Read an Excerpt
Call to ActionSecret Formulas to Improve Online Results
By BRYAN EISENBERG JEFFREY EISENBERG Lisa T. Davis
Nelson BusinessCopyright © 2007 Bryan Eisenberg
All right reserved.
If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there. -Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Planning involves everything that happens before a visitor reaches your site. It includes steps you take to get traffic to your site-the creation of the elements for your conversion process and the storyboard of your site that guide visitors once they are there. It includes strategic marketing planning such as the development of your unique value proposition (UVP), your understanding of the marketplace and targeted customers, and your brand and brand positioning. Planning is about understanding your visitors and their values, so you can anticipate their knowledge levels, moods, and mindsets, and thereby meet their needs. The planning principles presented here will help you "get your act together" so you "know where you're going" before you invest costly resources. These planning principles yield exceptional results in terms of sales for your Web site and help maximize the return on your investments (ROI) of time, energy, and dollars.
AN INCREDIBLY CONDENSED HISTORY OF PERSUASION AND SALES
To maximize ROI on your Web site, you must have an organized persuasive purpose for your Web site-to get someone to subscribe, to register, to inquire, or to buy something. To better grasp the concept of persuasion and Web site sales, we should trace back through time and observe the evolution of sales. As we talk about various phases, be sure to notice how each step in the evolution of sales seems to make the purchase easier for the buyer and harder on the vendor. Each step seems to remove some of the friction buyers feel and makes the purchase process smoother for the buyer.
Depending on your religious persuasion, you may or may not believe that the first sale involved an apple-if not, sales of some sort is certainly the world's oldest profession even if it involved some form of inexact exchange in the form of barter. In ancient times, someone would have chickens, and someone else would have cows, and they would decide how many chickens were worth exchanging for a cow. Obviously, this system was inefficient for both parties-suppose one party actually wanted ducks rather than chickens.
Over time trade fairs and open marketplaces developed, so that many trades could be made simultaneously until each party got approximately what they came for. Until money came along, goods and services were difficult to value since barter required so many trades and middlemen.
When trade evolved by making money the standard of exchange, it became much easier to exchange value since every product and service had a monetary value assigned to it by the free market. You either paid the value in money or not.
Eventually, vendors decided it made sense to aggregate in one area, so that all the buyers could meet them. This created a larger market for the vendors but also opened them to competition for price and selection. Even then, merchants would develop reputations for expertise in one product line or service line.
Centuries down the road, the market evolved to open-air vendors who established specialized stores. Because they no longer needed to travel around, businesses were able to offer greater convenience and more inventory. Stores became bigger and concentrated in commercial districts. Further down the road, commercial districts became malls. So now, in addition to a large selection of stores that offered one-stop shopping, buyers could partake of food and entertainment.
When catalogs appeared, they offered specialty products that stores couldn't carry and remote shopping for those buyers who did not have stores near them. The Sears catalog, transported along railroad lines, brought the far-away to buyers so they could shop from home.
If people could buy from their homes, then why not take the old "barker" style of selling and present it to them right through their televisions? That's exactly what QVC and HSN offered. These elaborate interactive catalogs were a huge success with buyers who could now buy while sitting on their sofas with phones at their ears and remote controls in their hands.
By the late 1990s the Internet changed everything. It would trump QVC and HSN with interactive, on-demand catalogs available 24/7, 365 days a year, with unlimited options to choose from, lots of competitors to decide between, and all the strangest things you could imagine waiting to be found (check out eBay). For buyers, this was simply one more evolutionary step.
The next phase of online sales history will belong to those who grasp and correctly apply the concept of what might be called a digital salesperson-a Web site that performs all the functions that an expert human salesperson would in the real world, is able to guide the prospect through all five steps of a professional sale, acknowledges how different people want to be sold to, and can adapt to those needs.
The bottom line: each evolutionary step has forced the merchant to work harder and systematically to remove friction from the buyer's experience. The Internet offers a virtually frictionless way for consumers to buy, which means that we must work that much harder to persuade and inform buyers. As a merchant, you have to decide if you will do the hard work, leave it up to the buyer, or let your competitor do it.
