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Guide for catalog decision-makers offers 23 tactics & techniques to boost sales & profit performance.
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      to amaze me..."

"Thank you, Jim. You don't hear this often enough, but I feel you should know that we would not be the company we are today if not for you. And, as we move toward becoming the ‘world class' company I envision, you'll continue to play a very important part in that process. It never ceases to amaze me how you can put on 'the hat' that's necessary when it comes to solving the challenges that face us."

Bob Nueske, President,
Nueske Applewood
Smoked Meats,
Wittenberg, WI

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(This page presents one of a series of Special Reports on catalog marketing which will appear in this space. These reports are published to help you improve operating efficiency and profit performance of your business.)

CEO's Checklist: 23 proven ways to
increase catalog sales and profits

By Jim Padgitt

Under the best of conditions, running a successful mail order catalog is no business for the faint-hearted or weak-willed.

Today, business concerns are more complex and intense than ever before: More competitors, higher print costs, increased postage, fewer lists that work, shortage of skilled management personnel, and higher customer expectations, just to name a few.

The key to succeeding in spite of all these concerns? It's no secret, really. You do it with sound planning, smart marketing and the dedication to be the best at what you do. Knowing how to make the most of your company resources, and squeeze every available ounce of profit out of each revenue dollar won't hurt either.

Here's a checklist of smart CEO actions you can take that'll have a direct and substantial effect on your company's top and bottom-lines:

Define your company mission
It's impossible to attain your business goals if you don't understand clearly what they are. Don't let your management team and employees wander aimlessly. As a team, take the time to zero in on your key objectives. 

But, be forewarned: Defining what role you want to play in the lives of your customers isn't easy. That's the reason many companies never do it.

Work within your "niche"
Your catalog business is different from every other one, whether you planned it that way or not. Learn (don't guess!) what customers want and expect from you, and give them all you can.

Don't be tempted to copy your competitor's tactical moves without careful analysis. If a tactic isn't consistent with your customers' view of who you are, it's a bad one.

Develop a written Marketing Plan
Outline your strategies, summarize objectives and detail all your mailings over the next 12 months within the pages of a concise Marketing Plan.

This simple step will help you focus your marketing impact, stay within your cost budget, and present a consistent promotional image to your customers and prospects.

Use an annual budget to keep costs in line
Company and departmental budgets are your most effective cost control tools. If you succeed in controlling costs without a basic budget plan in place, you're just lucky. And, with costs constantly rising, your luck may run out when you can least afford it.

Put your operational plans in writing
In addition to your Marketing Plan, back up your budget with a written Operating Plan. This spells out how you plan to invest your funds and actions you intend to take to meet your performance goals. The key: Putting the plan in writing ensures that all managers know their fiscal responsibilities.

Don't skip planning because "you don't have time"
There's no question about it. Creating comprehensive budgets, Marketing and Operating Plans takes time...and work. But, the result in saved time, money and mistakes is always worth the effort.

Don't let the fires you must put out every day – or resistance from your managers – tempt you to continue practicing "management by the seat of your pants."

Forecast expected results of each mailing
Then, compare actual results to your projection. You'll be surprised at how accurate your forecasts (or those of your Marketing Manager) become after a few months of this productive practice.

Share order count forecasts with your Order Processing and Fulfillment managers
Your managers' ability to efficiently staff the telephones and packing lines depends on this critical information. Safe to say that, without it, your managers are likely to be either overstaffed (fat payroll)...or understaffed (lost orders & revenue).

Develop "flash reports" to help you monitor the current status of your business
For example, daily order counts and sales volumes compared to budget and prior year levels are barometers of your business status. 

Sudden, negative changes in the figures alert you to problem areas instantly. If you're only looking at financial statements or monthly reports, significant damage can be done before you even know there's a problem.

Monitor competitors closely and often
What competitors do really does affect you and your customers. Assign a reliable associate to become regular customers of your top three or four competitors...and keep a log of what mailings are received and when. 

Ask him or her to make presentations to management on competitor activities ever quarter or so.

Project a unique catalog "personality"
Open your catalog to a random spread and lay it on your desktop. Now, do the same with catalogs from your three closest competitors. Could a customer pick out your catalog in a brief visual survey of these spreads? (You can, of course...but could they?) 

If so, great. Your book's "creative personality" is coming through. If not, better get to work on a new design that communicates your company's unique goals and visual appeal.

Don't assume you know what customers want
Many CEO's assume they know who their customers are...why they buy and how they use company products. Too often, these assumptions are logical, reassuring...and DEAD WRONG.

