Are You Annoying Your Prospects?
When we read magazine articles, we are distracted by advertisements. Commercials interrupt our favorite TV show. Billboards clutter the landscape, bulk mail and email fill our mailboxes, and telemarketers call us at our homes or places of work. All of these things interrupt our day, attempting to turn us into customers.
Most people tune these messages out or find them downright annoying. We hide behind voice mail, answering machines and other kinds of “gatekeepers.” We record TV shows to skip the commercials later, complain to our elected representatives about spam, and sort our mail over the trashcan. A hundred million Americans have taken the time to add their telephone numbers to a Federal Do-Not-Call Registry.
The fact is, nobody likes being “sold-to.” We find it irritating and interruptive. Contributing to the annoyance is the fact that the overwhelming majority of the sales pitches we are subjected to each day are for things that we have absolutely no interest in at the moment.
On the other hand, when we have the inclination to buy something to satisfy a need or desire, we want to make an informed decision and then be able to act on it without a lot of trouble.
How does the prospecting process work in your business? When you need to find new customers, do you begin the relationship by irritating them? The fact is, buyers – not salespeople – are in control today. People want to buy what they want, when they want to buy it, and they want to be left alone the rest of the time.
Therein lies the dilemma. If your prospects are not exactly beating a path to your door, how do you connect with them?
Several years ago, I was on a business trip at a trade show far from home. Rather than fly, I had elected to take my aging mini-van. During the trade show, my van broke down. A local mechanic confirmed that the repair would cost more than the value of the vehicle itself. It was time to go car shopping.
Back in my hotel room, I logged onto the Internet and surfed over to several generic car sites. I did some research and then, on a couple of sites, I entered the make, model and description of the vehicle I wanted and my cell phone number. Within two hours I got a call from a dealer. He had the exact vehicle I wanted in stock and, without any prompting, offered it to me at an “Internet price” that was far below the sticker. I surfed to another website to confirm that the sticker price and dealer invoice he had quoted me were correct, so I knew he was being honest and that I was getting a very good deal. The next morning I showed up at his dealership and we transacted the sale. The only haggling we did was about the couple of hundred dollars he gave me in trade for my old, broken mini-van.
The next day, I got another call from another dealer. I thanked him and told him I had already made a purchase.
Back at home, I get letters in the mail from local dealers several times per month, offering me big discounts on new cars. I throw them in the trash because I don’t need a new car at the moment, and hopefully won’t for several years. They are wasting their money and my time.
The numbers tell the story. The yields on traditional marketing approaches are shrinking. Direct mail and traditional advertising are in decline. BusinessWeek (July 12, 2004) states that the number of prime-time network TV viewers has been declining since 1977 while their advertising costs have increased, so that advertisers pay more and more per viewer. At the same time, Internet advertising revenues increased 123% from 2002 to 2003, during a recession. Savvy marketers are shifting their promotional budgets to this new vehicle.
Leveraging the Internet for your marketing changes the prospecting game in three major ways. First, Internet marketing aligns the way you make contact with new prospects with the way buyers want to buy – on their own initiative and timetable. Second, your sales reps don’t spend time cold-calling (and annoying) lots of people trying to find the few that have the appropriate need, urgency and budget. Instead, your prospects acquaint themselves with your value proposition through your web site, and initiate contact with your company there as well. Third, Internet marketing is the most highly targeted marketing vehicle ever invented. Your prospects pre-qualify themselves by the phrases they type into a search engine.
Your Web site does the advertising, qualification and the pre-selling. Your sales reps do what they’re best at: close the sale. Or, if your business lends itself to on-line buying, your website can even close the sale for you – and then send out special offers and reminders on anniversaries to your best customers.
Generating Prospects and Sales Through the Web
There are many functional areas in which the Internet can impact a company’s business. But almost all business organizations can benefit dramatically from excellence in one area: attracting and engaging with new prospects via the web. The more specialized your product or service, the greater the opportunity to utilize the web as the primary mechanism to find, educate and initiate a relationship with new prospects. Selling to prospects who initiate the first contact is much more productive than trying to find the needle in the haystack and then maneuvering your way into a sales presentation, in person or on the phone.
Your Web site is available to everyone with a computer and Internet connection. But it does no good if your prospects can’t find your site quickly and easily. If your company is a recognized brand, and your URL is the name of your company, then this is not a problem. The rest of us, however, need to do a lot more than put up a snappy-looking site.
There are three major steps you must take to attract and engage new prospects via the web. They are:
1. Make it easy for them to find you. Prospects who are searching on the web for the solution you offer must be able to find your site easily, even if they’ve never heard of your company or URL.
2. Grab their attention when they come to your site. Your web site must articulate your “Customer Value Proposition” clearly and succinctly, in terms of benefits that your potential customers will instantly understand and want.
3. Get their contact info or make the sale before they leave. Make it easy for a prospect to leave his or her contact information so you can follow up in the future if that’s the way your sales process begins. If your business allows you to sell on-line, make it easy for your visitors to buy from you, and be sure they can easily find all of the information they need to make that buying decision. Your site should provide encouragement and incentives for your prospects, as well as eliminate the dis-incentives. Everyone has a story or two about visiting a site, ready to buy, but the process was just too hard so they left and went elsewhere.
In order for your web site to function as a prospect or sales generator, all three of these elements must be successfully addressed. Two out of three doesn’t count. Many companies put up a basic site and then spend money and resources trying to drive lots of traffic to the site. The outcome is usually not very positive. Not only are many of the traffic-enhancing offers out there ineffective, but your site must communicate your offer well and collect contact info for follow-up, or provide a smooth buying experience, or else there’s little point to the exercise. Fix the “back-end” first.
