Our clients are always seeking new and unique opportunities to grow their online revenue. They're often interested to know our thoughts on sales techniques which can yield incredibly positive results, for in some cases relatively small investment.
We wanted to share with our friends and those who visit the site some of the learnings we've had over the years. We hope this brief list can help others in achieving their online and eCommerce goals.
1. Send a Weekly Newsletter
Newsletters are a fantastic way to keep in contact with prospective customers, share interesting information they may find of value, and keep them aware of products and services your business has to offer.
This approach is used frequently by ecommerce sites selling products. Once customers have joined a site's mailing list, they will receive emails informing them of upcoming sales, in-stock merchandise, and products which may be of interest to them. This same basic technique can also be used to great effect by content sites. If your site produces content that prospective customers value, we recommend sending a "teaser" version of posts as part of a weekly newsletter. If not enough content is generated during one week, the newsletter can just as easily be sent on a monthly or quarterly basis.
Those who receive the newsletter will vary based on type of users or customers. For a content management system or blog site, most likely this will consist of registered users. Those who have previously purchased products from an ecommerce site are often a typical candidate to receive newsletters. Also, email addresses in an existing relationship management (CRM systems such as Salesforce or CiviCRM) or contact management system (like iContact or Constant Contact) usually include many individuals who are interested in weekly newsletter information. As is always the case with email marketing, make sure there are clear opportunities for users to opt out of future newsletters, and always follow CAN-SPAM laws.
2. Add a "Tip Jar" to Your Checkout
This can be an extremely inexpensive technique for increasing a site's online revenue, but we recommend really knowing your audience well before adding such a feature. The concept is to allow customers to add a "tip" or donation to their order at the time they are at the checkout page. Customers are typically more open to offering a tip as they're in the process of making their purchase -- they already have their credit card available and ready to buy a product, and might be open to providing a few more dollars as a way to show support for the site and its goals.
A tip jar feature should always be optional and placed in a location that does not interfere with the main transaction. The last thing we want to do is have a customer feel as though the functionality interferes with his or her primary purpose, the purchase a product, service, or membership.
As I mentioned at the outset, there needs to be a very strong understanding of your audience before including a tip jar. We would not recommend adding this capability to every site. However, if your site visitors are loyal followers, believe strongly in your mission or cause, or if your products or services are of minimal cost relative to competitors in the marketplace, then such a feature should offer a worthwhile opportunity for incremental revenue.
3. Build a Dedicated Sales Page
Sales pages are a very effective tool for sites which have one primary product or service being sold. An example might be a patented product which represents 80% or more of a business's revenue, or a site selling an online membership that provides access to premium content and reports. The dedicated sales pitch should be seen as an opportunity to capture the imagination of the reader, through video, graphics, compelling copy, and a very clear call to action. Having strong knowledge about your customers and their preferences will be extremely important to developing a sales page that packs a punch.
A dedicated sales page should be seen as the first step in guiding a visitor through the sales funnel, and all outside distractions should be eliminated. We want visitors solely focused on the sales messages being delivered to them, and not on a stray advertisement or link to another area of the site. We have had great success in developing such pages for clients -- a couple of examples can be seen in case studies for BetterNetworker and Peak Prosperity.
4. Offer Recurring Subscriptions
If you sell products that could naturally be provided as a monthly or quarterly offering, or an online membership service, we highly recommend implementing a recurring subscription model. Recurring subscriptions have a multitude of benefits -- customers who want to regularly receive your product or service without the hassle of signing up every month are able to do so, administrative burden for your business is greatly reduced, and income streams become much more consistent and predictable. Recurring capabilities also allow businesses to focus more attention on seeking new prospective customers rather than spending significant amounts of time engaging with those who are already sold on your offerings.
This feature can be enhanced further by providing additional account control to customers. As an example, an email to notify customers prior to credit card expiration is a nice touch to ensure there is no delay in subscribers receiving the next months' premium content. Another useful option is allowing customers to update their billing address online when they have moved or relocated.
One important way to ensure goodwill with your customers is by providing very clear opt-out methods. Don't attempt to "trick" customers into paying for another month when they no longer wish to do so. Also, we believe it is very critical to honor the terms of a subscription. Don't revoke a customer's access as soon as they have decided they no longer want to have a recurring subscription -- allow them to have full access for the entire length of the purchased contract. It's acceptable to remind customers prior to subscription cancellation that their access will soon become limited. However, tactics such as threats and not giving customers what they paid for will ultimately generate ill-will and ensure previous customers will not be interested in doing business with you in the future.
5. Streamline Your Sales Process
Make sure your online shopping experience minimizes the number of required steps and has a clear "call-to-action." Only include pages in the process that are absolutely necessary (such as a checkout page), and only require fields if there are business or legal requirements to do so. As an example, phone number might seem like a good field to capture on a checkout page, but in most instances it's unneeded. Having it present on a checkout page serves as one more barrier to turning the prospective purchaser into an actual customer.
