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The Grok's REALLY Brief History of Sales  

Come. Gather around my computer and let’s look way back into the past. I've got something to show you:

A guy walks up to a woman. She is lounging under a tree, obviously taking great pleasure in the fruit she nibbles at provocatively. "You won't believe how good this tastes," she smiles and wipes a succulent dribble from her chin, offering the piece of fruit to him.

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See the GROK at the e-commerce summit in Italy 10/03/2001 - 10/05/2001


"Yeah, but isn't that…?" the guy looks about uncertainly.

"How could anything this good be bad?" She winks at him. "Go on, try it. Just one bite and you'll see what I mean."

“But, I don’t know if I should…what if…?” he says with great unease.

“Come on. Trust me. I would never steer you wrong. Try it. You’ll see.” She replies enthusiastically.

The guy is intrigued. The fruit is delightfully red, sounds crispy every time she bites into it, and if her reactions are any indication, the thing must be really great.

"Oh, all right." He lounges beside her, reaches for the fruit and sinks his teeth into it. She made the pitch, he bought it, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I've just reconstructed (with a teensy bit of artistic license) what might be the first recorded sale in the history of humankind: the moment Eve sold Adam on eating the forbidden fruit. Sales! It's great stuff, a big mover and shaker in the human equation. And it's exactly what you want your website to accomplish. You just need to keep this in mind: the time-tested sales principles that have worked offline since forever do work online. In fact, they’re essential. Ignore them and not very many people will buy your apples.

You can trace the development of the art and science of sales from early barter economies through the invention of currency, from nomadic markets to retail stores and then to huge malls, from road shows and door-to-door to telemarketing and TV shopping. In every single case the medium was new, and sometimes even amazing, but the message, the systematic process of getting a customer to buy, has been the same. QVC didn’t succeed by forcing a new technology on its customers and demanding they adapt, but rather by adapting the technology so it could serve customers the way they’ve always preferred to be served, but better.

People have employed every communication medium available as a sales tool, so it's no surprise to Your Grokness that with the recent development of the PC and the Internet, you humans would turn your attention to selling online. There's one small catch, however (if you haven't already figured it out). All previous vehicles for sales allowed for some degree of human interaction. Successful selling is human-centered - people meeting the needs of people based on a series of steps understood, either explicitly or implicitly, by all participants. As far as the recent history of sales has played out online, however, websites have replaced the human-centered sales process with lots of non-human-friendly technology. But the Internet does not change the fact that people do want to be sold (in a positive way), that buying is fundamentally an emotional decision, and that to be successful, sales must stay in touch with its human-centered roots regardless of the medium.

We’ve got plenty of red ink and dotcom failures to prove the present approach to online sales is sorely lacking in fundamental sales ability. When you’ve got fancy designs, elaborate programming and the marketing people burying your site in “eyeballs” but you can’t convert enough of your traffic to make a dent in your expenses, do you have a design problem, a programming problem, a marketing problem or … a sales problem?

What's the next phase in the history of online sales going to be? Pirouetting shoes and strolls through virtual malls? Yikes!! Efforts to make the online environment look and feel just like its physical counterpart may look clever, but they miss the boat. The online experience can’t replicate the offline experience. So instead of using lots of expensive and slow technology trying to be something it’s not, wouldn’t it make more sense for e-commerce to be better at what it is? Besides, customers who vote with their mouse buttons already have proved they’re not interested in “solutions” that are long on sizzle but short on substance, take forever to load, and only delay what they came for: to buy.

The next phase of online sales history is going to belong to those who grasp and correctly apply the concept of what might be called a digital salesperson: a website that performs all the functions an expert human salesperson would in the real world, is able to guide the prospect through all five steps of a professional sale, acknowledges how different people want to be sold and can adapt to those needs. Five steps? Prospect, Rapport, Qualify, Present, Close. If you don’t prospect, you have no customer to build rapport with. No rapport = no trust = no sale. As you build rapport you then can qualify your customer and know both what that customer wants and what kind of presentation will work best. This leads to the presentation of the product in the way that works for the customer. If they want data, why make them stare at testimonials? If they want price, why make them sit through a flash demo? If they’re ready to give you their money and get the satisfaction of buying, why stop them suddenly and demand a bunch of profile info? Which is more important to you, their data or their purchase? Then, when you’ve laid the perfect foundation, you close the sale. You don’t have to just hope your customer will buy; in fact, you can’t afford to.

