If you only value your catalog as a piece of literature you need in order to make a cold call, or as a reason to visit an established account, then you have greatly underestimated its value. If you view your catalog as something more than just a support tool for your sales team and you utilize it as a stand-alone sales channel for developing new growth, then you are beginning to realize its true worth.

With a higher perceived value for your sales catalog comes a greater level of investment and reward. Maintaining a commitment for your catalog to succeed does not come without a predetermined allocation of the resources and attention to detail needed to allow it to perform beyond your expectations.

Remember, a catalog is only worth as much as the amount you depend on it.

A key area which greatly determines a catalog’s performance, but is many times overlooked, is its usability. More times than not, people will associate usability with other sales channels that are considered more interactive (i.e., a web site, electronic catalog on CD, etc.). Although these other channels may require certain skill sets to operate, and offer a few more “bells and whistles,” the usability function really evolves around the premise of how easily a customer can find the product they need and their ability to complete the purchase transaction.

While a web site may offer a user a few more tools to aid in the search of your product selection, this does not mean your print catalog does not bear the same responsibility. Likewise, your catalog must also guide your customers through the entire purchase decision — even acquiring the information necessary to process the order. This may seem like an involved process which offers underrated results in light of the advancements made in technology within the last five to ten years, but you must not ignore some of the core functions of a print catalog.

You don’t have to think back too far to remember the days before eCommerce web sites and email marketing became an integral part of your sales efforts. A time when your sales catalog was the shining crown of all your sales efforts. A special interest was given to your catalog because it enabled you to:

• Identify who you are as a distributor

• Provide an overview of the product lines your represent

• Present the information needed to aid in the purchase decision

• Collect the order and guide the customer through the purchase process

• Communicate why doing business with you is the right decision

Even today, your sales catalog can exist as a viable member of your sales arsenal. In many ways, your catalog has not been replaced by new technology — but rather enhanced. Let’s consider some of the core functions of your sales catalog and how they can boost its usability. These are a few functions your catalog must successfully carry out in order for it to be a stand-alone sales channel.

1) Identify yourself
A catalog can go a long way in communicating your corporate branding message. Some companies have even become inseparable from their catalog (ref. New Pig and the “Pigalog”). It offers the ability to present your storefront to a customer at any location. You have the opportunity to identify why you are able to serve a customer’s specific needs — just by simply adjusting your established product selection so it is targeted at a particular niche market (i.e., pharmaceutical, forestry, construction, etc.). You can utilize your catalog to establish your position in the marketplace: the low-cost leader, a high-volume distributor, a services-plus provider, etc.

2) Provide an overview
A catalog is many times the only opportunity you may have to quickly and concisely communicate to a prospect what product lines you represent. The manufacturers you represent say a tremendous amount about who you are as a distributor. More importantly, a catalog lets the customer know whether or not you have access to the product lines they want. It is difficult and costly to include every product you represent within the pages of your catalog. A carefully planned presentation of the manufacturers within your catalog’s layout will allow you to display the top-selling items, as well as thoroughly identify the manufacturer lines you represent.

3) Present the details
Because a catalog may be called upon to service the needs of a client, without the benefit of a sales representative being present, it is also imperative to provide the information needed to aid in the purchase decision.

4) Collect purchase details
You have done all you can to help guide the customer toward making the right purchase decision — now ask for the order.

This can be as simple as including an order form in the catalog for your customer to fill out and submit. Ensure there are ample opportunities for the customer to determine how to place their order: include a toll-free phone number on each page spread, encourage them to place their order online, ask them to contact one of your knowledgeable customer service representatives, etc. It would be a shame to bring a customer up to the point of placing their order, only to leave them to their selves to figure out how. There is nothing wrong with asking for the order, or even enticing the customer to place their order by utilizing promotional discounts or free shipping offers.

5) Communicate your unique selling proposition
You have already identified yourself, provided an overview, presented the details and collected the order — now it is time to make sure you remind the customer why doing business with you is the right choice. Let them know how easy it is to communicate their specific needs to you. Help them understand the level of assurance they should have because of your product and/or service warranties. Tell them how important their satisfaction is to your company’s success. Provide them with the details that let them know you are there to help meet their needs at any level. Make sure they walk away from the transaction with a confirmed understanding that they made the right choice.

Stand-alone tool
A catalog is a great tool to support your sales team or online sales efforts. It is also a tool that can stand on its own. In order to accomplish this, you must again allocate the resources necessary for it to properly perform. Ignore any one of the key functions we discussed and you will be left with only a support tool and not a sales channel.

While considering “the big picture” and determining the best course of action to take for your sales efforts, it is a good idea to take time to notice whether or not all of your sales vehicles are at operational status. This requires implementing the key functions to guarantee usability, no matter which sales channel.