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Selling on the Internet

I frequently get inquiries from various sized organizations that want to become the next success story on the Internet. Many feel that since they’ve seen other success stories, it must be easy, and all that may be required is to take their ideas, surround them with web presence and . voilá, they too can become a success. Although there are many Internet success stories, the purpose of this article is to shed light on this subject, illustrate the myths and the hype and deliver factual viewpoints and pragmatic advice.

Let’s jump right into it and start by discussing the top 8 mistakes when implementing selling solutions on the Internet:

1. Cheap, amateurish or tasteless home page and web site
Several weeks ago I received a call from the owner of a company selling auto-parts in his brick and mortar store and wondering what he needs to do to his current web site in order to generate serious business. I visited his current web site and was amazed with the provocative sexy picture that greeted me on his company’s home page. Although the home page is only a small fraction of a successful e-commerce strategy, his site sent a very strong negative and tasteless message to his visitors. Moreover, many search engines potentially preview it as strong sexual material therefore banning his site and becoming difficult to find. This brings me to my next point.

2. Lack of trust
His home page and picture drastically reduced my trust level, preventing me from wanting to do business with his company. I often come across web sites that do not secure, encrypt and authenticate their appropriate pages especially when requesting confidential information including credit card numbers. My obvious recommendation is to simply develop, implement and display the right message that will be interpreted by your visitor, which is that your company is trustworthy. Some of the examples are the implementation of SSL with Verisign or Thawte certificates, or other trust building concepts that I will address in this article.

3. No one knows about it
Just because you built a web site does not guarantee that people will come and visit it and more importantly, that they will buy from you. You must market your site in traditional and non-traditional marketing methods and promote it any way you can. For additional information please review my previous article on driving traffic to your site.

4. Poor order placement methods
I was recently shopping for jewelry for my wife and came across a web site that had some items of interest to me. To my astonishment there was no way to place an order on that site; I had to either print and fax a form or call the company. And to irritate me further, there was no 800-phone number for me to call. You want to make sure that placing orders with your company is going to be extremely easy, can be done 24 x 7 and if the visitor would like to contact you, provide them with an 800 number and an email address among other methods. When your visitors contact you, make sure to reply immediately.

5. Poor navigation
Don’t make your visitor get lost in your site. If they are not able to find the information easily, they will be gone and most likely never return. Provide easy ways to find information through search capabilities on your own site, with the ability to jump to important sections from any page, and a site map.

6. Dishonorable methods
Keep your site and your methods of engaging the visitor ethical and clean. By that I mean, no popups, spyware, adware and any other despicable ways of forcing the visitor to remain on your site. Never load programs on your visitors’ computer without their clear and concise permission and do not mislead with content.

7. Stagnant content
I use the “3 strikes and you are out” rule. If each time your visitor comes to your web site and finds it to be the same without any new content, points of interest or products, they are unlikely to come back.

8. Lack of Testing
This point is critical. Not only should you test the functionality of your site prior to launching it, you must do so often and especially when changes are made to it. Do not take the functionality for granted. I am often requested to critique individuals’ and organizations’ web sites and am dumbfounded to find broken links, missing images, missing documents, content in the wrong place and glaring misspelled words. Test your site often and conduct business with your own company to make sure the process is flawless.

Now that we’ve discussed some of the mistakes to avoid, lets cover the myths and the hype. I will briefly touch on the points regarding becoming rich overnight – The fluff vs. the reality.

The Fluff
I come across a misconception that to be successful on the web is easy, fast, cheap, anyone can do it and most companies are successful in doing so. Although there are a few success stories, there is nothing farther from the truth.

The Reality
Success requires vision and planning, knowledge, courage and investment. Most successful companies got there by virtue of hard work, and working on a plan that is constantly changing. The amount invested in a project will often determine the success of the project, the degree of functionality, and the “customer experience”. One must also determine the amount to invest in the marking method to promote the site. As an example of how crucial an investment of capital is to success, just notice what some companies have done to promote their site and their business during the Super Bowl games. Also intriguing is the fact that some of those Super Bowl sponsors are unfortunately no longer in business. The point I am illustrating here is that it takes capital to become successful and requires additional planning and hard work to get to that Promised Land.

The key question asked is, is there is money to be made on the web? According to Verisign, US consumers spent $8 billion online during the 2004 holiday season, which is up 24% over the same holiday period in 2003. So how does a business get a piece of this action and what should you do?

In addition to not repeating the mistakes listed above, the following are Chad’s 17 tactics for a successful e-commerce implementation:

1. Define and plan your online business carefully.

2. Select a simple and memorable business and URL name.

3. Get professional help and focus on what you do best.

4. Create concise design and navigation yet innovative and make it a positive experience, which hopefully ends in a sale for you.

5. To flash or not to flash? There are some businesses where flash technology may have its place, but I say that for most businesses the answer is absolutely no flash!

6. Build the site from the visitor’s viewpoint. Make sure it answers the question WIIFM (What’s in it for me.)

7. Offer unique products, services, knowledge, value and results.

8. Select a great hosting company to be sure your site is 100% stable.

9. Collect and display clients’ testimonials everywhere.

10. Develop content such as articles, white papers and case studies to display.

11. Make sure your “about us” section builds credibility and makes it easy to get in contact with you.

12. Build a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section to answer the most common questions. This also builds credibility.

13. Offer value and time incentives to encourage the visitor to buy.

14. You site must be secured when requesting confidential information.

15. Market your site and brand your company.

16. Get frequent feedback from your customers and ask for improvement ideas.

17. Once you get a customer to buy from you, stay in touch. This of course applies to the ones that have yet to purchase from you as well.

In closing, there are several final points I would like to articulate. Keep the innovation coming in order to make sure your site and business always have new and fresh ideas that attract customers. It was Proctor and Gamble who years ago came up with the “rinse and repeat” phrase that greatly improve their shampoo sales. What innovations and phrases are you using to improve your business? Remember, the web is not the silver bullet approach to your business problems and growth. It is however, a critical component of your overall strategy for success and must be addressed as such. So should you embrace e-commerce and do it or improve it?

Although the answer is dependent on your business and financial conditions here is my position. If your current strategy works well and does not need to improve, you are fortunate to be among the few and successful companies in the world and should be writing these kinds of articles. If however, your plan is either non-existence or not working satisfactory to generate business, ask yourself what is the message that you portray to your customers and how much business is your current strategy generating? If your answer to either question is not great, my advice is “just do it.”

When we provide our clients with extraordinary content and the WOW factor, we’re really building business partnerships with them. The best business partnerships are created by delivering superior value, establishing clear communication, and providing constant support.

The Chad Barr Group keeps our clients at the forefront of their industries.