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Generating sales enquiries by having an online store

I had an interesting conversation last week with a marketing manager whose company had introduced an online store a year ago. I asked how business was going, and he said it had taken a step up with the new online store. He left a pause for me to comment, wondering if I’d noticed something, which fortunately I had.

“But your website analytics are showing hardly any sales in the store”, I replied. I could hear the amusement in his voice.

“I know”, he said, “but there’s no doubt in our minds that it was the online store which caused normal telephone, invoiced sales to increase”.

So why was this? I guess there are a number of factors. We have to start by recognising that many – probably most – industrial customers can’t do business with an online store. They don’t have the facility to make online payments, but that’s only a practical issue. The main thing is that the products simply aren’t suitable for the customer to self-select.

But when someone arrives at a site with an online store, even if they can’t buy from it, the site is effectively saying: “we’re ready to do business with you, today”. The key is to make it very clear on every page of the store that the company is also ready to do business with those customers who want to raise a purchase order and pay once they’ve received a conventional invoice.

Secondly, having an online store forces the supplier to have a web page for every model and to give each one a full technical description. Many companies without web stores are just too lazy to do this, taking the view that “the customer is going to have to contact us to discuss their needs and place their order anyway, so we can dig out the relevant technical information then”. But that’s not how people work nowadays. They want to research everything from the comfort of their own desk before contacting a supplier. Yes, they may call and say: “I need advice on what model is right for me”, but they’ll have wanted to have already seen technical details of the products they think will be right before they made that call.

Finally, having an online store opens up the possibility of using ‘Google Shopping’ advertising, which is currently the only way of getting pictures of your products into the Google search results. It’s also very good value on a cost-per-click basis.

The takeaways from this are:

  • Do consider seriously if you could introduce an online store, even if it’s only for part of your product range;
  • Do expect the online store to generate an increase in sales, but don’t expect all of that increase to come in online sales;
  • Do ensure that the store also clearly invites conventional purchase-order-and-invoice sales on every page – use it as a way of generating serious telephone sales enquiries.

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