10 E-Business Proverbs for 2006, Part 2

My last column shared the first 5 of 10 e-business proverbs from Sam Decker, former e-commerce and customer-centricity leader at Dell. Today, the second five.

  • Choose your results. Choosing a result means you publicly stake a flag in the ground to achieving a forecast goal. The forecast is what I call a “results rabbit”: once people commit to a result, they go after it like a greyhound chasing a rabbit.

    To achieve e-business results, decide what results you’ll achieve on a daily, weekly, and quarterly basis. Forecast key metrics in your online business: online revenue, margin, visit, conversion, average order value, and so on. Assign ownership to these measurements and report (red, yellow, green) progress against your forecast. Set stretch goals. All will work to achieve a goal, but they must know what it is, how they’re responsible, and where they stand.

  • Compete with something. Forecasts and reporting align everyone with the goals. For fun and motivation, add competition to the mix. Of course, you compete with competitors, but you can also have healthy internal competition (fun). I used to divide up my team. We’d do A/B split tests, and whichever sub-team came up with the best merchandising idea got a monetary reward. The reward was nominal, but the competition was everything. Add this dynamic to your operations. It makes it fun to win.
  • Design on purpose. Creative can get out of hand. I’m not talking about creative people. Ironically, it’s business and marketing managers who often come up with crazy ideas for a Web site. Design and pages should serve a purpose that maps directly back to a visitor’s task, goal, and persona. In the quest to grow business, the business grows new site designs and content. You may want more real estate for a new product, but a microsite rarely works. Less is more. Focus on the primary purchase path. Designs that balance customer and business purposes are win-win.
  • Grok your customers. To grok something is to understand it so well, it’s fully absorbed into oneself. (Robert Heinlein coined the word in his 1961 novel, “Stranger in a Strange Land.”) Team members should sip from multiple cups of insight to fully grok customers and visitors. This means triangulating insights from Web analytics, order data, usability studies, focus groups, surveys, verbatim feedback, ratings and reviews, word-of-mouth content outside the site, and persona exercises. Managers and decision makers must grok customers to achieve the right state of mind to make strategic decisions on design, copy, merchandising, and development priorities.
  • Get real. It’s a paradox; you must underestimate customers to make your site easy to use, but you must also appreciate that customers are smart and cynical. Superlative claims and fancy merchandising aren’t as persuasive as they used to be. I’ve tested headlines with substantiated, factual claims (e.g., “this is the best seller”) against general, superlative headlines (e.g., “we recommend this,” or “great product”). Factual headlines outperform superlative ones, four to one.

    E-commerce sites have a huge opportunity to bring authentic voices, whether their own or their customers’, to their sites. Ratings and reviews, for example, in which customers can share their product opinion with others, are under utilized. A Shop.org 2004 study found only 26 percent of online retailers had online ratings and reviews, but 96 percent of those who did suggested it was an effective tactic. Put customers more in charge of your brand, merchandising, and copy. Let their voices prioritize and direct decisions (that’s why it’s important to grok customers). Their authenticity and transparency is compelling to other customers, and you can put a system in place to help customers build your business.

    Bazaarvoice, where Decker now works, is a new company doing just that. It provides managed technology and services to bring word of mouth closer to a company’s online experience (full disclosure: I’m an advisor for Bazzarvoice.)

Now, go out and practice these proverbs. Have a blowout 2006!

Meet Bryan at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 27-March 2.

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