Selling on the Internet

by Martha Nelson

Most companies are using websites to increase their business. It's another way of selling—and some think may replace the traditional sales force for getting sales. If you're a sales executive, this could be worrying. Is it true? Will you soon be out of a job?

Replaced by a Computer?

Probably not. As the saying goes, "Nothing happens in business until somebody sells something." Although your customers may choose to order on-line—companies will still need good sales people to make the web work and to provide the personal service that will make their customers feel cared for. In other words, your skills as a sales person are just as valuable for the web business as they are in the traditional face to face methods of selling.

If your company has a website, you as a sales person can give valuable input to the design and selling process involved on the site. For example, is the customer led through the selling steps as logically as you would guide them in a personal presentation? Does the path lead to an easy close of the sale? Or are they confused and distracted by too many options or flashing lights? These are things a website designer may not notice. But you know your product and the people you sell them to, and how they think. You know what's important to emphasise or leave til the end (price? features your competitors don't offer? a "reason to buy" or "solution to a problem"). Although the method of selling has changed (Internet)—your customers haven't—and what you find works in face to face selling will usually translate to the web. So you have a responsibility to ensure that your company's website is a successful member of your sales team.

Selling 24-7

One reason sales executives may want their customers to order on-line versus waiting for a visit is because it's easier for the sales person—no travelling, staying in hotels, plus the time involved in the appointment. Of course the website can reach customers all over the world at all times of the day—something no sales person can do! You can help increase this input to your sales by encouraging your customers to use your website and at times by being a liaison between them and Technical Support if they need some hand holding at the beginning. It's also important that you are sensitive to any hesitation or negative comments from customers about your site, i.e. the images take too long to download, or some area is confusing. These criticisms must be fed back to the website manager as soon as possible.

You can also send postcards promoting your site every quarter so customers are reminded of new features or offers available on-line. Or add colourful stickers to your literature promoting the website and reminding customers of how easy it is to use.

Make it Easy to Buy

Another way to increase web sales is to remove some of the fears your customers may have about buying online versus seeing you. For example, our company sells jewellery—something jewellers traditionally want to see first before buying, to ensure the quality is what the picture claims it is. (Unfortunately, no screen image can replicate the sparkle of my samples.) To overcome this "objection", our company has promoted two things: 1) A free sample to show our quality, if needed and 2) A No-Quibble Money-Back Guarantee (within 14 days) on all orders. We have put this information in prominent positions on our site, and emphasise it in our postcard mailers promoting our site. Although most mail order companies offer at least the second option, it is amazing how few websites actually promote this service to encourage people to buy. The mail order clothes outfitter Lands' End is a good example of a successful company that has used a similar guarantee to increase customer confidence and sales. It supports another business adage: If you're generous towards your customers, they will be generous towards you.

Study the Competition

Another way to improve your site is to study your competitor's websites. You can learn new ways of selling and promoting your products by looking at how others have done so with similar products. You should also have every sales person on your sales force look at the website every 6 months or more often to give definite feedback to the company on how to improve the selling technique. We all have different ideas and the more input you have, the better your site can become.

It is said that the profession of selling is one of the most portable skills you can have—translating across the workforce and easily adapted to nearly every industry. Yet even within your present industry and employment, there are many ways you as a sales person can contribute to the success of your company by making the company website work. And that means more sales for you, too.

To see an example of "Selling on the Internet", go to:

(Martha Nelson is the Sales Manager for Fine Enamels Jewellery in the U.K.)

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