Effective catalog management is critical to any seller’s success. Yet choosing the best catalog format for your business—and knowing how to optimize it for you and your customers—can be tricky. In this article, part II of our catalog management series, we list benefits of using Ariba PunchOut™ along with tips to help you decide if it’s right for you. You’ll also find best-practice strategies on getting the best results from a new PunchOut catalog or one you already have.


What Is PunchOut?


PunchOut gives you a way to leverage your existing eCommerce investment by enabling customers with procurement systems to use your website as a catalog. With PunchOut, you maintain a single online catalog that all your clients can access, eliminating the need to create separate CIF (catalog interchange format) catalogs that you upload for each account.


How can PunchOut catalogs benefit my business?


PunchOut catalogs provide a wide array of advantages over paper or CIF catalogs.


  • Exceptional ease of use. The more consumers make personal purchases on sites such as Amazon and eBay, the more they expect the same user-friendly experience for business procurement. With PunchOut, that’s exactly what they get. By providing a PunchOut catalog, you make buying faster and easier—increasing the likelihood that customers will purchase from you.
  • Built-in marketing and branding consistency. PunchOut catalogs let you take advantage of the marketing already built into your website to promote your products and services. This means customers experience the same navigation flow, color palette, and marketing style that make your site unique, reinforcing your brand in the market.
  • Personalization for each customer account. With PunchOut, you gain the flexibility to customize which items and services are visible to each client, enabling you to better meet their needs and requirements. You can also adjust pricing in accordance with specific customer agreements.
  • Automatic updates and up-selling opportunities. The ability to automate price changes and show accurate, real-time availability of what you sell is another PunchOut advantage. You can also cross-sell and up-sell by displaying items often purchased in conjunction with products a user is buying or listing items viewed during previous PunchOut sessions.


Optimizing Sales and Service through PunchOut: B&H Photo
B&H Photo, Video & Pro Audio, a world-class provider of creative technology products, is a great example of a seller able to drive solid results using PunchOut. When a large buyer asked them to join the Ariba Network, B&H—like many sellers—initially handled the request in a tactical manner. However, after further discussions with customers, B&H leadership saw this as an opportunity to grow the account by replacing their 500-item, annually updated CIF catalog (which had rapidly obsolete, too-high prices) with a 40,000-item CIF catalog to be updated monthly. The customer’s initial reluctance to update catalogs at this higher frequency disappeared once they realized it would save them hundreds of thousands of dollars due to more timely pricing. The result was a true win-win. B&H now provides customers with a 200,000+-item PunchOut catalog updated multiple times daily and has increased sales in the account by millions.


How do I decide if PunchOut is a good idea for my company?


While PunchOut can be effective for any seller, it’s especially valuable in the following circumstances:


  • If you offer a large number of products. PunchOut is far more efficient than CIF if you sell office supplies, MRO products, or any other category that involves hundreds or thousands of items. While CIF requires you to manually update every item within your spreadsheet application or product database and then upload each catalog file individually, PunchOut lets you handle these tasks in one place—through your website. This saves you significant time and money and makes it far easier to keep your catalog up to date.
  • If you sell services. Negotiating terms and prices for services typically requires lengthy information exchanges between buyer and seller. With PunchOut, you can use your webforms to collect much of this data, helping you see early on whether your capabilities match what the customer needs and supply a more accurate quote faster.
  • If your products or services are configurable. PunchOut makes it easy for your customers to configure products online, reducing or eliminating the need for manual paperwork and in-person exchanges. If you sell printing, marketing materials, build-to-order equipment, or other products with many options and characteristics, this can save huge amounts of time for you and your customers.
  • If your products require extensive documentation. PunchOut enables you to provide self-service capabilities to customers by giving them access to product documentation, reviews, or decision-support material on your website. This lets them research potential purchases thoroughly before they buy, saving time for your sales team and reducing the likelihood of mistakes and returns.


How can I drive better results from my PunchOut catalog?


Whether you’re just launching PunchOut or have used it for years, these best-practice strategies will optimize your results.


  • Best practice #1: Line up resources before you start. If you already have an eCommerce website, use it; this lets you capitalize on your existing branding and process flow, which your customers are already familiar with. Then assess whether you have the in-house expertise to implement PunchOut, keep your catalog updated, and handle new integrations, or if you should outsource these tasks. The Ariba Supplier Solution Provider Sales & Marketing Program can connect you with vendors whose PunchOut support abilities have been validated, ensuring you get the service you require.
  • Best practice #2: Keep navigation simple. Set up navigation to minimize opportunities to exit your site. Sellers sometimes make the mistake of giving users too many places to go, resulting in lost sales when customers wander off to other sites or activities. Instead, offer just two options: “Cancel Shopping” and “Checkout.” Be sure to hide fields already built into the customer’s procurement application, such as user IDs and passwords, shipping and payment, cost centers, and approvals. (You should also avoid having a “Buy” button, since the actual purchase does not occur during the PunchOut session.)
  • Best practice #3: Set aside time for testing. Thoroughly test your catalog internally and with your customer to ensure everything works right before go-live. The Ariba Network provides a PunchOut test application you can use to complete this essential step.
  • Best practice #4: Develop a customer guide for your site. Creating a well-organized, user-friendly online guide is a great way to introduce your PunchOut site to prospects and customers. It can also save significant amounts of time you’d otherwise spend answering questions. Include high-level information about how your site works, the network topology, security measures you employ, whether you monitor user sessions, times the site is unavailable due to planned maintenance, and similar topics. Update your guide whenever changes occur.
  • Best practice #5: Aim for back-office integration. Though you may wish to start off with a simple PunchOut catalog that provides basic functionality, fully integrating it with your back-office systems will maximize the value your catalog delivers. For example:
    • Tying your ERP systems or product database directly to your PunchOut catalog enables you to automate changes in pricing and product availability.
    • Integrating with your sales forecasting and marketing systems gives you greater visibility into customer shopping patterns, providing valuable data you can use to hone your strategies and practices.


Where can I learn more?

You can obtain detailed information about Ariba PunchOut by attending a live online course. In addition to providing benefits and tips, the course demonstrates how PunchOut works from an end user’s point of view, explains the business issues and security requirements involved, shows how to test your site, and gives you the chance to ask any questions you may have.


This article is part of the current issue of Ariba Supply Lines. Ariba Supply Lines is a quarterly newsletter that provides valuable tips, best practices, and the latest thinking to take your online business relationships with your buying customers to the next level.