Most businesses grasp the importance of selling online. They see the potential to reach bigger audiences and generate exponential sales growth. However with the pace of change it can seem massively complex. How can we succeed online when it appears to be changing by the day? What do we need to do tomorrow? How much should we be spending? What if we get it wrong? We all want answers!
The winners in the online world have embraced the opportunity and developed a “digital mindset”. This applies to individuals as well as organisations. We all need to learn about and keep up with the digital developments shaping our futures.
We need to continue to evolve this mindset in line with new thinking on the internet as a sales channel. Those doing this are delivering exponential growth in online performance. Others, more ambitiously, are starting with the goal of developing businesses that can create a billion or more customers using the power of the mobile internet.
Here we explore practical tactics for those who sense the opportunity and are willing to invest time and money in pursuit of the prize: four elements for planning ahead.
Find out what’s working
Changing own mindset is something you can’t delegate. You have to invest time reading and networking to learn about what others are doing online. Don’t hold back - ask basic questions - they often yield powerful insights. Our top three areas to interrogate would be:
Results: Establish that there’s value to be gained. What proportion of revenues come from online sales, how has that changed since they started selling online, how long did it take to generate meaningful online sales, how much comes from mobile, how does profitability compare to other sales approaches, what have they spent on creating and running their online offering, what are their online targets going forward?
Actions: Understand how they got here. How did they start, what are they doing today, what tactics worked and which were abandoned, what external support did they use, how did / do they raise awareness and drive people to their site, what does their ‘conversion’ process look like from interest to purchase, what would they do differently if starting again, and what do the plan to do next?
Management: How do they manage online sales. Who’s in charge, how many resources do they have involved, how do they deal with conflicts between the online and physical sales teams, how’s that changed over time, and what’s next?
People’s interactions with the online world are increasingly happening via their mobiles, a trend likely to continue. Whether they are using apps or accessing the internet, they will be using their devices with ever-smarter functionality. If you know where things are likely to be going, you can use this insight when developing your online offering.
So, many now start by designing their website and app to work on mobile devices first and then adapt it for the bigger screen. We can expect connectivity speeds to get faster - meaning we can share more video information about our products and services. Devices and apps will also get more intelligent; smart software will increasingly block unwanted ads and calls and screen incoming callers on behalf of the user. What are the critical messages that you want to convey to get you past these electronic guardians?
Research, then action
The key to success is willingness to experiment and try what’s worked for others. This means putting people on the web team that like learning, testing and refining ideas and who don’t mind dumping stuff that isn’t delivering. If step-change is your goal, make sure you’ve researched companies who’ve done that. Then create a plan of actions that you want to try - from promotions and banner exchanges, to social media campaigns and low-cost sponsorships.
Have a 3-6 month schedule of what you want to try each week or month, monitor it, measure it, learn from it and refine the strategy. Be willing to adapt plans in the face of evidence from the actions you are taking.
Keep looking out for new ideas and encourage the whole business to do the same and generate their own ideas. Key here is being honest about what you are worried about - e.g. damaging your reputation, irritating customers who see a lower price than the one they paid, or giving too much away to your competition. The more you share of these concerns, the more your team can think about how to address them when seeking out and generating ideas.
Find more customers by noticing what you’re missing!
Look closely at what’s hidden in plain sight. Airports, train stations, shopping centres, sporting events, festivals, markets, and other live events all have ready-made audiences. For example, taking pop-up stalls in these venues gives you an opportunity to try out a different way of meeting and engaging with potential customers and then encouraging them to provide you with their details so you can continue the relationship. I may love the handcrafted marshmallows I sampled from a pop-up stall near Blackfriars Station, but connecting online means I can keep buying these goodies even if I never see the stall again.
There are countless examples of companies and entrepreneurs who’ve developed from a standing start to exponential growth by capturing customer interest online. Many have evolved from a physical presence to the efficiencies of a purely online operation. Others have very obviously failed to take advantage the online opportunity.
Success requires: learning constantly, asking the right questions, recognising how the technology is evolving and planning accordingly, and deploying the right people. Success also requires us to be clear on our goals and concerns. One we are we can adopt an iterative, experimental and ever evolving approach both to what we do online and how we go about attracting mobile-savvy customers.
This piece was co-written by Steve Wells, COO of Fast Future Publishing.