The "call-to-action" should be clear, concise, and consistent. The message should pack a punch, and use a unique color that makes it stand out relative to the text and images around it. For example, our buttons on the Peak Prosperity enrollment page and Insider premium content pages are clearly different than anything else on the page, and are used to shepherd visitors into the enrollment sales process. Also the enrollment page provides a one-step action for purchasing a site subscription. After a subscription length has been selected, the prospective customer is placed directly into the checkout page without the need to visit a shopping cart. There is no need for visitors to create an account separate from the checkout process before proceeding; by simply entering an email address, the system will create an account once the subscription purchase is complete, and provide a randomly generated password to the new subscriber.
6. Advertise Your Products (Internally and Externally)
You may have the greatest products in the world available on your site, but if prospective customers don't know they exist, your sales will be limited. Start by promoting products within your site with internal advertisements. Consider adding functionality that displays similar and recommended products when a visitor is viewing a product. For example, a product page presenting a pair of pants for sale might display jeans that are available under a listing of "Similar Products." The same page might also show belts and socks as recommended products in a section titled, "You Might Also Like ...." The concept is to cross-promote related products which may interest your customers.
This same idea can also be extended to the shopping cart and checkout pages, where shoppers are shown related products for sale, such as a tie to complement the dress shirt that is about to be purchased. Another approach is to redisplay products that a customer previously browsed, or had at some point in the past added to his or her shopping cart and subsequently removed. This follow-up may entice the shopper to add the item to his or her cart immediately before entering the checkout process.
Another important aspect of advertising is promotion through channels outside of your website. Whether through Google AdWords, Google Shopping, Facebook Advertising, or Pinterest, a wide variety of options exist for targeting prospective customers. While all of these options may drive more traffic to your site, you should be careful to perform detailed research before making significant advertising purchases.
As we have seen in numerous situations, it's easy to spend a lot of money on third-party ad solutions without generating much revenue in return. Google AdWords is an excellent platform for spreading the message of your site, but it is only as good as the advertisements being served, placement of the ads, and whether the right prospects are performing the web searches you expect. Combine keyword research with A/B testing, on-going adjustment to ad copy and design, and continual analysis of results, to ensure you're maximizing your marketing investment.
7. Conduct a Focus Group or Customer Survey
Have you ever heard the phrase, "can't see the forest for the trees?" Business owners and marketers are often inundated with so much information, that it becomes impossible to truly understand the current perspective of prospects and customers, and how their viewpoint may have changed over time. We may have an idea what customers are thinking, but in many situations, it might be just a best guess -- or worse yet, based on flawed data or historical trends that are no longer relevant. Focus groups and customer surveys can cut through the uncertainty, and provide a clear picture of the wants and needs of your potential shoppers.
Whenever possible, we highly recommend focus groups over surveys. Focus groups provide for real time, face-to-face discussion, and allow the organizer to adjust questions based on the nuanced response of participants. They also allow for grouping of like-minded customers, to ensure one individual doesn't dominate the discussion. As an example, you may start with an initial focus group with a wide cross-section of participants, and then conduct follow-up discussions with smaller groups of distinct demographics based on your needs: women, children, seniors, new families, sports fans, travel buffs, etc.
For a company with a large customer base and predominantly online interactions, a customer survey can often be a better fit. The key with surveys is finding the right balance. Questions need to be carefully worded to ensure customers don't misinterpret what is being asked, and the survey needs to be long enough to capture useful information, but not so long that participants begin to tune out. Customers may also need to be incentivized to participate, such as the possibility of winning a gift card if they complete the survey. Surveys can be built directly within content management systems like Drupal, or you may wish to use externally hosted tools such as SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo, or Constant Contact.
The important part of the equation is what to do with this information once it has been collected. The data should be analyzed for trends and segmentation, with the goal of creating personas to describe your current and prospective customers. Once complete, the personas should inform future decisions made about products, advertising, website design, and product information. We want to ensure the products, and how they are offered, match what customers are seeking.
8. Analyze Google Analytics Data
While most people primarily use Google Analytics to check a site's visitors and page views, there is a wealth of data available in the application to help inform sales and marketing decisions. The key is understanding how to use the product to your benefit, and separating the useful from the less-than-useful information.
The Conversions section in Google Analytics provides a powerful set of options, although some setup is required. The Goals sub-section within Conversions allows for setting goal paths, visualizing the site's sales funnel, and displaying the goal flow report. This information allows you to easily see what leads users into the sales process, how they proceed through your sales pages, and what step of the process causes sales process abandonment. The Ecommerce area provides ways to track the performance of individual products tied to SKUs in your system. You can review the trends of product sales over time, tie transactions to system orders and customers, and even review how long it takes for users to finally make their purchase.
Multi-Channel Funnels allow you to analyze a customer's conversion paths -- effectively the sequence of interactions which lead to the sales conversion, and what channels were used to navigate through the process (direct visits, referrals, organic search, email, social networks, etc.). Having this information helps you make more effective decisions about where to focus efforts to streamline processes, and identify opportunities for future advertising investments.
