<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1039796276094486&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Episode 20: Top Secret Catalog Marketing Strategies for Industrial Distributors

by Matt Johnson, on Aug 17, 2019 8:48:11 AM

How do you retain and grow your existing business while simultaneously attacking new markets and customer segments? The answer is an old-school sales tool with a new-school twist. In this episode of the Takeover, I'll share my ultimate catalog marketing strategies that are proven to drive sales and customer engagement.




Turn The Plane Around... We Forgot Our Printed Catalogs!

Before our family sold Accuform to Justrite, it was fairly common for me to catch a ride on the Johnson private jet to see a mutual client or attend a trade show. On one such occasion, I caught a ride to visit a fairly large distributor. On the plane with me that day was the VP of Sales, VP of Marketing, CEO (my dad), and two other regional sales reps. Suffice it to say, they were trying to win the top spot in their category, and were bringing in the heavy hitters to make a big impression. 

The beauty of flying private is just how FAST you can go from your office or car to soaring high above the clouds toward your destination. Like every other private flight I've been on, we were in the air before I could even remote-lock my truck. 


About 10 minutes into the flight (and about 500 miles from home base), the VP of Sales noticed that he had forgot to pack their freshly printed catalogs and brochures. This didn't seem like a big deal to me, as I sipped my coffee and turned my gaze out the window. But a simple comment about forgetting the catalogs sooned turned into a serious debate about whether or not they were going to turn the plane around so they could retrieve the forgotten sales collateral!

That little detour would cost us THOUSANDS in jet fuel alone. 


Not to mention, some of us didn't want to run the risk of showing up late to the meeting. Thankfully, at the end of the day, we won the argument and somehow convinced the other guys that they didn't need the catalogs for their sales pitch.

A big part of that convincing was reminding them that everything they had in print, they also had online in the form of virtual PDFs, eCatalogs, and their eCommerce website. When they finally made their sales pitch, they were able to show the printed sales tools on the board room screen without the need to pass out the physical books. They really killed that sales call, and if I remember correctly, ended up securing the top spot in the facility identification category for this particular national distributor.

And you better believe that when they got back to the office, they had the physical books mailed to the distributor as part of their follow-up!

Everything they had in print, they also had online in the form of virtual PDFs, eCatalogs, and their eCommerce website.

In today's episode I want to briefly discuss three strategies for using printed catalogs and digital marketing tools together to create a world-class omni-channel approach that is guaranteed to get you serious results. 


Strategy #1 -- Build a Master Catalog Using Manufacturer Product Data

Easier said than done, I know. But this first step is like the difference between sitting in the middle seat of a commercial airliner and a swank private jet with a cocktail in your hand. I've done both, so believe me. It couldn't be more different!

The problem is that most distributors and/or suppliers are simply overwhelmed by the shear volume of SKUs needed for a comprehensive product catalog. I think today most businesses understand that this is a multi-step process. You will need to collect, build, and organize the content so you can actually do something with it. 

This is what Spinstak does so well, and we know a thing or two about the fastest, most-efficient way to manage product content. Here are a few pro-tips to consider if you decide to do this on your own. 


New call-to-action


Utilize Google Sheets or Purchase a Product Information Management (PIM) Software to House the Product Data

If you're on a budget, Google Sheets is an excellent way to organize and manage your product content. Sure, it's still basically a spreadsheet, so it's not the most user-friendly interface. However, it will serve you well if you're just getting started. The main reason I like using Google Sheets for this task is because you can have "Master Sheets" which can be updated, edited, and copied without ever needing to keep multiple files (which can get confusing).

Also, when you receive content from a manufacturer, or if you trying to import content into a desktop publisher (print) or eCommerce platform (online), you are going to be working with some form of Excel or CSV file anyway. Google sheets works well with both. 



Use the Bucket Method and Start with 20% of Your Best Sellers First and Then Add the Rest Consistently Over Time

There's absolutely no reason to try and eat this elephant at one sitting. Rome wasn't built in a day, Grainger.com wasn't built in a day, and neither will YOUR catalog. If you don't have a strategy for WHICH products are going to be added to your Master Catalog first, then you will be in for a world of pain. No matter what your manufacturer rep says, you do NOT need to add their entire product line... yet.