A better idea: Test your comfortable assumptions with the people who know the hard, fast facts – your customers.

Conduct regular customer research
Probing the psyche of your customers once every three or four years is not enough. Perceptions shift quickly based on changes constantly occurring within your company...some you're aware of, others you aren't.

Set up and execute a regular customer research program (at least once or twice a year). This way, you'll be in a position to see trends develop as they occur.

Make sure your catalog answers virtually any prospect question
Most good creative people have learned that writing about and illustrating product benefits is more effective than focusing on features. 

Many, however, still neglect to include mundane details like overall product dimensions ...colors...material of manufacture...length of electrical cord...etc. These are key questions in every prospect's mind, and failing to answer them can cost you the sale.

Measure product profitability, not just sales
If every item in your catalog carried exactly the same gross margin, and occupied exactly the same amount of page space, sales volume is all you'd need to track. This is never the case, of course.

Computers make profitability analysis easy. But, if you don't have a profit-by-square inch package on your system, have profitability by product calculated the old-fashioned way – manually. Otherwise, you're a marketer that's "flying blind" and probably wasting loads of marketing money.

Resist the temptation to carryover unprofitable items
To make your catalog a "lean, mean selling machine" (who wants anything else?), you must make each product justify its presence in your next edition by producing a real profit. 

If sales are strong, give the item more space. If performance is near breakeven, try showing the product in less space. If an item's a clear loser, dump it without emotion and make room for your next breakthrough product.

Sell your intangible benefits, too
In prominent places throughout your catalog, be sure to sell your company "persona"...competitive advantages... unique mission...special customer services (e.g., gift wrapping, quantity discount) options...guarantee of satisfaction, etc.

When a prospect decides to buy a product from you, she's buying your company services and personality, too. These intangible customer benefits are effective in converting indecisive prospects into buyers.

Maximize sales with smart positioning
Your top selling products are best sellers because a lot of people want to buy them. Sell even more by positioning your best products in the "hot spots" of your catalog: Front & back covers, pages 2-8, on either side of the center-bound order form, and the inside back cover.

The high visibility of these catalog positions will make your hot products even hotter.

Keep customers interested with new products
Customers who learn to expect new, interesting products in your catalog will open and scan new catalog editions as they arrive. If, however, they continually see the same lineup of products – with nothing new to whet their interest – they may decide not to spend even the brief time it takes for a cursory review of your latest mailing.

When this happens, you lose sales. 

Spell out company policies in detail
Make certain your catalog carries a complete summary of policies that affect your customers. Doing so reduces inhibitions and builds prospect confidence.

On the other hand, failing to share important policies (e.g., returns and adjustments, guarantees, open accounts, etc.) with prospects breeds uncertainty and unpleasant customer surprises, which, in turn, costs you orders.

Test special offers continuously
It's amazing how so many catalogers put the entire sales burden on their merchandise. Special offers boost prospect & customer interest, and increase response by adding value to your product offerings.

The creative and production investment in successful tests is insignificant compared to the profit impact of a potential 10-20% boost in response.

There's gold in your customer file
Under-mailing customer lists is the most costly mistake catalogers make. Like a good salesman who calls on customers regularly, frequent catalog mailings produce more orders by "being there" when the prospect perceives his need.

How many mailings is enough? For year-round marketers, 6-8 books per year is a good start. Fewer than that and you're leaving money on the table. And don't be concerned if a handful of customers complain you're sending too many catalogs. They're a vocal minority, and don't represent the feelings of most of your customers.

Avoid over-prospecting
While under-mailing your customers is costly, mailing too many books to prospects is also a serious mistake. Customer mailings make money...prospect mailings cost money. While you need to add enough new customers each year to replace the ones you lose – plus a moderate growth factor – over-prospecting can rob you of bottom-line profits.

The best plan: Maximize cultivation of your customer file. Invest in prospecting only to meet your customer file growth objectives. Executed properly, this approach will give you the new customers you need, without draining your year-end profits.

If you'd benefit more from personal guidance in building the sales and profits of your mail order catalog or ecommerce business, contact us for a confidential, complimentary discussion. 


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"Dramatic financial

"I could not afford to add management to my staff, so I looked around for someone that I could use as a sounding board, and who wasn't afraid to offer sound direct marketing guidance. I quickly learned that Jim Padgitt was the missing link for our company. Thanks to Jim's sound business recommendations, we have enjoyed a dramatic financial turnaround. Even though we are hundreds of miles apart, Jim has become an important part of our business. He is my Vice President of Direct Marketing."

Chuck Ehlers, President, GS Direct,
Bloomington, MN

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