For better tagging and tracking of analytics data, use Google's Campaign Tracking capabilities. Doing so will allow Google to capture more detailed information about site visits, which in turn can help you identify ways to drive prospective customers through the sales process. We have developed campaign tracking solutions for a number of our clients, and the results have provided very insightful information about which sources most effectively led to increased sales, and why certain sources were more effective than others. The information also has served as the foundation for developing detailed A/B testing programs. A/B testing involves redesigning or adjusting pages to determine if certain layouts, information, or designs are more likely to guide the consumer to completing his or her order. A tool such as Visual Website Optimizer is a strong option for supporting A/B and multivariate testing on your website.
9. Modify Your User Registration Process
While registration modifications can be considered for any type of eCommerce site, they will be most useful for those that sell a limited number of products, or offer their website as a subscription service to access premium content (articles, blogs, podcasts, etc.). Review the work we have done with BetterNetworker to modify their registration process to better understand some of the possibilities.
The default registration process provided in most content management and eCommerce systems is very simplistic. A list of fields is presented to the user, he or she is asked to fill them in, and once completed, the individual has created a new account in the system. However it is often overlooked that the act of registration can be leveraged in a way to enhance the possibility of successful online sales in the future.
Offer Free Gift
The first idea is to offer a free item for registering on the site. We want to provide an incentive for visitors to register, even if they do not make a purchase. This may be a discount coupon off a future purchase, a free eBook which will have value to the customer, or access to a downloadable podcast on a topic of relevance. As part of the registration, visitors provide an email address where they can be contacted. The address should be added into your email marketing campaign system, to ensure the visitor can be notified of special promotions, sales offers, and other opportunities. Doing so will highly increase the likelihood of a return visit in the future. As noted earlier, always make sure to follow all CAM-SPAM laws, and do not email those who have asked to unsubscribe.
A second suggestion is to insert a call-to-action in front of the user registration process. Rather than sending users directly to a full registration page, present an advertisement. The ad should highlight the reasons why registration is important, mention the free gift, and request the user to provide their first name and email address. Successful completion of user registration will send the free gift to their email inbox. Sharing an advertising message in front of user registration has one very important purpose: it provides a method to contact the visitor in the future, even if he or she decided they are not interested in creating a full user account at this time.
Create Multi-Step Process
The third concept is to separate the user registration into a multi-step process if the amount of information requested is significant. Create a two- or three-step registration that reduces the fields to be completed to a manageable list. As an example, page one might include username, password, avatar, name, address, and other personal information, page two might include various ways to contact the user including social media accounts, and page three may allow the user to fill in information about personal interests, hobbies, travel destinations, etc. Structuring a registration process in this way will make the task of completing a lengthy registration form less daunting.
Insert Sales Page
A final suggestion for modifying the registration process is to insert a sales page prior to the completion of the user registration. For example, immediately before completing the registration, a user is presented a page that describes in detail the product offering available on your site, including a video describing the product, user testimonials, and all the features provided. Included on this same sales page is a one-click checkout form. A user can fill in their billing information, select the product they wish to buy, and click the completion button to immediately make a purchase. Building such a page would also require links to allow the user to skip the sales page and continue with their registration. However, performing this upsell opportunity during the registration process can be an effective tool for increasing online revenue.
10. Remove Distractions
Very simple recommendation: don't distract shoppers when they're attempting to make online purchases.
Once prospective customers have entered the sales funnel (subscription, cart, checkout, review, etc.), remove all barriers that might cause them to avoid making the purchase. As an example, if your site displays Google AdSense advertisements, remove them from sales pages. Also avoid including links to articles, blog posts, or comments on your site, and remove site navigation beyond the basics of allowing users to return to the home page or the shopping cart.
Shedding these items will allow visitors to focus on the task at hand, and reduce your sales funnel abandonment rates.
Since there are so many opportunities and tactics available to increase online sales, we've decide to add a bonus item to our list... the use of discounts, coupons, and promotions to generate additional revenue:
Bonus: Discounts, Coupons, and Promotions
Whether rewarding customers who make frequent purchases, or attempting to entice previous customers to return, concepts such as promotions, discounts, and coupons can provide a quick boost to your bottom line.
You may decide to offer a short-term discount as a way to move products which are overstocked, or leverage your site's newsletter (see #1 in this list) to send out notification about a newly published coupon code to a small group of your most loyal customers. If using an eCommerce platform integrated with a product like Drupal, there are a variety of modules available to provide discounts and coupons to site visitors. Suggested Drupal modules include Ubercart Discounts (Alternative), Ubercart Discount Coupons, Commerce Discount, Commerce Discount Extra, and Commerce Coupon.
Promotions can be tied in to your marketing campaigns to provide incentives to prospects and customers. For example, you may wish to provide a coupon for $5 off a future purchase if a site visitor registers a new account. The idea is to capture new prospects who are included in your future newsletter communications, which will lead to greater brand awareness and the possibility of future sales. As with any marketing effort, it is important to measure the effectiveness and value of a promotion. In the example of a $5 off coupon for a future purchase, you will need to measure how many coupons were redeemed, total purchases made, number of new accounts captured, and a derived monetary value for each registered account in the system. These figures will allow you to calculate how well the promotion worked, and if future promotions should be modified or reconsidered.