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May 11, 2006
Case Study

How to Market Services to Mid-Size Businesses -- IBM Test Results

SUMMARY: Now that you've migrated all of your marketing materials to the company Web site, do you need to put out an old-fashioned catalog? 18 months ago, IBM decided to test it. The results from that small experiment now dominate the Global Services team's marketing activities. Here's the strangest thing: the catalog doesn't promote computers, servers or widgets. IBM is offering business services. How do you create a catalog for intangibles? Find out.

"Since everybody in the marketing world has invested in the Web, nobody wants to do a catalog anymore," says Samantha Harris, Manager Global Channel Enablement, IBM Global Technology Services.

However, as a catalog shopper in her personal life, Harris began to wonder whether IBM's services sales couldn't be helped by one. "When I get a catalog, it makes me go to the Web. If you expect people to cruise the Web by themselves, you're kind of naive."

Of course it helps being IBM. Millions of customers and prospects surf the site already. However, Harris' job was to support sales reps worldwide. She began to wonder whether a catalog wouldn't help them do their jobs better.

After all, if your sales rep is surfing your site looking for info all day, they are not on the road or in meetings where they belong. Perhaps, Harris mused, a catalog would be handy as a personal educational tool.

And, what the heck, a few reps might use a catalog as leave-behind marcom for those few prospects they ran across who preferred print.


Harris and her creative team launched a test 20-page catalog ("Really more of a brochure masquerading as a catalog," she admits) in print and PDF in January 2005.

Then they surveyed the sales team to see how it was received. The results showed that Harris' initial expectations were completely off the mark.

Although the sales reps liked the catalog well enough for their own education, what they really adored was handing it out to prospects and clients. 89% said the catalog would be awfully useful for client education. 71% predicted a catalog could shorten the sales cycle.

Anytime 89% of your sales reps vigorously agree about anything, it's quite astonishing. So, the marketing team re-arranged their priorities and schedules to leap on this wave of enthusiasm. It was time to create the most fabulous catalog they possibly could:

Step #1. Corral service descriptions into catalog format

"To me, the definition of a brochure is a set of information that you may or may not peruse casually. With a catalog, you go through a thoughtful process -- which one of these things am I in the market for?" explains Harris.

"A brochure may be beautifully laid out and have some nice information, but a catalog involves discipline of information. It must allow a customer to self-select between offers in terms of their needs."

This meant turning services that are often customized by the customer need into a firmer set of clearly defined offerings.

Harris decided to give each service an equal amount of real estate, half a page. In that half page, the service was described in a table-like format (link to sample below) for easy comparison with other offerings. Factoids could include:

--A service name that clearly described what it accomplished for the customer, such as: "IBM Express IT Strategy Assessment"

--A one-paragraph description of the service, positioning it versus other offerings

--A bulleted list of basics included, often called "lite version"

--A bulleted list of additional options, often called "value-add version"


--Sales and financing information contacts

--Duration (how long the service would take)

--"Pain point icons" -- showing at a glance which types of problems this service addressed, such as "Improve Customer Experience" or "Enhance Security Compliance"

Step #2. Decide on layout and format

Next, Harris and her team sat down at a conference table piled high with catalogs of every shape, size and description. They were looking for mistakes to avoid and best practices to emulate from everyone from HP to Victoria's Secret.

In addition to following IBM design rules, the creative team decided they would obey these rules:

o Call to action on every page

At the base of every single page (except the cover), the creative team put a large call to action. The call-to-action typeface was as large as most headlines.

o Catalog-style pages

Unlike most brochures, catalogs tend to have formal pages such as magazine-style cover, a table of contents, a fine print page and a personal welcome letter from a named individual.

o Non-clip-arty photographs

You can't show photos of intangibles such as services. Instead, the team used photos of business executives that matched their target audience from IBM's in-house creative bank. They chose the images carefully so the photos appeared to have been taken by the same photographer during one session for that particular catalog edition rather than a random gathering of clip art.

o Color coding

Offerings were organized through the catalog by color coding to make it easier to locate things quickly.

o Pain-point copy

Copy was customer-centric. For example, instead of "About our services," one cover headline read, "Innovative ideas and solutions for growing your business."

Step #3. Distribute globally

Harris set forth a distribution schedule to be followed for each new edition of the catalog. First telesales, call center staff, international offices and field sales receive PDF and printed copies -- before a single prospect or customer got them. (This is a best practice many marketers neglect.)

The catalog targeted midmarketcompanies with 100-2,500 employees.

Next, Harris offered each international office the chance to request their own version. These tailored versions were translated by a vendor and then double-checked by local natives. Specific services might be altered, photos could be swapped out and, of course, the welcome letter was from the local office instead of IBM-USA.

"IBM could be accused of being quite faceless," notes Harris. "That cover letter is valuable in the US, but even more valuable when customized for offices outside the US. From a global perspective, when you get down to Iberia and smaller countries, customers are more likely to have met their local IBM general manager."

The next stage was to get catalogs into the hands of actual clients. Harris set up a print-on-demand service for sales and telesales. Reps could request a copy be sent to a customer, and it would be printed and mailed almost instantly, complete with that rep's contact info on the back cover.

The Web team also added offers for the PDF version, and later a flash-version, on multiple pages of the relevant IBM site section. (Link to screenshot below.) Last but not least, site visitors could sign up with their email addresses to be notified when a new edition came available.


"I've been working on deliverables for the past nine years, and I've never seen such enthusiasm to adopt a particular one," says Harris.

Customers and prospects love it. The catalog offer is the number one *most* downloaded offer by visitors to IBM Global Services' Web site.

Plus, the catalog has legs in the field. "The sales reps are using the catalog at every step of the sales cycle -- not just to get their foot in the door. It's an upsell piece; it's a relationship piece. We were quite surprised to hear reps attach it to proposals when they are giving proposals."

The catalog is even more popular outside the US. "I was quite shocked at how many of the geographies wanted to use it and adopt it."

Now the team's marketing schedule is built around twice-annual catalog release dates. The catalog has become the number one most important piece of marcom they produce.

"What I like about the catalog," explains Harris, "is how it has unique value for the sales team. They don't have to scramble around to pull spec sheets together or print out a few Web pages. The one deliverable you always have with you is the catalog. It's a one-stop-shop."

Useful links related to this article:

Samples of IBM catalogs from various countries:

Leopard-- the marketing communications agency IBM relied on to create the catalogs

IBM Global Technology Services

See Also:

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