Make it Easy for Prospects to Find You on the Web
Unless prospects have heard of your company and know your URL, the most likely way they will find your site is through a search engine, either through “organic” listings in the “search results” or through paid advertising. Over the past five years, an entire cottage industry has grown up around the goal of improving search engine rankings.
It’s not going to help your business much if the best keywords and phrases that describe your product or service bring up a link to your site on page 10 of the engine’s search results. Few people will see it. On the other hand, staying near the top of the list is a relative thing, because you have to keep beating your competitors who are constantly changing their tactics, trying to knock your ranking down in order to put their site in your place. The number of existing web pages is still growing exponentially, so in many cases, your web pages will have to “beat” thousands or even millions of other pages to make it to the top-10 of the search results.
Search engines use complex formulas to determine search rankings for each term, and the formulas themselves are carefully guarded secrets. Some people try to optimize their search rankings by exploiting all sorts of potential loopholes in the search engine ranking algorithms, rather than trying to earn high rankings by going through the effort of making their sites authoritative. Over time, the search engines keep discovering and disqualifying these techniques and often the sites that use them are penalized in the rankings or even banned altogether.
Basically, there are two ways to get the search engines to drive relevant traffic to your website. Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, as all about making changes to your website so that it will rank well for certain search terms in the natural search results. Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, involves “sponsorship” of certain keywords, usually through an auction, where the site owner pays the search engine for each visitor that clicks on an ad. There is also a range of options in between SEO and SEM, depending on the engine.
SEO and SEM are dynamic new fields of specialization. There is an almost overwhelming amount of advice and information about these subjects available on the web. Some of the advice is good, some of it is downright misleading. Many larger companies hire in-house specialists to manage this function. Others find a reputable company to manage the process for them on an outsourced basis, similar to the way they engage an advertising or PR agency.
Grab Their Attention
Buyers go on the web to find information and solutions to specific problems. They want to know, “How can I solve this problem or address this need that I have? Which companies out there can help me with this? Which one offers the best product or service at the lowest price? Will this vendor be around to support me after the sale?”
A lot of marketing copy on the web and in brochures starts with a description of the company’s product or service and dives into the approach and methodology. That’s only natural. As the developer of the product or provider of the service, you’re excited about it. You’re proud of your baby.
But put yourself into the shoes of the buyer. The buyer has a problem or a need. The first thing the buyer, who is searching the web, wants to find is someone out there who understands the problem. “If they understand my problem,” thinks the buyer, “then maybe they can help me.”
If your value proposition relates to the visitor’s needs, if it helps them realize that you understand their pain and can help them overcome it, then you have their attention. So read your copy from the perspective of a potential buyer and ask yourself if it establishes early on that you understand the buyer’s problem or need. Once that rapport has been established, then the next step is to explain how you solve the problem or address that need. Be sure to explain why your product, service or solution is the best one out there. Your visitors are likely to be looking at other offers.
Make sure your value proposition is solid before investing in traffic generation. Getting people into your store before the shelves are stocked and the cash register is set up is a waste of time and money. Often, the people inside your company are too close to their products or services to view their customer value proposition objectively. Many companies turn to their PR or Internet Marketing agency for help.
Make the Sale or Get Their Contact Information
Maybe your product or service is a bit more complex and your prospects aren’t going to make their buying decisions within five minutes of landing on your web site. That’s OK. You don’t want to turn them away simply because their buying cycle is 6-12 months out, but instead you want to start building a relationship of trust and respect with them so that, when the time comes for them to get serious, you’ll be at the top of their list. This type of interaction has been called Opt-In or Permission-Based Marketing. Trust plays an important role here.
It has gotten harder over time to get potential buyers to provide their phone numbers and email addresses. That’s largely due to the increases in telemarketing and spamming. Executive assistants have become expert gate-keepers because their bosses get angry if their day is interrupted by people calling them to try to sell them stuff. Their companies have installed spam filters to try to decrease the amount of garbage that deluges their in-boxes.
The incentive needn’t be expensive. Sure, a free gift with your logo on it, or a chance to win an expensive gadget are great incentives, but those things cost money to buy and deliver. Instead, why not offer the prospect something they came looking for on your site in the first place? Information. A white-paper or report. A subscription to a monthly newsletter. A case-study about someone in a similar situation. The summarized results of the survey you’re asking them to complete. The ability to be the first to receive new product announcements hot off the “press.”
Be sure to spell out the “call to action.” Tell the buyer what you want them to do, when and why. “Click here now to get a free 30-day trial.” “Enter your information below to download our article: Top 10 Ways to Save on Vehicle Expenses.”
Successful companies today use cost-effective ways to identify and connect with new customers. As BusinessWeek puts it, “It no longer makes economic sense to send a message to the many to persuade the few.” The Internet is the sharpest micro-marketing tool in the shed. After the initial investment in “getting things right” and kick-starting the engine, there should be an ongoing process that monitors, measures, and fine-tunes the process while, hopefully, keeping your site ahead of your competitors in the rankings. Done correctly, the investment should pay back many times over in terms of increased business.
Market-Vantage LLC specializes in Integrated Web Marketing, helping companies develop and implement effective Internet marketing strategies for positive impact on business. Please call us at 603-888-5600 or email us at [email protected] for a free initial consultation to discuss your specific situation in confidence.