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Do the 5-Step...
and Dance Your Way To Higher Sales

Itís not rocket science. If you want your website to sell more, you have to construct your website so it employs the sales process. That's what everybody at Future Now and I keep going on (and on) about. Selling is worlds away from allowing customers to buy, and if you arenít selling, youíre not going to be in business for long.


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Yeah, I know the Internet is new, but do you still think thousands of years of consumer psychology got an overnight makeover just because somebody found a different way to communicate? I don't think so! And you donít have to take my word. Look at all the consumers who are not buying from all the dot-coms that are failing. So let's look at what goes into the sales process and how it works in the bricks and mortar world. Translate this to your web site, and you will see your sales go up Ö WAY up.

There are five steps to the sales process: Prospect, Rapport, Qualify, Present, and Close. They occur in that order, but the process isn't strictly linear. Actually, the sales process is a kind of spiral, each step feeding back and influencing the others as the process overall moves forward toward the Close (assuming you do it right). Any good human salesperson knows selling is a process of evaluation and reevaluation, on the part of both the salesperson and the client.

Let's say you are trying to sell bicycles. You run ads in all the local papers featuring this magnificent new trail bike that's hit the market. You've whetted peoples' appetites, and they start coming into your store to see this cool bike. So what's the first thing you want them to see when they walk in? Well, it ain't the helmet and water-bottle rack! The Prospect step is where Marketing does its thing: delivering lots and lots of the right traffic. You pique a potential customer's interest, and once you've brought them in, the very first thing you do is deliver what they came for.

Apply this to a website: If you've marketed that cool bike, you'd better spotlight it prominently on the very first page your customer sees. Of course you sell lots of other bikes and accessories, and you can include info about or link to those as well. But if you drive customers to you for a specific reason and then don't deliver immediately, you've lost them. I had some useful things to say about this in an earlier article, Driving Traffic to Your Site: A Little Horse Sense.

As soon as a customer enters your store, you donít ignore them, do you? You begin to develop Rapport. The process actually starts with the appearance of your store and the arrangement of products, then is augmented by the availability of help, the knowledgeability of sales staff and the personable way customers are treated. Everything a customer experiences in your store feeds into that sense of rapport. Naturally, you want it all to reflect well on you. You want your customer to feel confident about buying.

Apply this to a website: When youíre online, you lack that N2N (nose-to-nose) element, so you develop rapport through the speed of your download, the professional appearance of your site, through elements that promote trust, through ease of navigation, through the power of your text and the relevance of your images, through exceptional customer service. You treat your online visitor intelligently, but make no assumptions about their prior knowledge, either computer- or product-related. You offer clear access to help and provide concise, relevant information. You also understand there are different basic personalities, and that everyone has a particular way in which they prefer to be sold. And you learned about that by reading WIIFM, didnít you?

Now letís suppose a woman walks into your store and looks a bit out of place. You go up to her and ask if you can help. "I'm looking for a bike." (Aha, you think, she's come to the right place Ö bikes I got!) You don't know, however, what sort of bike she wants. Maybe she doesn't even know this herself. Maybe all she wants to do is browse and needs the tiniest nudge from you in any direction. Or maybe she has a general idea and needs specific information. So you begin a dialog with her. You ask questions to identify and Qualify just what she wants. Browsing? Here's the general layout of our store. Trekking bikes? Over there. Touring bikes? On that far wall. You want a children's bike? You'll find a great selection right here.

As you gradually get a better idea of her needs, you Present certain options to her. You show her a handsome silver and blue children's bike with training wheels. She tells you her son is ten and stands about so tall. You show her a different bike. Qualifying and presenting are iterative; you go back and forth until you've narrowed the field to THE bike.

Apply this to a website: You can think of this iterative process as a sort of "buying funnel" that ultimately identifies the best product for your customer's needs. Since you can't "ask" the questions, you must provide the options, making it very clear that in the category of kids' bikes, you offer tricycles, bikes with training wheels, bikes for mid-sized kids, bikes that will appeal to girls, bikes that will appeal to boys, bikes for different purposes, bikes in different price ranges. What you do not do is waste your online customer's precious time (any more than you would in a real world store) by showing her something she isn't interested in buying. But you need to do more than just present the most relevant information. You need to keep your prospect moving ahead in the process of ultimately deciding to buy, and you do that using a process that involves getting their Attention, attracting their Interest, creating Desire (even if only for more information), motivating them to take Action (even if itís just clicking to drill deeper), and then making 200% sure you Satisfy them with the result. Itís called AIDAS for short, and if you want to drill deeper, check out 'Hey, Its Music To My Ears'.

Youíve done a great job so far. The woman seems inclined to buy her son the blue Wheelie you showed her, but she has several questions, perhaps even some objections. Here is where you must begin to Close the sale. You answer her questions, resolve to her objections, encourage the close, detail your available service plans, offer payment options, explain your guarantees. You communicate that you stand behind your products. You provide security and confidence, a sense she will not be forgotten the second she leaves with that blue bike.