Take the tortoise approach to product content. Slow and steady will win the race. When you publish a catalog, whether it is online or in print, you are instantly leapfrogging your competition who is still at the mercy of wholesale marketing catalogs and weak line-card websites. Do some research on your business. What sells? Add those. What are your customers asking for? Add those next. What are your manufacturers excited about? Add those last. And develop a strategy for doing this every month or every couple of months.



Vendor Proof Your Product Content and Develop a Competitive Price Strategy

Before you jump ahead too far and start designing a catalog or website for all of this sweet product content, you should consider working with your manufacturer and/or supplier partners to ensure that the product content you are going to publish is approved by them and includes the latest images, logos, and product and SKU descriptions. 

Whey spend the time to do this you ask? Because later you are going to charge them co-op dollars for publishing this content in your printed catalog and/or digital marketing campaigns. Trust me, manufacturer relationships that have good communication are more likely to approve the use of closely-held co-op dollars. And marketing strategies that actually get their products in front of your customers are more likely to get approved than stress balls or t-shirts. What a waste of co-op!

Finally, do you have a pricing strategy for your customers? While you're working on vendor proofing is a great time to systematically develop list prices for each manufacturer, product category, and even individual product lines. Your list price should be your starting point for all customer proposals. It needs to be competitive enough to capture online sales (if that is the goal), but it also needs to leave enough wiggle-room to offer contract pricing for bigger fish who rightfully expect better prices for higher volumes. One you have a solid list price, you can publish that in your printed catalog or public-facing eCommerce website. No shame in this game!



Strategy #2 -- Publish Your Master Catalog Online and In Print

Once you have built your Master Catalog (product content), organized it into product categories and sub-categories, vendor-proofed and priced it, the world is your oyster! You can do so many things from here to drive growth with your existing customer base as well as attract and convert new customers. If you made it to this point, you are ELITE among independent distributors and/or suppliers. So what are some things you can do with this Master Product Catalog?

You Can Design and Print a Master Catalog or Seasonal Flyer Program

Let's go old-school first. But is it really old school? Many people believe that PRINT IS DEAD. We're here to tell you, it's NOT! Would it surprise you to know that despite the fact that they grew up on the internet, Millennials (like me) are still dedicated to print. In fact, they read more printed books than those 30 and older did in 2014. So swapping out your printed catalog program for digital-only marketing efforts might just come back to bite you.

The truth is that print never left. We just thought it died or was dying because of the rise of digital content. I always tell people, it's kind of like having multiple children. As a dad of four kids, I don't divide my love into quarters. My love is multiplied 400%! That's the way it is with marketing channels. We need to be 100% online, 100% on social media, 100% in-person, and 100% in printed materials.

There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to whether you should publish a full-line catalog or smaller, more frequent flyers or catalogs. The decision really depends on what you are trying to do. Are you trying to prospect new buyers? Are your customers smaller and more price-sensitive or responsive to specials and deals? In that case, a flyer program might be exactly what you need to drive sales with both existing and new customers. 

Learn More About Printed Catalog Services from Spinstak HERE

#PrintIsNotDead Graphic 2


You Can Build a B2B eCommerce Website That Makes It Easier for You and Your Customers

So many industrial distributors and/or suppliers make eCommerce more difficult than it needs to be. The biggest mistake they make (in my humble opinion) is a failure to build for their customers. They focus on the business they DON'T have at the expense of the business that got them where they are today. 

Now, I'm all in favor of diversification and expanding into different markets and customer segments, but only AFTER we have satisfied the needs of our existing customers. For the vast majority of industrial distributors, these are our B2B contract accounts. For these customers, we should provide them with a website that will complement, not replace, their current buying process. 

You can make it easy on these customers by providing an eCommerce solution that has a ton of the B2C features that modern buyers expect, but built for industrial distribution first and foremost. When your customer logs into your website, they should see THEIR products, with THEIR pricing, and they should have the option to quickly checkout with a PO or Credit Card.

