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E Is for Everything?

Just this week, a member of my audience asked me the following:

"Why would a local company, with a large investment in trained, professional sales people need a Web site?"

Great question! And you might be thinking the same. . .

Maybe you already know many or all of your potential customers, maybe you have very defined processes and production cycles that don't change very quickly, maybe you're suspicious of the Internet "hype" - especially now that so many e-companies are falling by the wayside.

But we also know that the Internet isn't going away. 407 million people are now estimated to have access - that includes 167 million in N. America, and 113 million in Europe. Younger people increasingly spend more time online than watching TV. And the April edition of this magazine has an e-commerce focus . . .

The true challenge now ? which personally I also see as a great opportunity, is to understand all the ways in which using the 'Net can help your business, and from this to strategise the best investment of time and money.

So if it's here to stay, how can the Internet benefit your business - and what's currently going wrong?

There are some key elements that prevent many Web site owners from maximizing the potential of their Internet-based activities:

1. Tunnel vision on sales and new business: it takes at least five times the time and expense to acquire a new customer as it does to keep a current one. Your Web site can be a great tool for providing ongoing customer service and support - and achieving significant cost savings to boot!

Most people access the Internet for information on products and services that they either use now, or are considering buying. So, your Web site can be a great place to provide ongoing customer support for your products. If you're worried about giving away trade secrets to your competition, place these in a password-protected area.

The best way to build your content is to compile a list of questions that your customers most often ask. These may be sales related, but can also cover operations, quality assurance issues, etc. If you don't already know the questions, have your receptionists and sales people keep a note pad for a week. Then, put the questions, together with the answers, on your site.

This provides a 24 hour a day, seven day a week availability of service for your customers, whether your office is open or not. And, it can save significant costs in terms of telephone support time.

2. Not "asking for the business": I know this sounds obvious, but how many sites have you seen where it's quite unclear what the site wants from you? Every page of your site should have a strategy, and be clear about inviting visitor interactions to achieve your goals.

Many times when a new client comes to me for e-business strategy consulting, I ask them a few seemingly simple questions: "Who are your markets? What do they want from you?" and "What do you want from them?"

Sounds easy enough. But often, there are visitors to your Web site that may be different from your traditional customers ? and sometimes, you either currently offer or could create new products or services that they'd buy.

Thinking through all the possible audiences for your site, and all the ways in which you might interact with them is really crucial in creating your Web strategy.

Then, so is knowing who you expect to be looking at each page of your site, and what you want them to do. This might include requesting a catalog, asking for technical support, signing up for a newsletter, etc. Include clear text links and invitations to the visitor ? and make it really easy for them to contact you.

Too many pages online provide great content, and then just tail off into nothing. Don't let yours be among them!

3. Under-utilising e-mail: e-mail is a powerful tool when used appropriately (and an awful one when not!) It can be used for marketing, customer service, public relations, in-company memos, business research . . . and much more. Look at your real-world communications - could e-mail save you time and expense?

E-mail marketing can be done without the costs of design printing, and postage associated with traditional direct mail. It's almost free of charge!

It can be used to send notices of new products, or upgrades to existing ones. It can keep your customers informed of news and events in your company, and around the industry. If it's offering brief, valuable content, most of your contacts won't object to receiving it ? although of course if they do, you must take them off your mailings. But, with a few subtly embedded links to key pages in your Web site, it can be a great traffic generator.

Your own database of your customers, prospects and other contacts is the best place to start ? and take every opportunity to nurture that. Ask visitors to your Web site to sign up for your newsletter, product alerts, or other materials. If you buy any lists, be very careful that they're bona fide and you won't be accused of spamming recipients.

And whatever you do, answer your e-mail! Lack of e-mail response is always one of the biggest customer service complaints around e-business.

So, consistently mine your customer list. Send them targeted, relevant e-mails, and grow your business relationships electronically!

Let's say it again ? the Internet isn't going away. Today's challenge lies in understanding how to use it to maximise your market reach, optimise the efficiency of your operations, and achieve the best overall return on your online business investment.

This article was originally published in three installments in the "Foundry Trade Journal", 2001.

About The Author

Philippa Gamse, CyberSpeaker, is an internationally recognized e-business strategist. Check out her free tipsheet "Beyond the Search Engines" for 17 ideas to promote your Website: http://www.CyberSpeaker.com/tipsheet.html Philippa can be reached at (831) 465-0317 or mailto:pgamse@CyberSpeaker.com.

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