Times Have Changed

“Marketing as we know it for the last 100 years has been all about helping sellers to sell. Now a new and very different win-win system of buyer-centric marketing is emerging.” — Alan Mitchell

As a small or midsize business, you’re facing different challenges compared to Fortune 1000 companies and the Top 500 E-Retailers.

Challenges like limited budgets, limited staff, limited knowledge, and limited technology prevents you from implementing many of the strategies showcased in case studies, promoted at bookstores and prescribed by many consultants.

I have discovered that businesses, even the brightest, most cutting edge ones, want assistance with “connecting the dots” to achieving more sales. There’s never enough time do it all yourself or to constantly stay abreast of the evolving world of digital marketing. And because of the tremendous amount of information available online and offline about building businesses, optimizing search engine marketing and pursuing online marketing strategies, making the right strategic decisions is overwhelming. While making the wrong decisions really hurts.

One of the top questions I am asked by business owners is how to achieve greater sales with limited resources? It’s a dilemma smaller and even medium size businesses face as they grow. When contemplating this question, the standard solution most businesses pursue is to drive more website traffic.

In my discussions with clients, I frequently hear, “I need to be number one on Google!” “I need to increase my bids on Google Adwords!” “I need to get more into social media marketing!” “I need to purchase email lists!” These battle cries clearly reveal the belief that more traffic is the key to more sales. But is this solution effectively addressing the right problem? Is it the best response?

Ask any salesperson how to increase sales and they’ll say that it is a “numbers game.” A website, in essence a virtual salesperson, fist the numbers game too. But ask any salesperson how to increase sales after cold-calling hundreds of uninterested and rude prospects and hearing “no thanks – not interested” and suddenly an exhausted reply becomes “there has to be a better way.”

The “numbers” game is a logical approach for businesses. It’s logical that the more visitors we attract to our website the more sales or leads we will generate. But logic doesn’t always play out when dynamic, free-thinking human beings are part of the equation!

Revealing the Dilemma

Every web business has control over two, primary aspects of their online presence: their advertising (e.g. how visitors become aware and attracted to their website) and their website (e.g. the visual representation located at www.domain.com.)

Below is a simple illustration:

Advertising to Website

 

The advertising-side focuses on identifying, accessing, attracting and pulling visitors to the website. The website-side focuses on qualifying, motivating, closing and servicing the visitors.

For most businesses, the website is the starting point. It often represents a sizable, upfront investment so great care is taken to do it “right.” Once the website is designed and developed, then full attention is shifted to “driving traffic.”

In the past, businesses possessed a “build it and they will come” mentality. Eventually, after no one showed up and technology filled the voids, businesses shifted to a “be number one in the search engines,” “blast emails” and “canvas the sites with banners” mentality. The driver was to find venues for “getting people to come.”

People started coming. As the Internet population expanded and technology improved, early adopters basked in sales glory. But all easy things come to an end with competition. The numbers game started to get expensive, quality started to deteriorate, competition stripped down supply and consumers grew more adept and confident.
Suddenly the power shifted away from the seller and into the hands of the buyer. The result? As visitors arrived on business’ websites, a significant majority started to leave.

Industry averages show that roughly 97% to 98% of visitors leave a website – many within 10 seconds after arrival. My company’s informal analysis places the rate closer to 99%. Although some websites do things better than others – the overwhelming fact that “getting people to come” (playing the numbers game) is a good strategy attempting to solve the wrong problem.

Time deprived by daily business challenges and misinformed by claims of striking gold through Google Adwords, affiliate programs or search engine optimization, web businesses fall victim to playing the numbers game. While some achieve sales gains with premium Google placements, the alarming 97% – 98% exit rate remains. This heavy undertow continually drags down their potential for higher sales and lead performance.

Uncovering the Undertow on Your Business

What is this “undertow” that causes a good strategy like the numbers game to smack into a performance barrier? The undertow is a changing consumer – one that resists being sold.

The Web opened a whole new world of buyer-seller dynamics. Prior to the retail explosion on the Web, consider the difficulty of finding products or services to satisfy your needs. If you wanted a tool, you would go to the local hardware store up the street. Without many options available (especially before the home improvement warehouses like Home Depot came along), you either bought what the store had or you went home empty-handed. In a sense, the store had a captive market because no alternatives, at least convenient ones, existed.

Enter the rise of the Web and now if you wanted a tool, you go to the Internet where you can find an almost unlimited number of e-tailers capable of satisfying your specific needs. Suddenly the customer assumes the power and is no longer held captive by a limited choice.

The Web reversed power from the seller to the buyer. The automobile market provides an excellent example of this power shift. The information available on the Internet creates a more educated consumer who demands a lower price supported by facts and figures. But the power reversal is so much more than what the automobile market example exemplifies.

