Launching an online product B2B catalog can increase customer engagement. It’s one of the first steps that you can take for the digital transformation of your business. 

In fact, it’s much easier to accomplish than you may realize. Technology has made digitizing your catalog so that your customer base can browse and self-educate far simpler than it used to be. Many B2B businesses are achieving this in just three months.

Why Have a B2B Product Catalog?

Quite simply, it’s all about numbers. In the U.S. in 2017, 56% of all product searches begin on Amazon. Shoppers have come to expect some kind of eCommerce experience. 

Buyers are used to using eCommerce platforms to learn about products, and have inherent biases towards multi-channel experiences, even if each channel isn’t purchase-focused. Customers are used to researching online, even if they buy in-store. 

Your online B2B catalog can enhance the user experience, all the while serving as a marketing channel for your legacy sales channels. 

Companies that offer multi-channel B2B eCommerce experiences see an average ROI increase of 24%, and companies that take it one step further and offer not just browsing, but purchasing online and off, also see a 17% increase in average order value.

3 Steps to Launching an Online Product Catalog

There are three major components to launching a catalog online:

  1. Digitize your catalog: collect your data and structure it with a taxonomy
  2. Maintain it in a Product Information Management tool (PIM) for easy maintenance
  3. Publish your catalog with a Data Experience Platform (DXP) that creates a customer-friendly experience
Launch online B2B catalog in 3 steps - Process graphic

Step 1: Digitize Your B2B Catalog

For digitization, there are two critical elements:

  1. Product Structure - the titles, attributes, descriptions, pictures, etc. that define your products. 
  2. Taxonomy - the categorization of your products. 

These elements matter because your products need to be findable for B2B buyers. They need to be able to search, filter, and compare products. The better your product structure and taxonomy, the easier it is for customers to find products that may be of interest to them.

In order to create useful product attributes, here are eight tips:

  1. Categories vs. Attributes - Attributes will help you refine results; categories will group products together. Attributes are elements; they add more precise detail about a specific product.
  2. What user experiences can be driven by attributes? Think about how the attributes might drive the user experience.
  3. Distributors who categorize by brand - does it make sense to also have this as an attribute for easier filtering and comparing?
  4. Which attributes should you show to customers and which should you keep hidden? (i.e. discontinued, in stock, etc)
  5. Think like your customer - Find out what information they need to be able to navigate.
  6. If you syndicate your catalog (i.e. you might use it to sell through other channels like Amazon), what information will help you sell through those channels?
  7. Products in the same categories should have similar attributes.
  8. Attributes don’t just have to be product related (i.e. toy stores may have age ranges).

Once your attributes are defined, it’s time to focus on your taxonomy.

An online taxonomy is simply a classification of ordered categories. This means that you need to think about how your customers want products organized. 

When executed poorly, customers may struggle to find what they’re looking for. Search engines won’t be able to properly index your site, and so SEO becomes more difficult and expensive. Additionally, critical services like coupons, promotions, and shipping all rely on your taxonomy. It’s challenging to execute these if your taxonomy isn’t built correctly.

In order to properly design a taxonomy, set the goals for what you’re trying to achieve; identify your target audience; and test it. 

Other tips for creating your taxonomy:

  1. Don’t go crazy creating categories, use a restricted list
  2. Each category is mutually exclusive (i.e. “printers” is better than “office supplies”)
  3. Categories and subcategories should have a relational hierarchy
  4. Attributes are applied consistently throughout each level of the hierarchy
  5. As you drill down into categories, you get closer and closer to what you want
  6. Your hierarchy is normalized (i.e. you shouldn’t have 9 subcategories for one category but just 3 for another)
  7. Don’t permit poly hierarchies
  8. Have strict policies for adding, editing, or deleting (frequent changes negatively impact search engines)

Now that you’ve digitized your catalog, you have to store it somewhere maintainable. 

Step 2: Maintain Your Catalog

A PIM is traditionally where you store all of your product content, so that it all lives together. It’s important to pull everything into one place so that your teams can manage it properly.

PIM, or sometimes PXM (Product Experience Management), is also all about managing the consumer’s journey. Having your information stored in one place gives B2B companies a single source to consult when sharing information with customers, or pushing it out among other channels. 

You can syndicate content more quickly, provide distributors and third-party platforms with all the content they need to sell your products, and even arm your sales reps and digital marketers with the latest and greatest information. 

Step 3: Publish Your Catalog

With your catalog organized and centralized, it’s time to deliver it. 

To achieve the best digital delivery experience, you’ll need to focus on four things:

  1. Provide a rich, commerce-like experience - search, browse, and navigation need to function well; your catalog needs to feel like a modern, commerce platform
  2. Design for mobile first, focusing on a responsive design - business buyers may often be sitting at their desks, but they’re just as often mobile professionals. Consider the need to incorporate emerging channels down the line (i.e. voice-ordering, etc.)
  3. Build a “Content & Commerce” digital experience - your PIM is the source of truth for all your content, but enrich that experience with blogs, articles, how-to-guides, etc. 
  4. Remember your customer starts at Google - make sure your site is SEO friendly so that people can find your product catalog via search engines

About the Author

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Sarah Falcon

VP, Marketing Global

Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.

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