Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The New Salesman and the Shiny New Catalog

In the age of Star Wars for Distributor Sales, it’s still the Sticker Wars

Don't let this be the last impression you
left on your customer
As strange as it may seem, in the age of the internet, iPads, smartphones, and  digital catalogs, best practices in distributor sales still rely on some very “old school” selling methods.  Those of you who have been with us a while may find this contrary to our article on Technology Killing the Dinosaurs, so before you write me off as suffering from premature dementia, let me explain. 

In sales, it’s not about the seller.  You can be tech savvy and proud of it, but customer comfort is king.  For new salespeople, this is perplexing.  You maneuver through the e-catalogs of at  You carry your life on a tablet – calendar, catalogs, contacts, kid’s pictures the whole shooting match.  Regardless of your electronic life, you have to understand many of our customers are still using comfortable old methods while making buying decisions.

These customers have access to the internet.  They may have dozens of electronic brochures loaded on their computers.  However, when purchases are made they return to tried and true ways of getting things done.  And this brings us to the paper catalog.

Every engineering department, maintenance group or contractor on the planet still maintains a library of product catalogs.  Even though a good many turn to the internet for some level of product selection, they ultimately end up with a hard catalog for the final stages of their decision making.  We’ll explore.

I once made the mistake of replacing the beat up and grease covered catalog of a well-respected plant maintenance engineer.  I mean this thing was a health hazard.   It was several years out of date, the pages were dirty.  Many showed the marks of coffee spills and cutting fluid drippings garnered from repeated trips through the plant.  I replaced it with a shiny new version. Later, after receiving a world class butt chewing, I learned the old catalog had notes and references to the machines where the parts where used.  In addition, the engineer had taken the time to mark which parts were kept in stock by my own company.  One other thing, the old catalog had a sticker with our phone number, after hour’s line and the name of his favorite inside person.  Ouch.
Most important to my income was the sticker.  I had neglected to add this because I thought it smacked of crass commercialism.  The truth is customers are likely to look at the catalog as a tool for directing to the local product source. 
Unless your company happens to be one of the very few that invests heavily in internet presence and search engine optimization, there is a very good likelihood a Google search will not direct the customer to you.  Without a sticker identifying your organization the provider of information, solutions and spare parts, you could find yourself out of luck.

We instruct new salespeople to add a company (or maybe even personal sticker resembling a business card) to the front page of all catalogs and brochures handed to customers.  This allows the customer to follow the product back to you. 

A hard copy catalog allows you to customize your presentation by things like marking (in the catalog) which products you keep in stock and which products need additional lead time.  It also gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your devotion to customer service.  Whether you are working with maintenance departments, OEM engineering groups, dealers or anyone else, a catalog with a prominent sticker is appropriate.

Best Practices with Stickers

Every new piece of literature handed to the customer should bear your sticker.  
This does not address catalogs which the customer has had on the shelf for some time.  I believe that it makes sound business sense to offer to review catalogs for the customer on a periodic basis.  This allows you to ensure that your customer has the latest and greatest version of the hard copied catalog.  BTW, don’t make the mistake I did and throw away the customers favorite catalog.

If competitive distributors (those who sell the same product line as you) have dropped off catalogs bearing their stickers, the catalog review allows you to replace their sticker with your own when appropriate.  (Some savvy marketing managers at aggressive distributors have found that oversized stickers allow for easy replacement of the competitors’ sticker.) 

You should put a date on the sticker.  This allows the customer to know the last time you reviewed the catalogs.  If you’re doing your job, this allows you to further outshine the competition.
Before we go:

I know some of you are scratching your heads in disbelief.  In this age of electronic everything, this whole sticker thing seems a bit antiquated and perhaps a bit bizarre.  Let me assure you that even in the 21st century that paper catalogs and their kissing cousins, the sticker, are alive and well.  Ignore this at your own peril.


Tom Zaccaro said...

Such a basic concept yet one that is neglected. I've been using them my entire career.

Gary Usinger said...

even though I have our updated catalog on my I Pad I always carry
our print catalog with me.

I use technology to maybe send a single page on e-mail but still rely
mostly on the catalog.

George Gibbs said...

Totally agreed Frank. I still do catalogs, read them etc... One of the other things is, that the customers sometimes aren't of the "internet" generation, and are more comfortable or used to a piece of paper.

Jency said...

Distributor mind is also as been changed to providing the website full stock list.