Even in the age of the Web, people buy the way they always have. That means to get them to buy, you need to sell. For your Web site to sell, its information architecture must integrateevery step of the five-step sales process.
I know the Internet is still pretty new, but now that the hype has died down (along with quite a few dot-coms), do you still think that the history of consumer psychology got an overnight makeover just because somebody found a faster way to communicate? I don't think so. If we've learned anything from the dot-carnage, it's that people still buy the way they always have, and that means to get them to buy more, you need to sell.
Selling is worlds away from allowing customers to buy, and if you aren't selling, you're not going to be in business for long. Fortunately, sales is not a haphazard thing. In fact, all successful selling, online and offline, follows essentially the same system. If you want your Web site to sell more, you have to construct it in such a way that it employs the five-step expert selling process.
The five steps of the expert sales process are these: prospect, rapport, qualify, present, and close. The process isn't strictly linear. It's like a spiral, each step feeding back and influencing the others as the process overall moves forward toward the close (assuming you do it right). Any good salesperson knows that selling is a process of evaluation and reevaluation -- both for the salesperson and for the prospective customer.
The prospect step is usually when marketing does its thing -- delivering lots of the right traffic. You pique potential customers' interest, and once you've brought them to your site, the very first thing you do is reinforce that they're in the right place by presenting your unique selling proposition (USP).
The process of building rapport online, where you lack that nose-to-nose (N2N) element, is simple but not easy. You develop rapport through things such as the speed of your download and the professional appearance of your site; through elements that promote trust; through ease of navigation, the power of your text, and the relevance of your images; through exceptional customer service. You make no assumptions about the customer's prior knowledge, either about computers or products. You offer clear access to help and provide concise, relevant information. You also understand that there are different personality types and people have their particular way of shopping. You use that information to adapt your sales process to the individual, and you sell to customers in the way they want to be sold to. People do want to be sold to; they just don't want to be pushed.
A key ingredient of eventually closing the sale is doing the qualifying part right. After all, wouldn't you want to buy if you were shown exactly what you want? Yet discovering exactly what your prospect really wants is your biggest challenge. So you begin a dialogue with your prospect. How do you ask questions? They're implicit in which hyperlinks you choose to provide. In general there are three types of buyers: those who know exactly want they want, those who know generally what they want, and those who are browsing and need some direction. You need navigation and information architecture that addresses the needs of all.
Here is where you must begin to close the sale. How? By communicating. You present. You answer the prospect's questions, resolve objections, encourage the close, detail service plans, offer payment options, and explain your guarantees. And you communicate not just anyplace but specifically at the point of action (POA), where it matters most to your prospect that you stand behind your products and care about his or her security and privacy. You create trust and confidence, a sense that he or she will not be forgotten the second the transaction is consummated.
The information architecture of your entire Web site must recognize every step of the five-step sales process. Remember, too, that each step feeds the others, so it's not unusual to have two, three, or even all five steps on a single page. Think of the process as operating on a micro level and a macro level simultaneously: The micro level is the individual page; the macro level is the entire shopping and buying experience. And always remember, buying is ultimately an emotions-based process.
By following these steps and applying these processes, you not only engage your shoppers in the physical dimension of colors, shapes, sizes, and prices but also connect to the critical emotional and psychological dimensions that underlie every decision to buy. You may not be N2N with your online customers, but you can make them feel as though you are. By doing so, in many cases you can increase your online sales not just in increments -- but by multiples.
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Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.
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