Five simple steps to connect your online business

Eyes tend to glaze over when technical jargon is dropped in a business meeting. Often, this reaction is quickly followed by someone changing the subject to the latest technical trend, gadget or gimmick and forgetting about the overall objectives that led them to the meeting in the first place.

It’s not unusual to confuse the potential of interactive with hot technology trends; but letting gadgets and gimmicks drive your brand’s online experience is a common mistake that can compromise your overall success. These days, consumers have less and less patience for disconnected business strategies that provide bad user experiences.

To keep yourself from getting lost in the commotion of interactive gimmicks, remember this cardinal rule: the best methods for enabling your business online will begin with a clear understanding of how your offline business works. Your online presence is a strategic opportunity, and it should not be disconnected from the offline world.

Step One: Set your objectives, and balance consumer and the business
The first step in creating any business tool is to first clearly define your business objective and then balance these with your consumer objectives.

Step Two: Define your Target
Once you have identified your objectives, you must ensure you have correctly identified your consumer segments, the different profiles of consumers who are going to potentially purchase your product online, and how they might interact online and offline with your brand. You should have at least five segments. To help make these segments real, give them names and personalities.

Step Three: Apply the funnel
Now that you know what our objectives are and who you are after, apply the consumer purchase funnel and map out the logical steps a consumer will take that will lead them from awareness of your product through purchase to loyalty. I’ve found this often-overlooked stage to be essential, so let’s go through these steps.

• Awareness- Get the attention of potential customers with online tactics like banner advertising, pay-per-click (PPC), social media, viral videos or traditional media with calls to action into online consideration content/

• Consideration- Once you are in the consumer consideration set, customer will likely visit your site to research and learn more about your product. Include features and specs and large, full screen photos and video. More engaging research shows your product in action, with calls to action online, not just an image of the packaging or offline brochure.

• Engagement- A consumer is now interacting with your product, doing deep comparisons; they are engaging with your business for more detailed information and to make an informed decision. The online world allows you to build tools so that consumers can engage with your product in a dynamic way: product comparison, search features, product customization, online interaction with a service representative, building a product or showing a product in action to persuade the consumer to buy the product- all of these things and more are possible online to increase the chance of turning a prospect into a loyal customer.

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• Conversion- The customer wants to buy your product. Make it painless to purchase the product by providing e-commerce that is secure and easy to use, or offer lead forms and store locators to lead the customer to an offline purchase. Avoid cumbersome forms and unnecessary steps; only request necessary information and clearly explain the process along the way to start to build the long term trusting relationship with your customer.

• Retention- Your customer purchased your product and now you need to maintain this relationship and get them to repeat the process, because, as well all know, it is less expensive to keep a customer than get a new one. A common tactic for this is e-mail, but there are plenty of other opportunities to maintain an ongoing relationship with your customers, like loyalty rewards programs, personalized customer portals or soliciting customer feedback through online surveys. During this step, only collect additional information from your customers when it is appropriate and relevant to that particular customer segment. Look to and eBay for examples of how to do this right. Also, engaging all facets of your business operations to communicate to your customers about new products, tools or specials on your products is key.

Step Four: Determine your solutions online and offline
Connecting the purchase funnel layers is the secret sauce to developing a great online and offline experience for your customers. All visitor page views drive to the next step in the consumer funnel, never leaving a customer at a dead end, always outlining the next logical step and providing some way to reconnect at a later time at each exit. Every click is an opportunity to drive customers deeper down your purchase funnel and build the customer relationship; these opportunities should not be wasted.

Step Five: Measure and Adapt
Once you have applied the purchase funnel, mapped out the consumer steps and applied online tactics, it is important to measure your solution against your objectives with site analytics. Certainly you’ll look at site traffic, but more importantly, a good analytics program like Google Analytics can help you measure the steps in the process from the referrer (where the user came from), the bounce rate (how many left right away) and the exit pages where users are dropping off. Also, monitor the click-thru rates on all pages as your consumers penetrate your online presence and travel down the purchase funnel.

This may sound simple and logical, and many of you may be saying we already know this and are doing it, but are you really doing it well?

The online world is always evolving. It is important to experiment, learn and adjust your plans to take into account what is working and what is not. For the latest tech trends, always walk through this process to determine how and where you can best integrate them into your overall online strategy.

My advice is to stay focused on your business objectives, the objectives of your consumer targets and the purchase funnel. Then apply the best technical tools to enable these, and watch your online strategy drive results right to your bottom line.
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Categories: Sales & Marketing