The product information, images, and customized pricing helps your customer answer their own questions and place their order fast. This speeds things up for them, and for your customer service team. Time is the new currency! Your sales team should NEVER be order takers. Let the website do that! Your sales team needs to be out in the field hunting down new business and greasing existing relationships. All of this is only possible after you have built your Master Catalog. Exciting right? But wait, there's more!

industrial marketing 101 ecommerce master class

Strategy #3 -- Tie Everything Together with a Cohesive Communication Strategy

Before we outline this sexy marketing communications plan, we need to pump the breaks and think about process. Yea, sorry. But we can't just go shouting our new B2B eCommerce website and catalog program from the rooftops if we are not 100% clear about the WHO, WHAT, WHY, and WHEN. The first thing we need to do is create a process for getting our existing customers using our website. Who is going to build their B2B catalog? Who is going to handle pricing? Do they sign-up for an account or will you make one for them? Will you have a video or informational page instructing them how to use the website or will you have a webinar or maybe even show them in-person? 

As you can see, there are lots of things to think about before you launch your campaign and website. Let's make sure your staff also understand the purpose and process of your website. My suggestion is to roll it out to them first, followed by a small handful of good customers so you can work out any "process kinks" before you launch it to your entire customer base. This is called a Beta Launch in the software development world. Once you nerd-out and document your process you will be ready to launch two complementary marketing campaigns. 



Advertise Your Website and Current Offers In Your Printed Catalog

Want to promote the suppliers that get you the best return? Do you want to target specific customer verticals with the content and products that they need? Do you want to increase your wallet-share and cross-sell your customers? 

Then a Custom Catalog Program is right for YOU!

I am particularly a fan of a quarterly or seasonal flyer program. A 16- to 48-page flyer is the ideal size to either stuff in your customer's packages, direct mail to prospects, or hand-out to your customers at your counter. Either way, they are inexpensive and effective ways to communicate and guide your customers to the buyer's journey that will most impact your bottom-line. Plus, your customers WANT this communication from you. 

Here's a little secret. Shhhh, makes sure your competitors are not reading this over your shoulder right now. 

Okay, are you ready?

Your catalog program can support and promote your eCommerce website.

So how do we do that? Simple. We dedicate a page, preferably inside front or back cover, that explains and promotes the benefits of placing orders online. But why would they do that when they could just call or fax (gasp!) their order in the old fashion way? Well, we could offer them a small discount for bypassing the traditional channels. We could explain to them that we have put a lot of effort into the product content so that they can research and shop different options. We can also explain that they can place their re-orders in less than three seconds. I guaranteed the fax machine or phone isn't that fast! Are seriously talking about a FAX machine, people?!

Bottom line, let's use our printed catalogs as a tool that your customers can use to either spark an interest in new or related products, and at the same time we can drive orders through one easy-to-use channel our eCommerce website. 



Advertise Your Catalog Online and Incorporate Into Your Email Marketing Campaigns

As we wrap things up, let's talk about how to take your PRINTED catalog online and how to incorporate that powerful sales tool into your digital marketing campaigns. If you haven't done so already, check out our episode on Building a Digital Customer Journey utilizing landing pages, email marketing, and even social media to drive brand awareness and increase your customer touches online.

We won't dive into that topic here, but I will say that in addition to your Digital Buyer's Journey, you have a huge opportunity to further maximize your printed catalog investment by converting your printed catalog into an eCatalog. Some of the best, fasted-growing distributors and/or suppliers have equipped their customers and sales teams with this powerful tool (MSC, Brady, HD Supply). But this tool isn't just for the big boys with bigger budgets. With an eCatalog, you can affordably host your printed catalog online so your sales team and customers can access the catalog in seconds. Your customers and sales team can flip through the pages of your beautifully branded publication, search for specific products, or browse categories through an interactive table of contents.

You can also take your eCatalog to the next level by linking your SKU numbers or product blocks to their eCommerce equivalent webpage. This seamless transition from print to digital is particularly helpful for purchasing managers who are comfortable browsing or searching through a traditional catalog but ultimately want to place their order online when they are logged into your eCommerce website.



This Isn't a Pipe-Dream! Spinstak Can Help Make This a Reality

We started 16 years ago building full-line catalogs for safety distributors. Like a fine wine, we've only improved with age! Our master database, containing over 650,000 SKUs allows us to quickly and affordably organize your Master Catalog using our specialized PIM software, from there, you can use that product data with our eCommerce Solution for Industrial Distributors, or have our team of graphic designers build a personalized, branded printed catalog that will become a foundational tool to power your growth. 

Schedule A Consultation


Topics:Catalog DevelopmenteCommerceDigital MarketingLeadership