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Most Web Sites Suck
Hereís What to do About it

By: Vincent Monmaur

Vincent Monmaur is partner in Incysive Media, a Montreal avant-garde web design & development agency.

The following Five Laws might make all the difference between a prospect that calls you and one that goes to your competitorsí websites.

Letís face it: most websites suck. The heart & soul of most corporate web sites is their ability to promote the company and its capabilities, in other words to sell. In this respect, most of them failÖ miserably.


Why do websites fail?

They fail because they do not respect the essential rules of salesmanship. Anyone who's been involved with sales is aware that if you don't follow some basic principles, you won't stay in business for long. Given this, itís amazing the number of B2B web sites that seem to serenely disregard one or several of these principles. This is all the more surprising when you realize that building a web site that sells well may be as simple as drawing a quick parallel between your site and a member of your sales team.


Law # 1: Talk about them, not about you

One of the first laws of good salesmanship is that you want to talk mostly about the client and very little about the company. A good sales person knows that people want to hear about the great things you can do for them and not about how great you are.

And yet, what do the web sites of most companies focus on? On the lists of their products, on the description of their services, on information about their philosophy, on how they evolved, and on who manages them. In short, on the companies themselves. These web sites force the visitor to make the intellectual effort to imagine how his needs can be answered by the company. In order to sell, you must talk to your audience about their needs and concerns and you must present them the potential benefits of dealing with your company. But in order to do this, you must first get to know them.


Law # 2: Customize your message

The root of the problem is that many companies still view their web site as a mass communication medium. As opposed to the sales person who can easily engage his prospect in a one-on-one conversation, many marketers do not believe that their web site can differentiate.

As a result, a variety of prospects, each with different needs, questions, and objections are presented with identical information. Not only this, but instead of being hit by an efficient sales pitch, these prospects are given a company profile. Compare this to the "questions" approach: right from the start, the website presents the visitors with a series of questions that help to identify their need. The visitors cannot get in the site without first answering the questions. From that point on, your site is able to serve a more targeted and aggressive pitch. This approach is also great in capturing leads.

Another way to find out about the needs of the viewers is to identify the market segment to which they belong. A great example of audience identification is to ask people to state their identity right from the start. Depending on the section chosen, the content and the products vary significantly. And as web technology matures, we'll only see more powerful and accessible ways of customizing web content at all levels of business. Some mid-level content management solutions are already offering companies the ability to rearrange the content of their web site during a visitor's session based on his browsing behavior.


Law # 3: Talk to them

Hereís a great way in getting personal: offer two highly visible icons: the "call me now" and the "chat online" buttons. The chat option is particularly interesting as it gives people the chance to speak in real time with a customer service representative regarding questions that the web site could not answer. Not only this, but a sales rep will spontaneously intervene via a pop-up window and ask you if there is any way he can be of help after you've been browsing the site for a certain amount of time.


Law # 4: Call to action

Every sales person knows that if, at the end of a conversation with his prospects, he does not provide them with a call to action, he'll never close any deal. And yet few web sites put any real effort in giving people a compelling reason to act at the end of their visit. Most sites typically surrender the controls to the viewer and simply hope that their company profile will be sufficiently enticing to get the prospect to click on a contact us page.

This is hard to understand given that there are many simple ways to get people to commit to a follow up with your company. For example, a site may offer prospects the option of having a representative call them back within the next fifteen minutes, or of signing up for additional material such as white papers, a newsletter or a product demo.


Law # 5: Make a good impression

Every salesperson knows better than to go to a first meeting with a potential client with his hair not combed, his tie undone, or with a hole in his pants. Whether he likes it or not, people will hold his neglected appearance against the professionalism of his company. This will remain true regardless of how convincing his pitch is.

Of course, the same principle applies to your web site. While an impeccable look will not win you a deal, any corporate web site with outdated information, broken links, or an obviously weak design will be taken as a signal of a lack of professionalism. This is not a call for fancy or sophisticated designs, but simply for well-designed pages that can enhance your sales pitch while demonstrating the professionalism of your company.


Conclusion

Companies that follow these simple yet essential Laws for their web site are much more likely to end up with a real sales tool; one that is relatively low maintenance, that never closes its doors, and that always offers the most up-to-date information to its prospects.

What companies are doing with their web site is a strong indication that there is no better sales tool than an actual sales representative. There is no rationale for the Internet to invalidate centuries of salesmanship. In fact the promise of the web is simply to expand the capabilities of the traditional sales person for a fraction of the cost. The potential of the intelligent content technologies is indeed extraordinary. The economy-wide sharing of comprehensive customer information databases allied with new technologies such as advanced collaborative filtering, advanced content analysis, and artificial intelligence will one day give companies the option of equipping themselves with automated sales tools that will perform better than their human counterparts. Until that day, just remember that the closer your web site matches the capabilities of a real sales person, the more likely you'll be able to sell.

© copyright 2004, Vincent Monmaur

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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