Working for SellerDeck, we have a pretty diverse set of customers selling some truly weird and wonderful products. However, regardless of the product or service being sold I always come up against the question of online marketing and best practice.
Looking back at the last few conversations I have had on the subject, most merchants I speak to use online marketing for one thing: sales. While this may be fairly obvious and there is certainly nothing wrong with it, I believe a lot of people are missing a great opportunity -- why not try communicating something other than cold hard sell? Let me explain a little further.
Most retailers sell things they have some type of connection with. I have a relative, Andy who has a very successful sportswear business; he’s a former tennis coach. In his bricks and mortar store people often come in just to chat about the latest advances in running shoes or tips to beat the boss at next week’s golf tournament. While this may sound like a waste of time, Andy values building a relationship with customers as the most essential thing to his business. Customers come in for his advice and may end up walking away with a new pair of Nikes, and how to get the most out of them.
But often this product knowledge fails to come across online.
With your next marketing campaign why not use your product and industry knowledge to help inform and educate your customers? If you want to keep it product-focused detail the interesting features and benefits instead of focusing just on that sale. Or why not try emails with some useful tips or a follow up to check to see how recent customers are getting on with their purchase?
No matter how diverse your products are I bet you’re the expert on them, helping to educate and inform is the best type of marketing there is.
The art of selling can be looked at in two ways. Either it’s persuading someone to buy something that they neither need nor want – “selling coal to Newcastle” – or it’s about discovering customer needs and finding the most appropriate way to meet them. Newcastle no longer mines any coal and frankly, the ram-it-down-your-throat sales approach is about as up-to-date as the expression. That said Newcastle in Australia, named after the UK one, is actually the biggest coal exporter in the world.
In contrast to the US, the UK doesn’t see sales as a profession, and popular culture places all sales people into the cowboy pen. This can be seen from the euphemisms used for sales roles here in the UK. Sales people are called account managers, business development executives, consultants, customer service representatives - anything except sales.
In fact, if a prospect ever tells someone they are good at sales, it probably means they’re not. People need to feel that they have a choice in order to buy. If they feel pressured, they react badly.
Selling the right thing means fewer returns. It also means happy customers who buy again, and tell their friends. Alternatively, selling the wrong thing gums up your phone lines with complaints, increases your cost of doing business, and leads to you being denounced on social networks right across the internet.
I don’t know how many people have consciences, and how much they apply them to business. Whatever the answer, it’s good to know that honest sales lead to better profits, even while letting you sleep at night.
Recent articles in the media and marketing trade press, are hotly debating the question of whether outdoor advertising has had its day.
For the record, we say the answer's 'no'; but I wanted to explain why we know this is the case. A quiet revolution is going on in out-of-home advertising. Small businesses are really starting to tune in to the medium's benefits, and we are seeing ever-increasing numbers – around 250 per week, in fact - signing up to Signposter.com to run out-of-home campaigns in their local area.
I believe that if small businesses are prepared to invest hard-won capital into an outdoor campaign on an ongoing basis like this, it’s because of hard evidence - such as sales increases or increased footfall to their business - of the medium's effectiveness. When every pound counts, they won't do any promotion without the confidence it will work.
This says to me that 'on the streets', where it counts, outdoor is working; it’s picking up more converts to its impact and effectiveness. And if it works like this for small businesses and local campaigns, I'm confident it'll continue to deliver for the big players as well.
Local press has been having a torrid time of it lately. It seems that scarcely a week goes by without reports of more problems for titles and groups within the medium. It's also a tough time for small businesses, which are seeing their profits squeezed by the downturn, while knowing full well that there has never been a more important time to shout louder than others in their field. Given these circumstances it might seem like a very frightening time to commit precious promotional budget to a struggling medium. But there are alternatives, and now is a great time to explore them. A service such as Signposter.com, an online service helping UK businesses buy and manage outdoor advertising, offers a viable, effective, low-cost and risk-free way to build up promotional collateral free from any potential surrounding editorial negativity. There is no denying that local press has a role to play in the promotional mix for small businesses. It's a proven way of reaching consumers in a local area. But now is surely the time for local businesses to do some research and be more adventurous, and gain stand-out by doing so. Outdoor advertising is now within the reach of small business managers.
Some people think that price is everything. My son currently works in my company, SellerDeck, sitting beside me in the home office. His job is account managing customers who use our ecommerce web hosting. It’s very instructive listening in. We’re not the cheapest offering, although we believe that we offer good value. Since you will start losing orders and customers the second your ecommerce web site goes down, and Google research suggests that marginally slow sites reduce orders by 20%, you would expect quality of service to be the major topic of conversation. Often it is, but for a minority, price is all that matters. In fact, there are relatively few products and services where price should be the sole criterion. These probably include electricity, where the same stuff always comes down the same wire anyway, and petrol, where rival brands across town often sell petrol from the same refinery. But some people always focus on price. The question is; do you even want to speak to customers who only care about price? Wouldn’t these customers be better hassling the competition? They not only pay less, they can also waste a lot of time. Competing on price requires the lowest possible cost base. So most businesses try to compete on overall value. My suggestion is if you aren’t losing a few customers on price, you probably aren’t charging enough. And those customers that you would lose from slightly higher prices, will probably be the very same ones that would be the least profitable and the most trouble.
I can still remember the profound disappointment I felt when I realised as a teenager in the early 1980s that a Harrington jacket teamed with burgundy Sta Prest trousers did not actually make me cool. I even feel it now, when I pore over beautifully styled but thoroughly expensive Rapha cycle clothing that I know will not make me pedal faster. It will only make me the most expensively-dressed slow cyclist in south London. “We’re selling a lifestyle” is the kind of vague promise that gives marketing and sales a bad name. It leads to confused USPs, distorted evidence, too much focus on branding at the expense of practical product development and – ultimately – dissatisfied customers. Yet marketers still go to enormous lengths to persuade us that their product will somehow transform our ordinary lives into something fantastic. They forget that it is salespeople who actually have to deal with the queries and objections, the reluctance to buy, the disappointment that arises when goods don’t make us happier/wealthier/better-looking – or in my case, cooler. The sales section of the Marketing Donut, which launches on 20 April, is for the salespeople. It deals with the grit behind the marketing glamour, the techniques that convert interest into hard cash. I’m talking about the ins and outs of negotiation, cold-calling, chasing prospects, keeping databases up to date, giving presentations to executives who think they’ve seen it all, managing sales teams and distributors, and so on. We’re trying to keep it realistic, practical and, above all, useful, and we’re being helped in the task by some very knowledgeable experts, who share our view that selling is a discipline. These include Grant Leboff, principal of the Intelligent Sales Club who challenges conventional sales wisdom, Ian Cochrane of Gazing Performance, who specialises in getting sales teams to deliver under pressure, and Bryan McCrae, director of Cognitive Sales Consulting, who has helped dozens of firms improve their sales results. We’re not selling a lifestyle. We’re not selling anything at all, in fact, because all of this information is completely free. No strings, no add-ons, no hidden extras - just exactly what it says on the tin.