Marketing Is NOT Sales

It’s an honor to join the ClickZ family and share my perspective on problems and opportunities in e-commerce. Twice a month I’ll do my best to give you plainspoken, “no B.S.” information about how to increase your web site conversion and customer retention rates.

Developers, designers, and marketers — however talented and dedicated — simply do not know enough about professional selling. It’s not where their expertise lies. Yet building and promoting a site that doesn’t “know” how to sell is like building a beautiful brick-and-mortar store with a confusing layout, stocking it with great stuff, but then not hiring any salespeople.

Professional selling, and how to apply it to the web successfully, is my background, the area of my expertise, and my only focus. I’ve struggled just like everyone else. I want to assure you that what you’ll be reading here actually works. Moreover, it works like nothing else can.

For all that’s being written about various marketing strategies, success in e-business, as in any business, isn’t about marketing or about design; it’s about sales.

Ultimately, it’s about the conversion rate: the percentage of visitors your site can turn into buyers. Lots of dot-coms have turned into dot-bombs because even though they spent tons of money on “sexy” designs and tons more driving traffic to their sites, they overlooked the tiny fact that they needed to sell to visitors once they arrived at the site. The sad thing is, many of those visitors would have bought happily and could have left delighted.

Many struggling dot-coms would be successful if they woke up to e-sales, and many failed dot-coms would still be around if they had done the same.

Don’t get me wrong. Marketing is an essential part of the e-commerce equation. Marketing paves the way for sales. But it’s only where sales and marketing overlap that buying happens. Think of it like one of those Venn diagrams you probably remember from school:

Now, imagine pulling these circles apart, so sales moves farther and farther away from marketing. How much buying do you have left? (Hint: Less and less until you have none. Zero. Nada.) Now imagine pushing these circles together, so sales and marketing increasingly overlap. What are you seeing? How much your buying will increase!

Before your potential customers arrive at your web site, they are exposed to a lot of external messages and compare those messages to their internal desires and values. This is where marketing plays an important role in creating the propensity to buy. But as soon as a visitor begins to interact with your “digital store,” all the marketing in the world isn’t going to save you if your site doesn’t know how to sell.

Think of it this way. You see an advertisement on TV in which a car manufacturer tells you it makes the safest car out there, and the ad prominently displays lots of images of an adorable, safe baby and happy parents enjoying their worry-free car ride. Suppose you’ve got a baby. You want him or her riding in the safest car. You think maybe you should look into buying this car. So you and your baby head to the nearest dealership that sells this car.

You walk in with the propensity to buy, but you still need to be sold on the product. You have questions about options, service, and which model would best suit your needs. You want to be treated like you matter. You want to feel good about the decision to buy. Without a salesperson holding your hand throughout the sales process, treating you the way you want to be treated, and selling to you the way you want to be sold to, you probably aren’t going to buy a thing from this dealership, even if it does sell the safest car in the world.

Think of a smaller-ticket item. I wanted to buy a photo-quality printer because I’m playing around with digital cameras these days. I came across an advertisement that promised the product would give me “superior quality at the incredible price of $175.” I enthusiastically trotted off to that store and found myself standing in a huge aisle filled with printers.

All of a sudden, I started wondering if maybe there wasn’t an even better printer for my needs. I pushed a few of the test buttons and got some test printouts. Holding them in my hand, I looked for a salesperson. There was no one around. I read some of the fact sheets but had more questions. There was still no salesperson in sight. I now have the printouts on my desk, but I didn’t buy a printer.

Marketing got me to the store, but it didn’t result in a sale. Had someone bothered to help me, I might have bought that $175 printer. If this same person were good at selling, he or she might even have been able to make me feel good about buying the next model up (up-selling) or adding a cable, an extra toner cartridge, and some paper to my order (cross-selling). Or he or she might have helped me figure out that I really would be better off with a different brand.

It just as easily could have gone another way, but one that would have been just as bad: Even without the benefit of a salesperson, I might have bought that $175 printer, carted it home, installed it, and then been dissatisfied with my purchase. And if I’d bought it and it worked fine? I would still be wondering if I’d gotten the best deal for my needs, which still leaves me somewhere short of being completely delighted. So, the end result in that case is that I’m not likely to return (customer retention) to that store because it hasn’t shown that it acknowledges and values the role of sales — which is another way of saying that it doesn’t acknowledge and value me!

Are you getting the idea? Shoppers want to buy, and they do want to be sold to. They don’t, however, want to be “pushed.” Yet the average conversion rate on the web is only 2 percent, while the average conversion rate in the brick-and-mortar world is approximately 50 percent. Do you think just maybe there’s something big that’s lacking in the way e-commerce sites function?

By all means, drive traffic to your site. But look at the Venn diagram, and you can clearly see that marketing alone must fail. In order to sell more of anything, you need to do more selling. It is that simple.

Can it be done on the web? Yes! And in future articles, I’ll tell you how.

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