Looking Ahead

Sales are people too

The Sales folks are Talkoot’s final frontier at Pistil. Currently a simple export into — you guessed it — Excel provides Sales with all the information they need in the field. In the future, they will simply log into Talkoot’s client view on their mobile device and see everything they need.   

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