Q: How does the online sales process differ from brick-and-mortar sales?
A: The difference is merely in the process of communicating with the customer. But the basic goal is the same: to find more qualified customers.
Here's a three-step process to drive more prospects to your Web site:
1. Build a user-friendly site. Start by allowing viewers to navigate easily through your site. Make sure the categories are clearly identified and are logically organized specifically and clearly. Is your site visually interesting? Are you keeping your site current and updated? Designing a Web site is no different than dressing a store window or creating an appealing advertisement. It must seduce all types of buyers. Remember, some of your prospects have never accessed the Internet before and don't want to be taken through a complicated process. Keep it simple. Make sure your site is creating an impact. Research qualified Web builders and make it a point to see their work before you hire one.
2. Use a variety of advertising vehicles, such as print, telemarketing and direct-mail advertising. Make sure each advertising campaign drives customers to your site. Don't count on people surfing the Internet to find you. For example, include your Web address on your voicemail an in all newspaper ads, brochures and newsletters. Say something to entice the reader to your site such as, "Check out our Web site and you'll learn three things you never knew about (pick a topic)."
3. Join an affiliate marketing program. Think of it as practicing network marketing on the Internet. Take my friend, Cathy. She started a "kit business" on the Internet. The first kit she produced was an "Official New Bride Name Change Kit." It's an easy-to-use kit for new brides customized to the bride's state and ZIP code. It contains all required government forms, personal record change forms, and, an instruction guide and checklist to help new brides change from their maiden name to their new married name. Then she created an affiliate program link on her site. This means she partnered with other complementary companies that have products or services that are compatible with her kit. One of her affiliates is an attorney who sells legal forms. If a customer or prospect from her site connects to his site and purchases his services, Cathy earns a commission check. Of course the same applies to the attorney when one of his prospects connects to Cathy's site and buys a bridal kit.
You can partner with numerous other businesses on your Web site. But before you add banners (more partner links) to your page, research which businesses are compatible with you. If you're part of the hospitality industry, for example, you can link with travel agents or realtors. Once you figure out who's compatible with your business, then be sure your future partners are reputable. Taking time to research credentials is especially important on the Internet. Try to get a face-to-face appointment with your prospective affiliates. If they're in another state, references will be particularly important.
Another exciting aspect of the affiliate program is incentives. You can create perks that will motivate affiliates to drive qualified prospects back to your site once they've purchased from them. Affiliate programs cost nothing to set up and provide a quick source of income for your business. Go to Commission Junction Inc. for more details. It shows business owners how to make additional commissions off ancillary products or services related to what they sell. Check it out.
All the same principles that apply to brick-and-mortar sales apply to online selling: Follow-up, go the extra mile to please the customer, and ask them for future referrals. Online selling is simply another option you can tap to double your income and increase your lifetime customer base.
Danielle Kennedy is an authority on selling, developing a peak performance attitude and winning customers for life. Call her at (800) 848-8070 or visit www.daniellekennedy.com for information on consulting for your business.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.