For almost all B2B manufacturers, distributors, or VARs, the decision to implement product catalog management and sell online is a complicated equation involving channel conflict vs future revenue. You have to be very careful you don’t cannibalize or alienate your current primary sales channels. But you also realize that in the blink of an eye your distributors, who survive on thin margins, could disappear or be the victims of consolidations.

Multi-Channel Customer Outreach Strategy

In this environment, you have to have a multi-channel customer outreach strategy. In a recent study, Forrester found that organizations that offered multi-channel touch-points (very different than multi-channel sales options) saw a 17% increase in Average Order Value.

Now, the obvious choice might be to launch an online eCommerce store with product catalog management, but we believe even an intermediate step of allowing your current customers to browse your catalog will have a material impact on your top and bottom line revenue.

In addition, this will actually engage your current channels in a positive way, as the research shows this will help them make more sales. This approach is easily extensible, allowing you to easily add quoting and even eCommerce without throwing away any of your capital or operational investments.

3 Steps to Building Digital Engagement in B2B graphic

Letting Customers Browse Your B2B Catalog

But how do you go about attaining this first step of allowing customers to browse your digital product catalog?

Here are the steps to think through:

1) Take your current ERP catalog, and create an online product catalog. This is a critical step, because the way that your SKU data is created is the #1 factor of how easy it will be for your customers to discover your products via search and category browsing. To do this we evaluate your ERP catalog and:

  • We write your titles
  • We write your short and long descriptions in your brand voice
  • We create three professional and beautiful SKU images per non-configurable SKU
  • We create and organize all your SKU attributes
  • We create your SKU taxonomy

2) We configure the cloud-based, highly rated Salsify product information management system to give you a modern place from which to maintain and publish this new online product catalog. Many companies make the mistake of trying to maintain a digital product catalog in their ERP. This is short-sighted, because no ERP allows you to easily search, update, and syndicate your catalog. With Salsify, you can do all of this, and their pre-built Amazon, Walmart, and CMS feeds will save you a lot of integration expenses down the road.

3) Configure and install the industry-leading Bloomreach DXP, from which you can publish a beautiful online channel that reflects your brand voice. Bloomreach even lets you auto-merchandize your pages with advanced AI, saving you much of the operational expenses that you generally incur from continuously manually merchandising product listing pages in your commerce catalog.

4) Provide all program management, development, testing. Deployment is also included.

5) Provide complete training and operational assistance on your new catalog management tools.

Product Catalog Management process graphic

eCommerce Platforms for Self-Quoting

When do you want self-quoting? You may be looking for self-quoting (rather than a browsable catalog) when:  

  • You want to avoid channel conflicts, and take a crawl, walk, run approach to your digital strategy
  • You have a hybrid catalog of highly configurable SKUs and simple SKUs (you can think of service agreements as a simple SKU as well)
  • Your sales representatives take a lot of time creating and discarding quotes when dealing with high-touch customers

When looked at from these perspectives, it makes a lot of sense to offer this intermediate quoting route. One of our manufacturing customers showed a savings of $1.2 million dollars a quarter when leveraging this approach.

So what does it take to move beyond phase 1? It depends on the complexity of your catalog. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on enabling quoting for relatively simple SKUs. If you want to learn what it would take to enable quoting for more complex, configurable SKUs, just shoot me an email here.

For enabling quoting on simpler SKUs, you will want to add a SaaS commerce platform like Oracle Commerce Cloud, commercetools, or Elastic Path to your technology ecosystem. These systems will plug-in directly to your ERP, or if you followed the template in our original post, to your PIM, CMS, and CRM.  

This eCommerce system will need to have some distinct capabilities to work in this model:

  1. It will need to be an API-first architecture so you can get data in and out easily
  2. It needs to be able to easily consume your catalog data from your PIM or ERP
  3. It will need to be able to represent multiple ‘carts,’ or quotes (more about this next).
  4. It will need to be able to temporarily or permanently store those carts at both the account level and at the individual level
  5. The quote should be stateful, i.e. the platform needs to be able to maintain multiple ‘states’ (such as open or closed)

Item #2 on this list will be one that eliminates the most platforms, because this is something very specific to B2B organizations. For example, even does not support this on the consumer site. Want to test this? Go to Amazon and try to ‘save’ multiple carts. You won’t be able to -- the best you can do is create different ‘lists,’ but these are very different from carts.

Once you have an idea of what platform you want, you need to decide whether this platform will be where you store quotes for the rest of your organization, or whether it will simply be a pass-through. Since most organizations already have a quoting system (spreadsheets, ERP, CPQ, etc.) we recommend that you use this as a pass-through. It adds about 3 weeks of effort on your implementation, but removes months of planning and training from your long-term goal, since your sales force can continue to use the tools you have in place today. Essentially, your eCommerce platform will control the UX of the quotes, keep a record of them, and then communicate with your quoting platform to persist and edit the quotes.

Finally, you have to decide who can access these quotes. Typically, we recommend that you add in an integration to your CRM platform, to automatically track quotes as opportunities within your ecosystem. If you have a high percentage of quotes that are created but don’t close, then simply open the opportunity (and close it as won or lost) at a state that makes sense in your quoting pipeline.

Wrapping It Up

Hopefully this provides you with a meaningful primer on how to implement product catalog management and take your online catalog and turn it into a customer facing quoting solution. If you have additional questions or comments, or want to learn how Object Edge is helping companies adapt to technology disruptions to exist for future generations, please email or call us.

About the Author

Blue dotted circle

Rohit Garewal


Rohit is a forward-thinking eCommerce evangelist, especially focused on re-energizing the B2B sector and merging the old disciplines with new technology opportunities. He is passionate about delivering profitable growth through people-driven digital transformation. Watch his talk on digital transformation.

Latest Posts

Cropped photo of a man using tablet device

Looking for help?

We're here for you. Schedule a quick call.