You'd like to make history rather than become history, right? Then start at the beginning: take a hint from Eve’s story and turn your site into an expert at Sales.

click here for a printable version of this whole article

Brand New: FREE Digital Sales Tools

My good friends at Future Now have one focus: helping you increase your website sales conversion rate. Check out their cool Customer Conversion Rate calculator. And if that isn't cool enough, you can get a whole suite of Digital Sales Tools by email. Check out the "Free Resources" section of the Future Now site.

It’s Time to Go Beyond “Gee Whiz”

On the subway in New York City the other day, I overheard two forty-somethings discussing the amazing development of interactive computer games. They were waxing nostalgic about old adventure games and shaking their heads 'cause some of the stuff out there now looks almost like movies. “Wow” has taken on a whole new dimension. I got to musing the same can be said of the Internet. Pretty awesome pretty quickly! But how much of that “awesome” has translated into enough sales for you to turn a profit?

When it comes to using the Internet as a medium for sales, the game isn't about the wow of technology or the wow of design. It’s not even about the wow of marketing. E-commerce companies that have focused on the “wow” are going the way of the dodo, dying out faster than one major player every day; nobody even knows how fast the smaller ones are simply disappearing in silence. The time has come to move beyond wide-eyed wonder and put an emphatic wow into getting results. After all, if e-commerce isn’t about making enough sales at a low enough cost to turn a profit, why are you in it?

I know, I know. Even now it's still hard for lots of folks to get their minds around the idea the little screen on their desk connects them to billions of other people all over the globe. When the Internet was in its infancy (about five whole years ago, give or take a day), folks were incredibly "Gee whiz" about it. And rightly so. Ain't technology grand? Used to be you could read discussions about how the onslaught of folks using e-mail was a misuse of bandwidth! Next we got “Cool Site of the Day”. Lots of the sites they pick really are fascinating and fun, even if you can’t always figure out what they’re for. At least back at the beginning, just seeing what folks could do was its own form of entertainment - kinda like watching a little human learning to walk.

And then that kid got to moving in a direction, except it was any direction. First there was, "We can use the web to disseminate our ideas!" Then, "The web is going to reach more people than any other medium we've known." And then (drum roll, please): "Hey! We can sell stuff on the web!" Commercial sites started appearing right and left, created by the "Cool Site" designers and programmers who discovered they could find a paying niche in e-commerce. Yet the sites they created weren't effective at selling at all. In retrospect ask yourself, “How could they be?” Is an expert in design an expert in sales? Is an expert in programming an expert in sales?

Inevitably (read that word again!), a huge number of those sites went (and continue to go) belly up. Being resourceful, you guys and gals looked for a solution. Since the sites had been designed by “experts”, the problem couldn’t be with the sites so it must be not enough traffic (or with those stupid customers who refused to adapt to the sites). Time to bring in the marketing experts. But (3 guesses what I’m going to ask): is an expert in marketing an expert in sales? And we all know by now, if we didn’t think about it ahead of time, driving more traffic to a site that can’t sell is worse than useless. You burn your cash, you burn your prospects, and you burn your reputation - otherwise it’s a wunnerful idea!

To recap, the Internet has evolved through three stages: from technology-centered to design-centered to marketing-centered. It was all useful provided we learn the lessons, and the fundamental lesson is successful selling is not about design or technology or marketing, it’s about sales. With a nod to Mark Twain: Everybody talks about online sales but nobody does anything about it. In fact, unless they’re pursued within the context of the expert sales process, design, programming and marketing can actually hurt your sales. If you’re going to survive, much less prosper, your site must enter Stage Four, it must become sales-centered . And while you’re at it, trash the notion that the Internet changes everything. It doesn't. Fundamental human psychology is the same as it was, and the process of coming to a “buy” decision is an emotional one. Your customers want what they’ve always wanted: a safe, simple, trustworthy, human-centered process to accomplish the transactions they would otherwise complete in the bricks and mortar world.

Want to make the Internet really work for you? Start thinking about how your site is going to replicate the time-tested, psychological interaction between two people who are involved in the sell / buy process. Leave the “gee whiz” stuff for the avant-garde who dare to go where no one has gone before. Most of your customers can’t follow and have already provided plenty of hard shopping data that they wouldn’t even if they could. And if those envelope stretchers do discover anything that will actually increase your sales, much less do so without breaking your budget, I promise I’ll let you know!

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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