It’s no secret that the traditional print catalog is rapidly being replaced by online catalogs. In fact, a study by Frost & Sullivan found that 69% of B2B sellers say they expect to stop printing a catalog within 5 years. As the demographic of the workforce continues to change with a new generation that doesn’t remember a world without advanced technology and mobile devices, there is increasing pressure on B2B companies to gather and organize product content and sell online.
A well organized online product catalog can streamline your operations, give customers access to all of your product offerings with customer specific pricing, and can include real-time integration with your suppliers for accurate inventory availability information. Sounds great, right? For small- to mid-size B2B manufacturers and distributors who don’t yet have an online catalog, the prospect of gathering and organizing product content and data into an online site that is user friendly can be daunting. Break it down into manageable steps.
The User Experience
Any online experience needs to first start with discovering who your customers are and what a good site experience would be for them. Start by researching and identifying your ideal and target buyers and writing up descriptions of these buyers, known as buyer personas. Decisions made about how your site functions and what type of content you provide must be influenced based on who the user is, what information they need and where they are when they need the information. For example, are they on the shop floor or in the field when they need product information such as a parts lists, service manuals, or ordering replacement parts? If so, a mobile-optimized site is a must.
This is the information needed within your online catalog to support your customer experience from search to purchase. Take the buyer personas you have identified in the first step and think of what they require. Any product data or other content on your site must have the end goal of improving your customers’ experiences and optimizing the order process to support an enhanced user experience and, ultimately, lead to the purchase. If your buyer is looking for replacement parts for complex machinery, you may want to incorporate an enhanced search functionality on your site that allows a user to search by manufacturer, model number, serial number, etc. You want to make it as easy as possible for your customer to find what they need on your site. Otherwise, they will search for an alternative provider that meets their specific needs.
Properly managed product data is often one of the largest struggles faced by mid-sized manufacturers today. It is important to understand exactly what data is required to have a valuable and engaging online presence. Of course, this will change slightly depending on your industry, customers and catalog, but basically you should include basic product information including:
- SKU, Product or Part number
- Short Description
- Product imagery
- Key product attributes that a customer would use to search for products
- Information from ERP, product data management systems, Excel spreadsheets, etc.
- Weights, dimensions, schematics, manuals, specifications
Fostering a lifetime customer
Your site will be visited by longtime customers or savvy prospects as well as new visitors who are less educated or know virtually nothing about your product or service. This is why it is so vital to conduct a comprehensive persona study. You have to know who your customer is so you can provide or create the correct content.
For your longtime customers and frequent site visitors who already know what they are looking for, your site should support quick and direct access to product content while still providing relevant industry updates. At the same time, your site needs to support the less educated customers and prospects with robust content that goes beyond spec sheets. You should also be providing comparisons and value propositions that proves why someone should purchase from you instead of your competitors.
Robust and dynamic product content is important, but you also need to provide content about your company and brand. Fostering a sense of community and promoting educational content specific to your products or the overall industry can ease fears that a potential buyer may have about purchasing your product.
Once a customer has chosen your product or service and has a successful experience with your site from the first interaction through the delivery and beyond, it is important to keep your content current and relevant. Provide customers with updated product updates and industry news that will keep them coming back to your site and ordering more.