Apply this to a website: Post your privacy policies (and honor them scrupulously), post your guarantees, offer every ordering option you can (online, fax, phone), prominently display a toll-free customer service telephone number (and staff it with a well-trained person, please!), make checking out clear and painless - even inviting - don't ask for unnecessary information, offer an opportunity for customer feedback, provide shipping and delivery details, donít hide any charges, confirm the sale. And more. AIDAS helps you here, too. If youíve set up your buy funnel correctly and done everything right, buying will be your customerís natural next step, but you still have to close or an awful lot of sales will slip right through your digital fingers. Plus, remember the sales process is never concluded when the customer leaves. Your most profitable business is repeat business. Let your customers know you appreciate them, and give them reasons to come back. Want to know more? Have a look at Beyond Usability and Marketing is NOT Sales.

The "Information Architecture" of your entire website must recognize every step of the sales process. Remember, too, that each step feeds the others, so itís not unusual to have two, or three, or even all five steps on a single page. Think of the process as operating on both a micro level and a macro level simultaneously: the micro level is the individual page; the macro level is the entire shopping and buying experience. And remember, buying ultimately is an emotions-based process. By following these steps and applying these processes, you engage your shoppers not only in the physical dimension of colors, shapes, sizes, and prices, but you also appeal to the critical emotional and psychological dimensions that underlie every decision to buy. You may not be N2N with your online customers, but you can make them feel as though you are and by doing so, increase your online sales not just by increments, but in many cases by multiples.


click here for a printable version of this whole article

IGNORE Marketing and INCREASE Your Revenues?

You want it quick and straight. You pull up to the window at the fast food place. My voice crackles over the intercom, "May I help you?"

"Hey, Grok! Two burgers, large fries, a medium diet soda, and what's the most important statistic I should pay attention to in my e-business?"

"Conversion rate. That'll be $4.59 at the second window, please."

You can get as fanatical about your website metrics as baseball fans do about player stats if you want1, but the number one measure that is going to give you the best indication of your success online is your conversion rate. "Any serious company on the Internet should have an absolute awareness of conversion rate. Small gains on low conversion rates can have unbelievably powerful effects on a company's performance," says J. William Gurley.2

"So what is a conversion rate, really?" you ask. Conversion rate the number of folks who visit your site within a specified time period divided by the number of folks who actually do something productive on your site (like buy or register or subscribe). These days, a conversion rate of 2-4% is considered average, below 2% is shabby and 10% or more is spectacular. (Notice, though, if you compare these percentages to the bricks and mortar world, they are all pretty tragic. Offline, the average conversion rate is around 50%. So, your site can do better than 2% or even 10%, and isnít that great to know?)

Gurley has done the math for you:

Let's assume you spend $10,000 [in advertising] to drive 5,000 people to your site, and your conversion rate is 2 percent. This means that 100 transactions cost you $10,000, or $100 per transaction. Now let's assume your conversion rate rises to 4 percent. The same $10,000 buys you 200 transactions at a cost of $50 per transaction. An 8 percent rate gives you 400 transactions at a cost of $25 per transaction.

It all seems so simple. Higher conversion rates mean more money coming in and less money spent to attract a customer. Hereís a flash: it IS simple; donít make it complicated.

So how do you get those higher conversion rates? Hereís a recap of a lot of the stuff Iíve talked about. For more details, check out the archives.

Get your site to your visitor fast! Minimize download times and don't bother with slow-loading graphics. If you can get your site to download in under 10 seconds, your visitor is far less likely to bail and up goes your conversion rate.

Make your value proposition, or unique selling proposition really, really clear.

Give your visitor immediate and powerful confirmation that theyíre in the right place, that you have what theyíre looking for.

Make sure your home page makes a crisp and professional impression.

Design a site with super navigation that reflects an intuitive buying process, superior content and delightfully clear and simple checkout (with all the options, ma'am). Easy-to-use sites have much higher conversion rates.

No bugs. Test, test and then test again to make sure your site is error-free. Folks simply won't tolerate your inability to get it right. They'll vote by leaving and never coming back. Watch that conversion rate drop.

Cater to the visitor who knows what she wants right now. Give your customers fewer clicks to complete a purchase and your conversion rate will rise. The power of a one-click purchase is sublime.

Evaluate how folks buy on your site and then tailor your offers to their preferences. You might find that people want bundled products rather than individual offerings, or vice versa. Listen to your customers, and be willing to get creative.

Make sure, before you go spending your advertising dollars, that you invest in an excellent site. Don't do it halfway, and don't design to please the designers or programmers. Your customers reign. Keep 'em happy, and they'll have you jumping up and down with higher conversion rates.

Better conversion rates donít just mean more sales, they mean more sales without additional marketing expenses. Plus, conversion rates not only determine how much youíre selling, but also tell you a lot about whether you are tuned in to the things that matter to your customers: performance, convenience, quality, value and customer service.

So follow the list above, and watch that wonderful conversion rate climb!

1 Paco Underhill, "Conversion rate is to retail what batting average is to baseball." Why We Buy, Simon and Schuster, 1999, p. 36.

2 "The most powerful Internet metric of all." J. William Gurley, Above the Crowd, 21 February 2000. <http://www.news.com/Perspectives/Column/Textonly/0,197,403,00.html?st.ne.per.col.pfv>

click here for a printable version of this whole article 

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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