It's up to you-the buyer is always one click away from goodbye.
In order to keep your visitors from exercising their right and their opportunity to make that click to another Web site, you know you must provide them with one or more values that appeal to them or fulfill the search that brought them to you.
How would you define the value that your visitors are hoping to find at your Web site? Can you provide a definition that supports and reinforces your persuasive process? It's a trick question. Actually, there is no one way of looking at value. But there are qualities in the broad concept of value that your particular business will answer differently for each visitor to your Web site.
If your Web site offers no perceived value, the visitor is gone. But you ... stick around! Mohanbir Sawhney, McCormick Tribune Professor of Technology at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, organized his ideas on the nature of value into seven over-arching qualities. These words (slightly abridged) are his:
Value is customer-defined. Never forget that value is defined by those who use it and those who pay for it. To understand the true nature of value, you need to get inside the minds and hearts of your customers, whether they're internal or external. Vendors must communicate the value of their products not in terms of what these products do, but what they do for customers, expressed in a language that customers can relate to.
Value is opaque. An important consequence of value being defined by customers is that it is very difficult to quantify. You need to understand all factors that customers take into consideration in assessing value, and you have to understand the relative importance that customers place on each factor. In the absence of this understanding, you are shooting in the dark. Once you understand the factors that specific customers consider when making decisions, and how they make trade-offs, you can develop a better understanding of the value propositions that might appeal to each one.
Value is multidimensional. A common myth in business is that decisions are made solely on functional value, that is, a product's features and functionality. Value has two other dimensions as well: economic value-what these features and functions are worth to customers in terms of time and money; and psychological value-the emotional benefits that customers get from your products or your company.
Value is a trade-off. Value is the perceived worth of something in relation to the total cost that customers pay for it. This definition underscores the fact that value is a tradeoff between costs and benefits.
Value is contextual. You cannot divorce the value of [something] from the context in which it will be used ... Unless you understand the end-usage context, you run the risk of creating value propositions and offerings that are irrelevant for customers.
Value is relative. Customers never assess the value of an offering in isolation. They always consider value relative to alternatives. These alternatives may not be other products or systems, but other ways of accomplishing the same goals or doing nothing at all ... By understanding competing alternatives, you will also be able to focus on points of differentiation relative to these options and ignore points of parity that clutter and dilute your value proposition.
Value is a mind-set. The value mind-set is grounded in the belief that the sole purpose of a company is to create value for its customers and to be compensated equitably for its efforts. Therefore, everything the company says and does should revolve around its customers, not its products. This is a radical shift in perspective, and few companies truly embrace this idea despite their claims of being customer-focused.
Are You Providing Value?
Let's take what Mohanbir Sawhney says in such a textbook manner and give it an everyday perspective and language.
People have some interesting notions about what constitutes value. If they pay a lot for something, they either think they've purchased a high-quality product or they've just been ripped off. Stuff with bargain-basement price tags is considered ... well ... bargain-basement. Find a high-quality product at a substantially reduced price, and, hey, you've just found value!
This is just one view, not remotely the complete picture. But online, people still believe value is all about price although off-line this was shown to be untrue years ago. Sure, you might get lucky and make a few sales based on a super-discounted price alone. But if that's all you're offering, you're building zero loyalty, and you're begging for competition.
If you want lots of delighted, loyal, repeat customers, you have to realize superior value goes way beyond price, and superior value is what keeps them coming back. Just look to the recent success of cross-channel promotions where the customer can order online and pick up the product off-line. All those sales weren't to least-cost buyers!
Try on the idea that you are not just offering your customers a price proposition, but rather that you are actually offering them a value proposition. It's a complete package, filled with lots of human-friendly usability elements, attractive but fast-loading and functional design, great information, great products, appropriate prices, topnotch customer service, plus lots of nice little guaranteed-to-make-them-smile extras you devise to set yourself apart from the guys and gals that just offer ... well, price.
