For decades, B2B companies have been showcasing their products using print catalogs via postal service mail. But let’s get real - today’s B2B customer engages much more heavily in online research and will browse across multiple sources before even thinking of making a purchase. As buyers turn to the web to compare products, pricing, reviews and a number of other factors, businesses must meet their demands with more useful product information and seamless experiences in order to stand out against the competition.
We’re firm believers in the idea of running any project through a planning and engineering process to deliver a successful result for your company and your customers. Before starting the design and development of a B2B product catalog, we recommend laying out a few key items in advance to avoid some common (and expensive) pitfalls. By spending the time to plan, you will be able to determine:
- Broad timeline for launch and project milestones
- Expectation for level of effort from internal resources
- Rough cost estimates
- Any additional technical assets and resources needed
Step 1: Assemble a Team
Assemble a team of experts and stakeholders — This might include members of the marketing team, web designers, web developers, management and sales/customer service.
Sales/Customer Service: Identifying pain points starts with the people on the front line of the business. The sales team answers questions from potential customers and knows which products need the most attention.
Marketing team: Whether the business has a fully developed internal department or chooses to outsource their projects, marketing experts well-versed in current trends and up-to-date statistics will help your project stay on course.
Web designers/developers: Get the design and development teams involved early in the project to make sure every decision can be supported by the business’ software and platforms.
Management: Countless projects get very close to completion before the people paying the invoice see the progress. There is a lot of unnecessary (expensive) backpedaling because the C-suite does not agree with the choices that were made. These key decision makers do not need to be involved every step of the way, but we recommend task-oriented checkpoints before starting work on each phase.
Take time with the assembled team and hammer out what the business requires. Start by asking how the needs and expectations of your customers have changed. Today’s B2B buying experience is vastly different from the one that existed even just a few years ago. People aren’t sitting around their offices anymore waiting for you to mail them copies of glossy four-color brochures. The expectation of today’s user is that they can browse, shop and research from their phones before they ever make contact with the sales team.
Here are the key questions to ask (and answer) during this step:
- What is our primary goal? How are we measuring success? Starting at the end may feel excruciating, but you must determine how the business will measure success. It is too easy to be in mid-project and lose sight of where you were going in the first place and expectations across the team can differ.
- What is the audience that we’re going after? Are we focused on sales? Support? Product information only?
- What types of feedback have our customers/users provided to us in the past? Can the team agree on what they’re asking for?
- What kind of budget and financial resources are available to us?
- Can we outline a tentative timeline for a launch? Can we roll out the finished product in phases?
- Are there any language or geographic considerations?
- Are there competitors or partner companies we can analyze?
Step 2: Summon Your Resources
Your B2B sales team can use an online portal to provide better service, streamline the order process, ensure consistency of information and create a better overall customer experience. And who doesn’t want more of that?
Keep in mind that your existing customers can also benefit from informative online content or product portal. That’s because they can use it to find product support (e.g., user manuals, FAQ documents, demo videos, etc.) or place reorders - if you choose to add that kind of functionality.
Here are the key questions to ask (and answer) during this step:
- Identify the resources you think you want to make available to users during their decision process.
- Which of those resources do you currently have? They might exist on the website, on a shared internal drive or have been created by the sales and marketing team offline.
- What needs to be created, reworked or repurposed?
- Do you need new multimedia? Videos, new photography, new product documents, case studies, specification sheets and customer testimonials are excellent content tools.
- Who is responsible for organizing and making edits to existing content? If new content must be created, who will manage that effort?
Step 3: Structure Your Content and Product Information
Today’s B2B purchase journey is controlled by the buyer. 68% of B2B buyers determine their purchasing needs through online research before ever interacting with a sales representative. Your digital product catalog, when well built out, organized and structured, is a great way to connect with prospective customers and can provide the information they need to make a purchasing decision before contacting your company.
You can do a lot more than simply showing a product price, description and image.
The key questions you’re going to want to have answered at the end of this step are:
- Is there an existing product database - offline or online? What kind of access does your team have to it?
- How up-to-date or current is that data? If it’s not current, what kind of effort is required to update it?
- Are there additional data points that can be added? Categorization or tagging? How can we group our product offering together in a way that makes sense to the customer?
- How do we think that users will search for/find data?
- Is that database linked to offline resources like specification sheets, images, videos etc.? Where do all those resources exist?
- Looking at the product roadmap, are there new product releases on the horizon? Are there major changes to the product offering?
- Is there a need to support older products not currently sold?
Step 4: Determine Technical Specifications
Now, it’s time to begin making technical decisions and start the true engineering phase of the website. The engineering phase will contain a number of steps (review our guide with the full breakdown) and will begin to include your technical team - whether that’s internal or external.
- Are the needs that have been outlined something that can be added to our existing site?
- Do we have a technical partner that can help us build?
- What is the functionality needed from a technical perspective?
The Last Word
Although it’s not a simple task, once you’ve created a digital product catalog, you will have added a critical and powerful component to your B2B marketing strategy. Breaking down this project into manageable pieces will keep the team on track and leaves room for any changes that needs to be made during the process.