How to Make B-to-B Data Dance
November 1, 2002

After nearly 20 years in business-to-business marketing, Pam Maxwell is convinced of one thing: Most companies don’t understand the value of their data. At Interline Brands, a $630 million distributor of maintenance and repair products, she feels fortunate to work in a company that believes in the role data can play in catalog marketing. Among Interline’s catalog brands are Barnett, Wilmar, Sexauer, Maintenance USA and Hardware Express. Maxwell came to her current post in January 2001, after 18 years in sales and marketing for Airgas, a distributor of industrial gas. She started there right out of high school and moved into supervisory positions after

Mail to the Government
November 1, 2002

Selling to the U.S. government, which includes federal, state and local governments, can be a sweet deal for a cataloger. There are more than 70,000 government jurisdictions in the United States, and they buy $2.5 trillion for goods and services each year! The funds usually are spent through specific contracts, or they constitute discretionary purchases. The latter is spent on small purchases (called micropurchases) through purchasing, field and regional offices. It’s spent by government credit card users (Federal government and some state governments), and others who must acquire goods quickly. The use of SmartPay, the federal small-purchase credit card (formerly known as

What a B-to-B Catalog Should Be
June 1, 2002

I am a sucker for perfection—those things in life that cannot be improved upon. Examples include toothpicks, McDonald’s french fries, the Boeing 747, Avery labels, a Bombay Sapphire martini, Fred Astaire movies, Rubbermaid® products and business-to-business (b-to-b) catalogs that don’t waste my time. The catalogs from Consolidated Plastics are good examples of the latter. The Twinsburg, OH-based company produces four b-to-b catalogs: Plastics; Rubbermaid Commercial Products (right); Bags, Packaging and Shipping Supplies; and Commercial Mats and Matting. My favorite is the Rubbermaid book, which features bright colors, terse but perfect copy, absolute ease of navigation and no-hassle ordering. The cover

Service Anyone?
May 1, 2002

While attending a recent business marketing conference, two things really struck me. First, direct mail not only lives, but thrives. Indeed, how do you drive Web traffic? Snail mail! Who wants a print catalog? Web browsers! Second, what do customers do when they want to order? They pick up the phone and call. My point isn’t that they use the phone, but rather what occurs—or at least, should occur—during the call. And it isn’t some idealized version of customer relationship management. Rather, they want simple, old fashioned customer service. Let me illustrate with an example from my own catalog-shopping experience. There’s a

B-to-B List Hygiene
December 1, 2001

I have worked at numerous business-to-business (b-to-b) catalogs during the years, and one problem I’ve consistently come across is getting catalogers to see the importance of list hygiene. It’s been an uphill battle to get management to spend the time and money on this important area. It never seems to make it to the top of their “to-do” lists. But that recently has changed with the anthrax scare and postage hikes. Many experts agree with The Direct Marketing Association and U.S. Postal Service that mail will gain greater credibility and a higher opening rate if names and addresses are clean and professional-looking.

From Salvage to Space
August 1, 2001

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. —Yogi Berra This is the extraordinary story of a family-owned corporation that bailed out of its half-century-old signature business and took off in a whole new and highly profitable direction. In 1942, an avid young amateur photographer named Norman W. Edmund tried to locate good camera lenses. But the war had thrown a wrench into the entire stream of consumer and industrial products. After an exhaustive search, he found a source for his lenses. It occurred to him that other camera buffs may be in the same boat, so the

How to Manage Customer Touchpoints
July 1, 2001

A beleaguered catalog industry has begun the painful process of paying the piper for the excesses of the 1990s. Collectively, we woke up in the fourth quarter of 2000 to the first sobering reality check in nearly a decade—namely, slower growth. Today, nothing less than corporate profitability and business survival are at stake. Another unpleasant jolt to our euphoria arrived earlier this year in the form of an average 17-percent, bulk-rate postage hike. The ink had barely dried when yet another round of postal hikes was announced. Escalating fuel prices ignited a troubling round of rising shipping costs. And mounting paper prices

E-commerce: Unconquered Territories
June 1, 2001

After faltering at the starting block, online procurement might have found the magic combination to finally make businesses sit up and notice: indirect buying. And PC giant Dell Computer is leading the pack. Businesses have resisted online buying services until indirect e-procurement arrived on the scene mostly because open buying was slow and perceived as less-than-secure. E--procurement is the purchasing of support goods and services through an online, private customized catalog. The catalog contains products a company is interested in, and has approved for employee purchase, as well as a company’s negotiated pricing. According to AMR Research, the worldwide market

Business-to-Government E-commerce Basics
April 1, 2001

Just four years ago, selling to the United States government was easy. That was the first time I saw a memo from a CFO establishing guidelines for online purchases using government issued credit cards. Those guidelines were short and sweet: (a) the Web site must offer secure purchasing; and (b) buyers should purchase from known vendors. That was it! During the past several years, things have gotten noticeably more complex. In that time, I have been monitoring vendor Web sites and government list servers and consulted with some notables in the industry. As a result, I have evolved a list of Web “basics”

You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty
April 1, 2001

If you’ve paid attention to popular culture during the last 40 years, you’ve come to learn there are certain things in life that money, apparently, can’t buy: love, happiness and all of those priceless things mentioned in the MasterCard commercials. But in the world of direct marketing, we have another to add to the list—customer loyalty. The Customer Hierarchy If you segment the customers in a cataloger’s database to fit into a typical customer hierarchy, you’ll see various levels of buying activity and inactivity that move a person from being a prospect to a “trier” to a buyer and so on until loyalty is