There are a lot of phases to the buying cycle. Searchers begin with a thought and then start researching answers via their favorite search engine. As they learn more about their query, they move into shopping and buying modes that hopefully lead them to a satisfied purchase.
In each phase of this cycle, the searcher is typing in a unique set or words or phrases. Each search is designed to provide more relevant information than the last. As the searcher learns, the search phrases reflect what they know and what new information they need.
There is value in building a website that provides information to each of these searchers, but the value in each isn’t the same. By understanding the full marketing value and potential of your website, you can build an effective sales funnel that provides each and every visitor the information they need to make the decision you are hoping for.
Your website is a pre-sell channel
Not every visitor who comes to your website is ready to buy right now. In fact, many searchers are merely curious and are looking for knowledge they don’t already have. These researchers could turn into buyers, but the chances of making a sale today are slimmer than me turning down a free lunch at Chipotle. It can happen, it’s just not likely. (Try me and find out!)
Instead of trying to force your visitors to give you what you want, why not give the visitor what they want?
Every business website should implement a variety of pre-sell strategies. If you think about it, only your product/service pages are doing the actual selling. This leaves the rest of your site to walk people through the research and shopping cycles, pre-selling them on what you offer, so that when they are ready to buy, they come you.
Your home page, product category pages, about us pages, etc., are great places to engage in active pre-selling. They provide a goldmine of opportunities. Use these pages strategically to talk about your brand, your product selection, your value, quality of service, and whatever else will give your visitors confidence in you and your products. This won’t sell any single product by itself, but it will reinforce to the searcher that you are a reputably and trustworthy site to purchase from.
Content: Enter stage right
A lot of ecommerce business owners tell me they don’t like SEOs that want to add a bunch of text on the page. Instead, they just want to push the visitors to the product. This is the right strategy for those searchers already in the buying phase of the cycle, but most aren’t. At least not yet. And those that are – they are likely using search phrases that deliver them directly to your product pages!
If you’re not writing great content for your category and sub-category pages (or are hiding it), you’re not using your website as a pre-sell tool. This leaves you only with the sales channel after the visitor has already performed all their research searches on Google. Ultimately, you’ll have missed out on a lot of potential traffic and branding opportunities that would likely have brought many of the buyers back to your site for a purchase.
Your website is a sales channel
The sales channel is where the majority of the “value” of any website comes in. It’s certainly the most trackable and justifiable. Implementing analytics and conversion testing will allow you to tweak your conversion funnel to capture more sales and generate a higher ROI.
A lot of websites focused on selling products or services fail in this area. It’s almost like they tried to recreate the magical experience of the paper catalog online. File that under ‘FoMP’ – Failure of Monumental Proportions!
Your website sales channel must express your unique value to your potential customers. This is especially true if your products are sold at any number of other outlets. Why should they buy from you instead of that other guy?
Your customers should feel you know your products better than the manufacturer does. You can do this by writing unique product descriptions and value-based headlines and using language that is customer-needs centric. Telling your customers what you or your products do is good. Telling your customers the benefit you or your products provide is better.
Building up your tips, tools and helpful article database can be an asset to the active sales funnel. If a potential customer has a question that can be answered right from your website, helping them finalize their purchase decision, you both win.
Your website is a post-sales channel
When the sale is done, the sell isn’t done!
We all know it costs far less to keep a customer than to get a new customer. Unfortunately, too many online marketers fail at pursuing the customers they already have and continue to spend, spend, spend on acquiring new ones. (A great book about this is Flip the Funnel by Joseph Jaffe.)
A good portion of your online marketing budget should be used to maintain customer loyalty. There are a lot of ways you can do this; you can provide customer loyalty and rewards cards, re-marketing through PPC, coupons and discounts for a follow-up purchase, email follow-ups with “on sale” updates, etc.
Give your customers a reason to come back to your site, or, at the very least, a reason to stay in contact with you.
Social Media: Enter stage left
A great way to do this is with regular blog updates providing helpful tips and tutorials that let your customers know you care about them, not just their wallets. Use Twitter and Facebook to engage your customers and deal with potential PR nightmares before they get a chance to take a foot hold. Make sure your website allows customers to easily contact you when there is a problem.
If you’re not implementing some kind of follow up or engagement after the sale, you’re losing thousands of dollars worth of profit. Who better to convince to buy from you than an already happy customer?
We often build websites with a singular thought in mind: selling our products or services. Unfortunately, we usually do that with a singular method–getting a sale. But we don’t think about what happens before the sale is ready to be made, or after it has been completed. We have to be willing to lay a little groundwork to build credibility, build branding, and lay the foundation for a potential sale in the future.
And once the sale is complete, why give up there? Continue to pursue the customer. Let them know just how much you appreciate them and wish to continue a mutually beneficial relationship. Don’t just focus on getting new sales. Focus on building customer relationships before, during and after the sale.