👩🎓🛒👨🎓How to effectively organize a B2B product catalog
Requirements for a business-to-business eCommerce catalog are quite different from B2C.
First, B2B catalogs should be ready to support a much large number of products. Business buyers are usually frequent visitors and more experienced with your products and services. They will have far higher expectations of the catalog and what they want to achieve.
For example, a buyer may not want to navigate or browse products but instead build a cart by entering product codes. The catalog will need to support that buying experience.
Catalogs should have far more comprehensive product descriptions and use media and other tools to help inform the customer about the product and how to use it. In addition, a product may require product installation or maintenance information.
Many businesses keep their product information in ERP. That information is only sufficient when experienced salespeople place all orders. If your products aren’t surfacing where your customers are searching, incomplete or inaccurate product information is most likely to blame.
Businesses implementing digital channels need to invest in enriching product data and may even consider implementing a separate Product Information Management (PIM) system, which we will discuss at the end of this section.
A catalog should include detailed specifications and designs that help technical buyers to select the right products and solve their challenging problems. You might wonder why this can’t be handled via the search bar. The answer is: If data is not well organized in the first place, the search doesn’t work. It’s the classic ‘garbage in – garbage out’ scenario. A Forrester research report found that poorly architected sites sell 50% less than better-organized sites. Where searches failed, 47% of users gave up after just one search, and only 23% tried three or more times.
Customers come to a site for information about products they need for their business. However, surfacing that knowledge requires presenting information about that solution from various perspectives. Users consider their problems in different contexts and have varying mental models to describe their needs. Are they looking for a particular item, say a wireless piezo sensor and actuator? Or are they looking for a solution for a remotely controlled device without a preconceived idea of the exact components? What type of input is required? Mechanical, optical, magnetic, thermal? If magnetic, is it inductive or fluxgate? And so on.
Many factors can be relevant when a customer is looking for a sophisticated product. The questions that will lead users to solve that problem need to be represented by data on the manufacturer’s website – typically in a way that can be searched or queried as the user answers progressively more detailed questions about their needs. That was handled through a conversation in the pre-Internet era, either in person or on the phone.
Because it is difficult to capture all the knowledge for hundreds of thousands or millions of products with endless use cases, scenarios, and details, many manufacturers of complex devices and components have depended more on expert interactions than on their websites. As the industry evolved, more of this information became readily available. However, human experts are still part of the process, and organizations are still challenged in developing the correct structures for accessing solutions.
Taxonomies can be organized by the fundamental nature of the object. For example, drills and saws are tools; plywood is a different type of lumber. But they can also be organized according to “about-ness” – the characteristics of an object that would cause a buyer to choose one version over another, such as how much power they have (in the case of tools) or what type of wood they are made of (in the case of lumber). That is where the nuances of product details and attribute models come into play. A taxonomy can provide a broad grouping, but sub-groupings are created according to specific characteristics – such as the ones that describe actuator types.
You can organize an Ecommerce catalog based on the applications of the products. What are the typical problems they solve? That is where use cases are designed for the audience and industry. An actuator for a laboratory application is very different from an actuator for an automotive application, which is vastly different from the one used in the petrochemical industry.
There may be hundreds of thousands of use cases and problems to solve across all industries, but perhaps a few dozen when applied to a particular industry combined with an application. Classifying products by application can be used to narrow the options to a more manageable number.
Another way to describe products and product groupings is by solution. A solution addresses a particular need through a combination of products or products and services. Certain products might improve safety or be more cost-effective, while others might have been designed to be more lightweight or energy efficient than previous versions of products. Terms “Green” or “sustainable,” “energy efficient,” or “extreme conditions” can be descriptions of characteristics of products or a benefit achieved from using them.
Categories of applications and solutions are both context-dependent and have different meanings depending on the nature of the industry and tools, systems, products, or components. Descriptive taxonomies, therefore, need to be developed specifically for each industry.
The quality of the user experience depends not only on the quality of information but also on how well it is aligned with the user’s way of thinking about their problem. Customers expect that specialists know more about unique technologies than buyers do about their challenges.
The buyer may not be aware of new ways of combining technologies and products that could save them money, increase reliability, improve safety, reduce turnaround time or offer other benefits to the ultimate customer.
Therefore, the organization’s unique competitive advantage depends not just on its product selection and depth and quality of engineering and design but also on how those differentiators are captured, codified, organized, and represented through the user experience.