A Publication of WTVP

Back in 1996, which was decades ago in Internet years, the future of e-commerce was anybody’s guess. In 2006, consumers readily embrace doing business, buying products and services, doing research, and many other daily tasks online.

First and foremost, a web site is a true marketing tool—and your customers expect you to have a presence on the Internet. Whether your web site is informational, educational, or selling your products and services, having a web site improves the consumers’ confidence in doing business with your company. Most businesses now realize the costs of not having a web site can be devastating to their growth and longevity. Luckily, I saved the best news for last: designing and maintaining a web channel to do business is the least expensive marketing strategy.

Your customers’ first impression about your web site can make a sale or lose a customer in an instant. You want your customers to say “wow!” when they see your web site for the first time. That way, you ensure your customers will read about your business, learn about your products and services, and be confident in doing business with you.

The “wow!” factor is that first visual impression that lets a customer feel the beautifully and professionally designed web site. To continue to impress your customer beyond looks, your web site has to give them what they want in a very friendly and engaging way. That’s what’s called the functionality and usability of your web site.

Functionality is simply what your web site can do. Your first question should be, “What do my customers want?” If you keep your customers’ needs and wants as the top priority, the end result will be an important and time saving way for your customers to do business with you. That means happy customers and higher profitability to you.

Usability is how easy it is to understand and navigate your web site. What does easy have to do with a web site? Well, if you’ve ever walked into a store, looked around, and thought to yourself; “Where do you think they’ve hidden the widget I’m looking for?” Easy is walking into the same store with a map, directions, flashing arrows, overhead signs, and a personal assistant. If it’s that easy for a customer to do business with you, then they’ll do it.

Now take a look at how two different businesses, Business A and Business B, go about making a web site. Business A sells hobby items; Business B sells, installs, and services furnaces and air conditioners.

Business A has been asked many times by its customers if it has a web site and has had to tell them no. They decide it’s time to create a web site for their customers. They think about how they can help their customers do business with them and what their customers expect of them. They decide their customers, both new and existing, could benefit from being able to purchase their products. However, they also realize new customers don’t know anything about their business and they should include the history, staff, and commitment to their customers. In addition, their customers need a way to communicate with their business through the web site. They think about getting customer comment, testimonials, negative feedback, and suggestions for improvement. Knowing communication shouldn’t be one way, they decide to provide company and industry news and an e-mail newsletter that will keep their customers informed about new products, promotions, and other important announcements. The web site gets built, and their customers start using the web site, providing feedback and buying products. Business A uses the feedback to continue to improve the web site and has overwhelming success and growth.

Business B also has been asked whether it has a web site and also has told customers no. After several years of resisting the thought of building a web site while their business has decreased, they finally concede they need a web site. Knowing they’d need a lot of help in creating a web site, they found a web site company. When they sat down to discuss it, they asked why they need a web site. Business B gave the two answers that were the most painful for them: “because our customers continue to ask for our website” and “our sales have been declining for some time now.” They discussed what their customers wanted and needed. The discovery was that their customers really needed to learn about their business to build confidence and trust. They tell people about their staff, history, products, services, maintenance plans, and guarantees. They also discussed the need to have communication with their customers. Online scheduling and product and industry news should get their customers involved and help keep them coming back. They build the web site and advertise their forward thinking ability to schedule appointments online. Potential customers come to the web site, read about the business, and schedule appointments that lead to more sales and service calls for them. Business B continues to grow and becomes a national chain, providing the best products backed by the best service and guarantees.

Why were both of these businesses successful? Because they made a decision to embrace the best marketing and sales tool available. Each had different needs and customers, but by keeping the customer in focus, they were able to become wildly successful. Are you next to embrace the successes of the newest marketing tool? IBI