The New Frontier: Complex Sales

  |  January 30, 2004   |  Comments

Make online high-consideration purchases easier -- one step at a time.

Research indicates most complex sales begin with online information searches. A complex sale may involve automotive, financial services, or real estate. It could also be a business shopping for new suppliers, real estate, or professional services. Many people prefer to break e-commerce into business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sites. I prefer to categorize it into complex, straightforward, and impulse sales. After all, a business spends as much time considering the purchase of a $0.39 pen as an individual does.

Complex sales require a much greater degree of self-disclosure on the seller's part. That's why buying research isn't entirely performed on the manufacturer's Web site. Think automobiles. The Internet is the perfect place to dig for all the information necessary to make a more considered purchase. Yet based on a research study we're conducting, complex sales sites have plenty of work to do before they satisfy visitors.

Less-Complex Sales Benefit From Metrics

Consumer sites, even B2B e-commerce sites, receive the most attention. They've noticeably improved from when I first started writing this column. I attribute this to direct marketing metrics playing an ever-greater role in e-commerce Web sites. What's now measured is how many sales are completed. This in itself limits marketers' horizons.

E-commerce is very different from traditional direct marketing. Yet pure conversion metrics tend to ignore visitors who fail to purchase. Microaction and branding metrics must be incorporated into the mix.

Assist Visitors With Complex-Sale Investigations

The Internet is a vast repository of information that aids visitors involved in a considered purchase. Before the Internet, considered purchases relied much more on established relationships and were difficult to research. When shoppers seek to fulfill their needs, logic would dictate once they find exactly what they're looking for, they'll buy. Persuasion helps them realize what you offer is what they need or want.

A salesperson can meet a prospect, build rapport, and qualify her needs or wants, then present based on the qualification. If the salesperson did a good job, the closing feels natural and comfortable to both parties. Can a Web site do that? Of course. That's what persuasion architecture is about.

The Internet is unique in three fundamental ways:

  • Almost every visitor to a commercial Web site is there voluntarily.

  • A Web site is non-intrusive, unlike radio or TV.

  • Visitors must participate. If they don't click, there's no way to reengage with them. When visitors refuse to participate by clicking, communication ceases. That's a loss of persuasive momentum.

Consider Persuasive Momentum

The essence of the Internet experience is how visitors click from one hyperlink to the next. How they feel about that experience is determined by whether each click fulfills the visitor's expectations and needs. Satisfaction with each click (a microaction) increases their confidence they'll get what they came for (the goal, or macroaction).

Web sites offer many products and services serving multiple audiences with diverse needs. The dilemma is how to build a persuasive experience so each and every visitor can fulfill his individual needs on the same Web site.

Most complex sales sites develop as a result of a group of people from different departments compromising on what elements their site "needs" to have. Then, they compromise on a look and feel. Their visitors see the elements as they're presented, not necessarily as they want them to be presented.

Under these conditions, visitors do as they please. They look where they feel like looking and click wherever they want. What's left to measure but randomness and inferred intent?

Create Persuasive Momentum

What keeps conversation flowing is wireframe use to anticipate and plan scenarios of how each persona will experience the Web site, click by click. Only then can we begin to write copy and storyboard based on click-through patterns.

In the storyboard, we determine what elements we'll need to reinforce the messaging and solicit the actions we desire. At this point, we haven't yet talked to a developer or designer. All we do is develop the patterns and words that will persuade visitors. These patterns establish scenario design and scenario optimization.

Scenarios Boost ROI

Every word and pixel are deliberately placed to control where visitors click. They focus shoppers in the direction they want, and you want them, to take. Controlling variables in this manner later permits A/B testing, as you can change one variable at a time. The metrics you really need to track to optimize the scenario become obvious.

If you can't control a process, you can't improve it. If visitors don't click in the specific direction or pattern you predicted, assumptions are wrong. Because you controlled the variables, you can create a variation on the scenario and tweak it until you meet business objectives.

Deconstruct how and why visitors took a particular action. You'll get a clear picture of the road and the obstacles on it.

Continually research and analyze click-through errors (clicks not part of your scenarios) to help incrementally reduce cost, boost success, enhance customer relevance, accelerate the rate of improvement, execute strategic change, and provide insight into the "right" metrics.

In the long term, this propels you toward perfection. You can use failure to your advantage. A winning racehorse yields 10 times more than the runner-up. Not because he's 10 times faster, but because he's incrementally better. Scenario design helps improve every aspect of your site, incrementally, until you outrun the competition and garner far greater results.

Meet Bryan at Search Engine Strategies in New York, March 1-4.


Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is co-founder and chief marketing officer (CMO) of IdealSpot. He is co-author of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times best-selling books Call to Action, Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?, and Always Be Testing, and Buyer Legends. Bryan is a keynote speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as Gultaggen,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others for the past 10 years. Bryan was named a winner of the Marketing Edge's Rising Stars Awards, recognized by eConsultancy members as one of the top 10 User Experience Gurus, selected as one of the inaugural iMedia Top 25 Marketers, and has been recognized as most influential in PPC, Social Selling, OmniChannel Retail. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of several venture capital backed companies such as Sightly, UserTesting, Monetate, ChatID, Nomi, and BazaarVoice. He works with his co-author and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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