If you come from any sort of sales background, you’ll know that one of the rules is always to guide a customer conversation away from a situation where the customer can close proceedings, usually by saying no. In a shop, you always say “How can I help you?”, not “Can I help you?”, if you want to engage the prospective purchaser. But does your website allow the visitor to close the conversation before it’s even begun? Don’t forget that the visitor has opened proceedings by coming to your site in the first place: they have made the effort to get there. So a website which doesn’t then welcome them in is idiocy: the equivalent of one of those exhibition stands which nobody appears to be manning.
What do I mean by “welcoming them in?” Quite simply, by making it immediately obvious that this is the company they’re looking for, that there’s information here about the products and services they’re looking for, and that this is an up-to-date site from a real company which is active in their field.
Curiously, some of the most conservative people I’ve ever met in business are from sales. When I’ve worked with companies on building and designing websites, it’s usually the sales department which objects to any progressive ideas and just says: “here’s our competitor’s website, can you do something like this?”
If that’s familiar, and you see your own sales department being the biggest obstacle in creating a website which actually provides a service to customers and eventually generates leads, then the arguments above can be a good place to start getting your point across. Try to describe the functions of a website in analogies to sales calls and exhibition stands, and they’ll start to realise that you’re not building an online brochure, and a hard-to-use one at that.
(Of course, if you are your own sales department, the fact that you’re reading this suggests that you don’t have the problems which hold back so many organisations in the first place.)