10 Ways to Improve Your B-to-B Catalog
By Robert W. Bly

Sensible organization, crisp photography, bold graphics, and powerful copywriting are a few of the keys to a successful business-to-business catalog. But experienced catalog marketers also use dozens of sales-boosting gimmicks that have little to do with the basics of salesmanship or good copywriting. All we know is that these tricks of the trade work -- and that's reason enough to use them. Here are ten that may be helpful to you:

1-Include a letter. To add a personal touch to your product catalog, write a "personal letter" to your customers from the president of your firm. The letter can be printed inside the front cover or run off on letterhead and mailed along with the catalog. You can use this type of letter to introduce the catalog, explain your ordering system, state a company "philosophy," stress your dedication to service and quality, or alert the reader to new, discounted, and other special offerings. Whatever your message, adding a letter to a catalog often increases readership and sales.

2-Bursts. Often used by cereal-makers to alert children to the prize inside the box, the "burst" (a star-shaped graphic with a copy line inside) also can draw a reader to special items within a catalog. Bursts can highlight "price-off" deals, free trials, guarantees, and quantity discounts. Use bursts and other special graphic techniques (such as underlining, color or boldface type, fake handwriting) sparingly. Overuse dilutes their effect.

3-Last-minute specials. Insert into your catalog a sheet featuring items added to your product line or discounted at the last minute. This can be a pull-out or panel on the order form. Tell the customer these bargains were included just in time for mailing, but too late to print in the catalog. This insert generates additional sales because people like to be "in" on the latest developments.

4-Give technical information and tips. The usefulness of this information will encourage buyers to keep your catalog. And the longer they have it, the more often they'll order from it. For instance, a hardware catalog might include an article or table titled, "A Guide to Screw Selection." A filtration catalog could include tips on "How to Clean and Care for Filters."

5-Put your catalog in a three-ring binder. Expensive, but people won't throw out a hardback binder as readily as they would an ordinary paperback catalog. Your customer also is more likely to keep your binder on his shelf because it's too bulky for the filing cabinet.

6-Include product samples. You get two advantages. First, mailings which have three-dimensional objects inside are more likely to be opened than flat envelopes. Second, engineers and other technical buyers often like to play with product samples, keeping them handy on their desks or shelves.

A fine example of this technique was used in a brochure for Gore-Tex, a sealant that prevents leaks in pipe sections when you bolt them together. The sample sealant was stuck to a photo of a pipe flange in the exact position it would be used in real life. The copy told the reader to remove the sample and put it through a series of simple tests (accomplished in 5 minutes at his desk) to demonstrate its effectiveness.

7-List Your Customers. Include a complete list of all the firms that have bought from you, whether you have 300 or 3,000 names. Seeing such a list in print makes a powerful impression on your customers. They'll think, "How can I go wrong buying from these guys? Everybody in the world does business with them."

8-Include an order form. Yes, you can drive catalog readers to your web site where they can order online. But many still prefer to order the old-fashioned way, by mail or phone. So include an order form. Make it easy to fill out. Leave enough space for customers to write in needed information. Bind it into the catalog so it won't be lost or misplaced.

If your products can't be ordered by mail, include a "spec sheet." The spec sheet asks the prospect to provide key information on his applications (such as, size of plant, hours of operation, type of process, and so on). With this information in hand, you can specify the equipment the prospect needs and tell him what it will cost.

9-Include a business reply envelope (BRE). The BRE is a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope the prospect can use to mail the order form or spec sheet back to you. Practically every consumer catalog has a BRE.

Most business catalogs don't. Business-to-business marketers think, "My prospect works in an office; he has a supply of envelopes and a postage meter handy. He doesn't care about the cost of postage, and he can have his secretary take care of addressing the envelope." This may be true, but BREs still boost the response rate in business catalogs. Why? Not because they save the buyer a few cents, but because they flag readers to notice you'd like them to respond to your catalog.

In the same way, a coupon in an ad increases the number of people who phone or write letters. The coupon says, "This is a direct-response ad. A response is the appropriate next step if you're interested in the product."

10-Make it an event. Industrial buyers get a lot of catalogs in the mail, so the boredom factor is high. Anything you can do to make your catalog mailing special, to stand out from the crowd, will boost sales and inquiries.

One manufacturer of big-ticket industrial equipment sent a tin with a pound of chili powder with each catalog, along with a cover letter proclaiming, "The Hottest Catalog in the Industry." With a little imagination, you'll come up with an approach that fits your catalog and customers.

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 75 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). You can find him on the Web at www.bly.com, or e-mail him at rwbly@bly.com, or phone 201-385-1220.