Is Your Web Site Qualified to Sell?

I’ve discussed the consumer psychology behind the buying process and five-step selling process and how these processes merge. To put this knowledge into practice, you must first understand how these two processes integrate.

Matching the exploration phase to your site’s ability to qualify is a critical element of e-commerce. The exploration phase is when a customer explores avenues for meeting her needs or solving her problem in greater detail. At that point, you must engage that prospect in the qualifying phase.

Dale Carnegie said, “Talk in terms of the other man’s interests.” He believed that you can persuade someone to do what you want by viewing the situation from his perspective and “arousing in the other person an eager want.” If you can’t figure out what your prospect wants, you’re in trouble. E-commerce, both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C), is consumer-centric. The prospect sets the pace. Your job is to keep up.

How do we learn what prospects want? You begin with assumptions. If you sell books and they want eggs, they’ll leave quickly enough (note to Jeff Bezos: not a suggestion for you to sell eggs). You qualify your prospects to make the right recommendations. You probe for information about their needs and problems; you understand their decision-making processes, time frames, financial resources, and other data relevant to getting them to take the action you want.

How do you probe for information online?

Navigation that gets customers past paralysis of analysis is critical. Every navigation link on your site is the answer to an implied question (think of TV’s “Jeopardy”). The prospect expects that when she goes to the next navigation point, her question will be answered in a way she expects it to be. This narrows the path through the buying process. Examples? Check out Dell’s Web site. Visitors qualify themselves by the type of buyer they are:

  • Consumer — Home & Home Office
  • Business — Small Business, Medium & Large Business
  • Public — State & Local Government, Federal Government, Education, Healthcare

Dell permits more knowledgeable consumers the flexibility to navigate directly to the product category that meets their needs.

Any process is measurable. To learn if your site is effective, use the “one page only indicator.” This metric is related to the site penetration rate (SPR). Check your logs for the number of times visitors entered and exited your site without viewing other pages. To calculate the one page only indicator, divide that number by the number of visitors who entered the same page and continued surfing your site.

After doing this analysis with one client, we determined that about half its site’s visitors left before they clicked through the entry page (the home page in this case). Clearly the client had a navigation problem (Just looking at the page told me this, but you know how clients are. It’s harder to argue with hard data).

Delving into the client’s logs, we found the page most visitors went to next was the in-site search engine results page. Knowing that the latest research shows that when shoppers use an in-site search engine conversion rates drop dramatically, I suggested a simple solution. Mine the search logs for the terms people used to search for the products it sells most often, then integrate those terms into the home page navigation. This is a quick, dirty, and effective way to troubleshoot and plug holes in a leaky bucket.

Do you sell to the prospect in the way he wants to buy? Is your site designed as a customer-centric qualifying sales tool — or do you allow visitors to qualify themselves off your site?

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