If you still think online isn't about sustainable value, consider the results of an online-buying study by MIT that discovered "only 47 percent of the consumers ... bought from the lowest-priced seller ... in fact ... price was the least important factor." And what beat price? The biggest factor was whether the customer had visited the site before (see why we will be going on and on in this book about making the right impression?), followed by familiarity with the company, and then shipping time (think, service).
Truth is, value is so subjective you can often be more successful charging higher prices, provided you pay close attention to all the other factors that influence the buyer's perception of the value of your product. A lot of that perception hinges on your market position: if you're selling coffee, are you a corner lunch counter or a Starbucks?
Remember, image alone won't do the trick, particularly online, where it's that much harder for your prospects to bask in your fancy ambience. Folks flat out demand real substance, and they consistently vote with just a click or two of their mouse.
Now, doesn't that put Mohanbir Sawhney's principles into perspective?
And the Value Is ...?
As Sawhney so eloquently points out, the value of whatever you are doing in cyberspace lives solely in the minds of your visitors. They decide what value means to them, and then they look to you to see if you provide it.
So ask yourself if your persuasive system identifies the qualities of value that are important to your visitors. Then ask yourself if your Web site truly communicates these values effectively. As you read the rest of Call to Action and begin to implement changes on your Web site, always ask yourself, "Is this adding value-however my customers define it?"
Are you effectively selling your product's benefits instead of just its features? Does the style of your Web site equate with your value proposition? Do you delight customers with the way you fulfill their orders, or do you merely satisfy or, even worse, disappoint them? Do your Web site's products and/or services address your customers' deeply felt needs, or are you trying to push something they may not even want? The customer readily must be able to determine your value to them; they shouldn't have to guess.
We have found that successful Web site designers have a dominant characteristic: a high degree of empathy for visitors and their values. Here's how they do it:
They sell a product/service for which there's a true need (think, value needed).
They understand that visitors are there voluntarily, so they entice and coax visitors, avoiding any sign of coercion (think, respect visitors' value, the right to choose; in other words, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink-though you can entice them to take one sip at a time).
Their presentation doesn't assume visitors know anything, but it doesn't insult their intelligence either (think, value of respecting visitors' intelligence).
They present necessary information when needed (think, value of "just in time").
They anticipate questions, fears, concerns (think, value of understanding).
They emphasize consumer benefits, not just product features (think, value of benefits).
They use copy (text) that helps their Web site rank well in search engines, because it's relevant to visitors' needs when seeking ways to solve problems (think, value of keywords for search engine relevance).
They employ hyperlinks filled with keywords that speak to visitors' questions, laced with benefits that jump out and let them know they're on the right track to achieving their goals (think, value of hyperlinking keywords to benefits).
A SOLID FOUNDATION
There are three fundamental ways to increase your Web site revenue:
Increase Traffic. With this technique, you drive more visitors to your Web site, on the theory that more visitors will translate into more buyers. Most of the tactics for increasing traffic require that you spend more money. Tactics include advertising, positioning in search engines, public relations campaigns, viral marketing, and encouraging customers to return.
Increase Merchandising. Another way to increase your revenue is to encourage your paying customers to spend more money per visit. You can accomplish this in many ways: cross-selling, up-selling, evaluating your most effective price points and margins, providing extra services at discount, bundling products or services into "packages," and stressing benefits rather than features. Even something as basic as improving the quality of your copy-just rewording a phrase or including a keyword that appeals to your personas-can have a dramatic impact on your results.
Increase Your Conversion Rate. If you concentrate on improving your Web site's conversion ratio, you will get much-improved results without having to spend more money to drive more traffic. There are literally thousands of adjustments, many of which cost practically nothing, that will increase your results dramatically, and nearly all relate directly to the personas you have created to inform those adjustments. The possible adjustments include removing unnecessary steps in the checkout process, clarifying your UVP, redesigning your navigation scheme, or prominently displaying your privacy assurances and guarantees. All these adjustments take into account the interrelationship between consumer buying behavior (consumer psychology and understanding the personas you've created) and the professional sales process.
Excerpted from Call to Action by BRYAN EISENBERG JEFFREY EISENBERG Lisa T. Davis Copyright © 2007 by Bryan Eisenberg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.