It’s difficult to think of a business without a web site; having a web site has nearly become a prerequisite to doing any business at all. However, companies often are not taking advantage of what new technology can offer, because, in many cases, they are not treating their online presence with the same care and attention they give to their physical locations and their other sales channels. This is a mistake, because the Internet contains unique characteristics that make it a very desirable mechanism for acquiring lucrative business.
Here are a few things to think about. First, in some ways, transacting business online is very similar to doing business in a physical location; in some ways, they are very different. Secondly, there are three characteristics of online shoppers that make them distinctly different from other shoppers:
- They are all buyers.
- They are either coming from or heading to a competitor’s web site
- They are interested at that moment in time.
Understanding the who, when and how of customer interaction—and how these three attributes work—can make all the difference in achieving your e-business goals.
Figuring out the “who”
Let’s say that you are the owner of a large electronics retail store called Electronics Company A. One of your salespeople is on the floor at the moment that two people walk in the door. One is walking toward the $10,000 plasma TVs, and the other is walking toward the $15 CDs.
Which person would you rather have your salesperson help? You would hope that he or she would do a quick, real-time analysis to determine the amount of potential revenue that could be generated from each of these transactions … and then quickly walk toward the plasma TV section.
That is common sense. In that sense, selling online and selling in a physical store are very similar, because in the online world, it’s still necessary to exercise that common sense. Companies should still be comparing the attributes of different visitors and approaching only those who will be profitable. There is a tendency for companies with e-businesses to purchase a “chat” tool and start proactively approaching every single web site visitor with no analysis at all, which is really missing the point. It’s about whom to approach, not how many to approach. That’s analogous to posting lots of billboards, building a great store and making the sales associates wear blindfolds before deciding whom to help.
The Internet is the only sales channel that will let companies sit back, wait and decide which visitors are best for those companies—and how and when to deploy their resources. When selling in other channels, such as the telephone and physical stores, the customers are in charge of how and when company resources are deployed. Companies must take advantage of this feature of the Internet by staffing proactive marketing technologies that let them analyze visitor behavior in real time, instead of just “chatting” with visitors.
Figure out the “when”
The second attribute of web visitors is that the timing is inherently very good. Those people are on Electronics Company A’s web site because they have chosen to be. They are interested at the time that they are on the site or they would not be there. This creates a very desirable population from which to extract business.
The third attribute also holds true for Electronics Company A’s web visitors. They are either coming from or going to a competitor’s web site. Most likely, they are doing their primary research for a piece of electronics equipment and they are getting such information as price and features from several stores before purchasing. Why not analyze those visitors, determine who is most likely to buy or be profitable, and get them into a sales cycle that your company controls, rather than just hoping they end up purchasing from your company?
Why “how” doesn’t matter
Once companies get through to this stage, they are home free. It does not matter how they connect with the online visitor—by chat, through co-browsing, voice over IP, over the telephone or via any other communication tool—it is all to the same end. Continuing the electrics store example, that’s like wondering whether the customer buying the $10,000 plasma TV is going to pay by a check, credit card or cash. It doesn’t matter, as long as he or she is buying.
In other words, chat is not a strategy; it is a tool that must be strategically deployed. Chat is part of the how, and that is not what ultimately drives value.
Companies should be focusing on the best use of their resources, which is to staff new proactive marketing technologies. Analyzing web visitors’ behavioral patterns in real time allows companies to analyze their visitors and capitalize on those opportunities that will drive the most value with the least amount of cost.
Companies can fish in a stocked pond or fish in the ocean. It’s their choice.