Because consumers have greater and easier access to information (although not always accurate information) they form beliefs and wants differently today than yesteryear. Consider how many people search on third party review websites and social media prior to buying a wireless home stereo system. How many people read blogs for their insights into political campaigns? On top of being more informed, consumers are gaining information from multiple sources and from different stakeholders – their “span of influence (a term coined by Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) has expanded exponentially.

As consumers gain more power and pull from a larger power base, businesses are faced with a mounting problem. How to sell to consumers online?

The solution is easy but not simple. It is the natural skill of the small grocery store owner who calls every customer by name, recalls their favorite treats, conveniently guides them through the store to fulfill their grocery list and sincerely recommends the succulently new arrival of fresh, summer fruit.

Translated to an online environment, the solution is creating a powerful “customer experience.” A customer-centric focus on serving the customers needs as they unfold in pursuit of solving their problems or achieving their goals.

During the evolution of the Internet, the customer experience faded away as the sexiness of technology overshadowed it. Consumer-centered professionals lost favor as the techno-centric wizards took control.

In his remarkable book, “The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity”, author Alan Cooper presents a case on how technologists lost sight of the customer in designing high tech products. He stated, “It’s not enough to bridge the gap between technology and need. Somebody needs to make humans want to cross the bridge.”

I have encountered this techno-centric thinking while working with a client’s IT and graphic design teams. I have heard mumblings about how customers “just don’t get how to use the form” or that “we dumbbed it down!” Even better, I’ve listened to creative directors scream in support of their fantastic art direction claiming. “I think it looks incredible!” Yeah – and the zero sales from it shows the customers do too!!!

This thinking runs rampant across the technology-driven Internet as programmers, graphic artists and technologists run the show. I heard a story about Bill Gates saying that the way you made software user-friendly was by making a rubber stamp and stamping each box as “USER FRIENDLY.” For most websites, “user-friendly” doesn’t happen even with a rubber stamp.

Attempting to overcome the technology problems with creative and hi-tech designs over again over again fits Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. He once elegantly stated, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Businesses assume that colorful Flash presentations and eye-popping graphics will compensate for the unusable technology. Or they buy into the belief that artsy designs will build brand value somehow translating into more sales. Yet bad experiences following bad experiences that finally lead to a desperation for something new – a paradigm shift. Through hard lessons we learn that technology does not run an enterprise, a strong relationship with our customers do.

Leaving the customer out of the technology and design – out of the experience – has created a situation where its industry acceptable that 97% to 98% of visitors on average leave a website. What manufacturing plant in the world is satisfied with an error rate of 97% to 98%? What sales person is content with a sales close rate of 1 or 2%? It is time for a paradigm shift that redirects attention away from technology and design and to how technology and design work to support the customer’s experience.

The customer experience bridges the two-sides: advertising and website, by creating a seamless process where buyer and seller pursue the same goal.

As a seller, the focus is on building relevance for the buyer’s intentions (their goals.) A seller focused on creating a powerful customer experience, realizes that by satisfying the buyer’s intentions (goals), their goals will likewise be achieved.

Customer Experience

It’s time to transform your business by helping you re-shape your strategic paradigm to achieve greater leads and sales with less through improving the customer experience. It attacks the root cause for visitors’ yawns causing 97% to 98% of them to abandon while establishing a framework for building experiences that attract, interest, and motivate visitors to act.

Improving the customer experience isn’t simple. It requires a paradigm shift away from conventional “web” thinking. As referenced by John Pruitt and Tamara Adlin in their book, “The Persona Life Cycle“:

“First, user-centered design is just not natural. Our more natural tendency is to be self-centered which translates to taking an approach to product design based on our own wants and needs (at times even if we are not actually a user of the product.)

“Second, users are complicated and varied. It takes great effort to understand their needs, desires, preferences, and behaviors. And unfortunately it is sometimes the case that pleasing some users in a given situation necessarily conflicts with pleasing others.”

Third, those doing the user and market research to understand who the users are and how they vary (and others who are just more in touch with your users, such as the sales team or the support team) are not typically the people who actually design and build the product.”
Reference: The Persona Life Cycle, page 6.

The Stage is Set to Grow

The customer experience challenge affects businesses of all sizes. However, small and medium sized businesses DO face greater challenges than BIG businesses with BIG budgets. Fortunately, gaining knowledgeable insight into our customers is THE one advantage where we’re on equal ground with a behemoth competitors.

We have to commit ourselves to building customer experiences that overcome our inherent resource limitations. We have to create customer experiences that are like the small grocery store owner – transforming customer “abandons” into “engagements”.


Looking to get more customers? Kevin Gold, of Next Leap Strategy, helps business owners, marketers and sales leaders develop and execute effective marketing growth strategies (whether inbound, outbound or account-based marketing) to generate more sales leads and profitable customers. Marketing for revenue growth. He is also co-founder of FindYourNextCustomers.com, a Customer Acquisition Accelerator Bootcamp which guides B2B businesses how with these studies to adapt to the changing B2B buying process. Get started by contacting Kevin at 513.601.8893 or visit www.NextLeapStrategy.com.