More Companies Replace Catalogs With CD-ROMs

Disks are a useful and inexpensive solution to storage problems

P> CHICAGO -- The federal government focuses on using CD-ROM technology to store technical information. But commercial users find the technology useful as a sales tool, as well. In fact, any company with an extensive product line should consider using the disks.

CrabTree Vice President Jim Bristol relates how just four years ago, his marketing communications agency realized that CD-ROM technology would overtake the agency's primary means of selling its clients' products in industries such as industrial and electrical parts.

As a result, the agency, then a part of Mark Anderson Associates, Arlington Heights, Ill., scrapped all paper-based projects and went into the digital world. The strategy seems to have paid off. The privately held Chicago company has thrived and is now a leader in the emerging world of electronic sales.

"We had plenty of experience as a marketing communications firm. We did a lot of catalog work. We knew that the electronic world wouldn't do away with the paper world. It provides a security blanket for some. But at the same time, the ability to deliver information more quickly and more up to date is much better served through the electronic medium," said Bristol.

CD-ROMs are simply a new information-delivery vehicle, in Bristol's view. The same information contained in the paper-based product is input into format. But better graphics and more timely information is contained in the product. What's more, the CD-ROM can be linked via an on-line service to the client's headquarters. Orders can be placed directly because order forms are already on the disk. This speeds up the sales cycle.

CrabTree made its transition to the electronic world by crafting an alliance with a "leading-edge, or in some cases, bleeding-edge, technologist." The company affiliated with a small software maker with strong search engine technology, which enables users of the CD-ROM to search for parts by size, lot number or even color.

"You don't want to scroll through, or turn pages in a 200-page catalog. So the search capability must allow people to use simple keystrokes or point-and-click technology," said Bristol.

CrabTree's target market for its CD-ROMs was the industrial market. "We contacted companies [such as] wire and cable companies, pump manufacturers and welding equipment manufacturers," said Bristol. "We asked them whether they were ready for an electronic version. That's a key question. Some [companies] are ready and some are not. It depends on the sophistication of the sales, marketing and executive levels of the company. Not the MIS department."

Companies should view the technology as a tool that can be used in the field, not a toy. "Clients could not only give end users updates on new products but could give field salespeople the same option," said Bristol.

"So, rather than having a typical sales call, where information is presented in response to last week's questions, the salesman can reply to questions right away. All new product info is right there on the CD-ROM," said Bristol.

A typical catalog takes about two to three months to produce. Once it is printed, it can't be altered. "It's too expensive to alter. But a piece of plastic can be altered rather quickly or inexpensively," Bristol said.

Why Use CD-ROM Catalogs?

A new study by Electronic Marketing Systems, Morrisville, Pa., has found that people consider a CD-ROM catalog even more useful than a print catalog when buying computer parts. The study, based on hundreds of user interviews by American Opinion Research for EMS, found that the features most appealing to users are:

- Assistance in searching for specific items

- Clear explanations of compatibility of parts

- Reminders that certain accessories are necessary

- And multimedia presentations of the uses of new products

A fifth of those surveyed said they would spend more on new products if information about those products were available on CD-ROM. Seven out of 10 of those surveyed found the CD-ROM catalog educational -- and much more informative about products than even a sales call.

"Close to nine of 10 users said that if the CD-ROM catalog were available from their regular supplier [of any product] free, they would request it," according to the survey. Contact: EMS, (215) 736-9192 for more information.

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