Return to: GROK Dot Com 5/1/2000

Do You GROK Dot Com?
A Martian Perspective On E-Commerce

Grok is a Martian word taken from the classic novel Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, and connotes intimate, exhaustive knowledge.

The Grok, our insightful and sometimes wry Martian mascot, wants to introduce you to a very un-revolutionary idea: as fast as the world is changing around us, people fundamentally aren't changing at all.

New technologies may be dazzling, but your success in e-commerce depends on understanding that the medium is not the message. (Yes, The Grok is not a big fan of Marshall McLuhan, but then he's probably not at the top of Marshall's party list either.) The medium may change, but the core message must remain the same or you'll never move your customers.

Like the people at Future Now, The Grok is plain-spoken, saying what people need to hear even if "the price of clarity is the risk of insult". And what he has to say about e-commerce websites is simple: until e-commerce companies get the basic fact that sales is about selling, not technology or design or marketing, conversion rates will continue to be a tiny fraction of what they could be and profits will remain not just elusive, but impossible.

Roy Williams , the Wizard of Ads, says, "We're still the same, predictable creatures we've always been. That's why we are so frightened by the things we have created." Futurists in the 70's, influenced especially by Alvin Toffler and his landmark book, Future Shock, tried to forecast the impact of fast-changing technology. But when making their predictions, they didn't take into account that people will still be people. Regardless of the degree to which technologies both overwhelm our lives on the one hand and simplify them on the other, we still fill the vacancies in our lives with more life, underscored by the burning - and legitimate - concern about what's in it for us.

Williams shares with us his "unchanging secret of advertising" that, "The goal will remain what it has always been, a focused attempt to speak to a felt need." At Future Now we understand that this "unchanging secret" is also the unchanging secret for successful e-commerce. People may justify their purchases based on facts, but we all ultimately make our purchasing decisions based on feelings. If you want your business to succeed on the Internet, you must "always speak to the need your customer feels."

Consumer psychology is a complex field, but people have been buying and selling forever. Years of research have produced vast amounts of literature, and the actual practice of doing business itself has yielded a cornucopia of time-tested and proven techniques. The result: we understand the technological possibilities, we understand consumer psychology, and, at Future Now, we understand the expert selling process. What we need on the Internet is to merge the three in a way that results in increased sales rather than the customer bailouts, red ink, and accompanying doomsday predictions that haunt so many dotcoms these days.

The Grok doesn't mince words: "Hey, an e-business is a store." Roy Williams agrees, "Most business owners see the internet as a new way to advertise. It's not; it's just a new kind of store. Look past the hype and you'll see that cyberspace is exactly that; space; an electronic realm of unlimited, digital square footage in which you might build a digital store. Beyond this simple distinction, all the "old" rules of "brick and mortar" businesses still apply."

Because it is a store, an e-business is an arena for the interaction of people. Developing a relationship is critical to influencing the feelings of your customer and, as a result, promoting sales. Does your website act like an expert salesperson (does it even know how), or is it in reality just a catalog, however fancy, with maybe a shopping cart tacked on? "A human salesperson instinctively adapts their sales presentation to fit the preferences of the customer. Reading the customer's facial expressions and body language and listening beyond the customer's questions to interpret their tone of voice, the sales person "sells" each customer in whatever way that customer prefers to be sold. The foundational problem of the Internet is that all of its digital stores lack a digital sales staff. You don't think that a sales staff makes that big a difference? Fine. Dismiss your sales staff and let me know how it works out." (From that last comment, we secretly suspect Roy and The Grok are cousins.)

People. Ordinary people. No matter what you devise, they are still the bottom line. The goal of your business is to woo customers, not frighten them away, right? Then people must be your first and last consideration. Not so revolutionary a concept at all, is it? And that's why Future Now has developed Digital Salespeople™ (patent pending).

In future issues of GrokDotCom, look for The Grok's commentary on the e-commerce world as it is and as it could be. Just think about that fairy-tale child who revealed the folly of the leader by pointing out the obvious (cast in terms of our own perspective on e-commerce): The Emperor Has No…Close!

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Return to: GROK Dot Com 5/1/2000

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