How do you build a product catalogue?

I started on this subject a while back and wrote an article here which gives a basic outline for building a product or service package.  But what if you need more?  Building a product catalogue from scratch is tough work, but equally an existing catalogue can easily get out of hand.

You could go on to create a product catalogue.   But what then would be the difference between a products and a catalogue?  And where do packages come in?  Let me explain..  I’ll throw a third element in too, which is the process map.  I’ve another article on process maps right here.

This is the bible, which is what your product catalogue should become for your business

What’s your favourite book?

So let’s bring them together and use some sort of real world example.  Today I’ll avoid a sport or car analogy and instead I’d like you to think of a great book you’ve read.  It needs a few pictures and a few chapters.  Got one in mind?  Good, let’s carry on..

With most books you’ll find them broken in to chapters.  The same goes for your product catalogue except in this case each chapter is an individual product that your business offers.  Each chapter of a book generally can stand alone and make sense on it’s own.  The same should be true for your products, each product should be able to be understood without the need for linking it to other products.

A real world example might be a mobile phone.  The handset is a product, the charger is a product, the headset is a product and for internal purposes even the packaging and instructions are a product.  While each product might be able to be described on it’s own, it might need to be linked with other products to create the product that the end user might purchase.  In the case of our book, you need all of the products (chapters) to be linked together to form the book that you’ll sell to your customers.

When is a product a package?

Products normally already exist so it’s usually a case of trying to define each one to make sense of it internally and for your customer.  Ideally, the customer facing view should be in the simplest form possible so if you do need 50 products for the manufacturing team to work with but only present 5 to your customers, just focus on making sure both parties have what they need.  If you do have multiple products that combine, that’s when you can refer to those as packages (with the name of the package being the thing your customer buys, e.g. Nokia 3310).  With each package, try to list them in a simple form like in the template below:

Product template to help define the products in your business

Product or Service?

How do you define whether what you have is a product or a service?  This is relatively easy to do, if the thing you sell to your customers is MOSTLY a physical thing, something you can touch and hold then it’s a product.  If you can’t touch and hold it, then it’s a service.  This does start to become very grey in places.  As an example, I provide all clients with output that can be printed, or used online, but the majority of what I provide is a service.  John Lewis sell products, but people often buy from them because of the service they provide.  In either case, if you provide a product or service, you can list either in your product catalogue.  This is just a terminology thing, the service can be described as a product..  Hopefully that makes sense!

Deliver a product or service with a process map

Lastly for this article before we summarise is the link to the process map.  In the article here I talked about process maps and how they could also get out of hand.  In the majority of businesses they don’t need to map every moving part of the business, but this is a nice way of linking things together.  If you have defined all of the things that you provide, a process map can then talk about how that order might progress through to the product or service being provided to the customer.  You could end up with a nice link between all of the products, know who is doing what for each customer and nothing will fall through the gaps…

Sound like dreamland?  It’s not too complicated if you’re able to create the right artefacts at the right level of detail for those who need them.

Process template BPMN2.0


Now, back to that original analogy, which book did you go for?  And which book did I have in mind when writing this?  Why don’t you ask a colleague to read this article and see what book they came up with.  It’s highly unlikely we all had the same, it could be a book with 50 pages, 5 chapters, 5 illustrations.  It could have been a biography with 200 pages, 20 chapters and 60 pictures.  It could have been the Gruffalo.  Ok, maybe not, there are no chapters, but hopefully you get the point.

Each book is different and so is every business, there’s not a single solution guaranteed to work for every business.  But every book sets out with the same intention.  It wants the reader to enjoy and understand the content.  That’s what you’re aiming for with your product catalogue, that it makes sense to those who need to use it.  And if that is achieved it should mean that your marketing is able to do the job that it should do and appeal to your potential customers.