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How to Get Past Cold Calling

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Andrea Hewitt – Enjoy! 

Cold calling is proven to lead to high levels of anxiety for at least 40 percent of sales people during their careers. That’s why every company should strive to get to the point where they can stop relying completely on cold calling and finally see hot leads coming down the pipeline.

Unless you become a giant corporation, which is not the case for most companies, you’ll still be tracking down new clients through cold calls. It’s the perfect way to touch base with many potential customers that wouldn’t find you otherwise.

But how do you transition to less cold calling and more customers coming to you? Start with these four steps and you’re sure to see more hot leads coming your way:

1. Provide a great product or service

The easiest way to draw people to your brand is to have an incredible product or service to offer them. Find a need in whatever market you want to break into, and make something great to fill the void. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. Find something that needs to be updated and create a better version. If your product is good, people will talk about it and you’ll start to see positive feedback that could attract potential customers.

2. Network every chance you get

If you focus on a specific industry, get to trade shows and use the opportunity to spread the word about your products. If you’re trying to sell to a specific region, go to local festivals, gatherings, and any opportunity for you to mingle with community members and leaders. Hand out as many business cards as you can, then let the customers come to you. Utilize every opportunity to hit the pavement and you’ll be sure to build awareness of your brand.

3. Create an awesome web presence

One of the main ways you can drive leads to you is to have an incredible web presence. If it’s been a couple years since you built your site, create a more modern design. Think of your website like a book—people are judging it by the cover. You also need to make yourself search engine optimized (SEO). For example, if you own an ice cream shop in Duluth, Minnesota, when people search Google for “ice cream in Duluth,” you want to be the first result. Start increasing your SEO by conducting a site audit. This step will point out problem areas that you can work to fix so your site starts performing higher in the rankings.

4. Cultivate a good reputation

Build relationships with the movers and shakers in your industry. If there are publications that many of your potential customers read, contact them with well-written press releases about new products and updates. Or ask if you can write something for them to get your name out there, educate your audience and demonstrate your authority. If there are professional organizations or chambers of commerce that are trusted in your area, get in touch with head honchos and convince them your company deserves public attention. Getting those people on your side and talking about you will lead to more inquiries.

You’ll also create a stellar reputation by having solid customer service. If you consistently go above and beyond for your current customers, they’ll do word-of-mouth marketing for you by bragging to their friends and colleagues.

Once you’ve tackled these first four steps, you’ll be on your way to finding the balance you desire between cold calls and hot leads. This won’t happen overnight but if you take your time and take pride in your exceptional product or service, you’re destined to get where you want your business to go.

Andrea Hewitt Andrea Hewitt is a content writer at StorageAhead, a web marketing company. She spends most of her time writing blogs that help others grow their businesses. She loves tackling a variety of topics and if she’s unfamiliar with one, she’ll do hours and hours of research until she feels like she has enough authority to write about it.

 

3 Marketing Strategies You Haven’t Tried

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Josh Kaufman – Enjoy!

threeblog

Photo credit: LollyKnit

Every business owner knows that attracting the attention of the right client at the right time is an essential part of building a thriving business. But what happens if your tried-and-true marketing strategies aren’t working the way they used to? Or if you’re simply tired of using the same marketing strategies over and over again and are ready to change things up? Here are three marketing tricks you might not be taking advantage of — and why they’ll generate more sales.

1. Give something away

I know what you might be thinking: if I’m struggling to market myself and sell my products, how could giving something away for free possibly help me? But even if the prospect of giving something away seems unnerving, free offers almost always work. Customers love the promise of getting something for nothing, and the giveaway is subsidized by additional sales it eventually generates.

By giving your prospects something of no cost up front, you earn their attention while giving them the opportunity to experience the value of your product. Focus on giving away real value that will attract real, paying customers.

2. Don’t shy away from controversy

We’ve been conditioned to believe that negative attention is something to be avoided at all costs. But if you’re too unobjectionable,

People take issue with the fact that I claim in The Personal MBA that it’s simply unnecessary to get an MBA from a college or university. But every time someone speaks out against my claim or the book in general, people’s attention gets piqued, leading them to seek out the book for themselves.

This isn’t to say that you should write an op-ed trashing a competitor or start a Twitter feud with a dissatisfied customer. Seeking out controversy for the sake of attention likely won’t garner you the results you want.

That said, it’s definitely okay to have strong opinions and take definite stances. Doing so creates discussion and dialogue, which are powerful forms of attention. Remember that controversy won’t help you if you lose sight of the purpose behind your actions. But if you can keep that big picture in mind, creating controversy may entice people into checking out what your business is all about.

3. Make heroes out of your clients

As business owners and marketers, we don’t often think of ourselves as storytellers. But telling stories is a universal currency, and whether we realize it or not, narratives play a key role in how we market products to customers.

Joseph Campbell’s theory of “The Hero’s Journey” provides an outline of the narratives your customers want to experience. Even if this desire is subconscious, customers want to be heroes. They want to admired, respected, powerful, and strong in the face of adversity. They want to draw inspiration from those who have come before them and vanquished a foe.

Telling your customers a story about how others have used your product to solve a problem or enhance their lives encourages them to learn more about what you have to offer. These stories grab prospective customers’ attention and show them a path toward achieving what they want. The more vivid, clear, and emotionally compelling the story, the more prospects you’ll attract, and you’ll likely have an easier time translating these prospects into sales.

522151_629733177052501_1375838019_nJosh Kaufman is the author of the #1 international bestseller The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business as well as the upcoming book The First 20 Hours: Mastering the Toughest Part. Josh is teaching a free, live business course on creativeLIVE this August 8-9. You can stream if for free here. Visit his website http://personalmba.com/ for more information.

How to Sell More by Focusing On Less

Today’s guest post is from Sean D’Souza. – Enjoy!

rarefind

Image Credit: Sean D’Souza

I remember flying to Pittsburgh in the year 2004.

It was a 7am presentation in front of about 40 people who I didn’t know. And who didn’t know me, either. And by the time the presentation was done at 7:45am, I asked the crowd a simple question.

“How many of you would like to buy this product?”

And over 50% of the hands in the room went up. Which, by the way, wasn’t the most interesting part. The most interesting part was that I hadn’t told them much about the product, or the price, or the delivery. So why were so many of those in the room willing to buy the product?

The answer lies in a discussion I had early in my career with an amazing salesman

I was new to sales and marketing back in the early 2000s. And I ran into this multi-millionaire called Brian Tracy. And his advice on sales was the best definition of sales I’ve ever heard. He said: Sales is a transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another.

Oh darn, so that’s what was happening — enthusiasm was being transferred!

Indeed, I’d made a good presentation. Yes, the content was very interesting and useful. But it’s the enthusiasm that caused people to brush aside the rest of the details and make a decision to buy the product.

But it’s one thing to say “be enthusiastic” and quite another to do it. So how do you create enthusiasm?

The answer lies in a concept called “isolation”. It doesn’t matter if you are selling offline or online, you can’t be enthusiastic if you’re bogged down with seven hundred features and benefits. So instead you isolate just one. Just like Steve Jobs did when he presented the MacBook Air. Instead of simply rattling off every feature, the drama was centered on just one thing: the fact that the MacBook Air was so thin, it could fit in an envelope.

The BBC presenter, David Attenborough, creates this same moment of enthusiasm

There he is, standing in the middle of the forest, surrounded by thousands of trees,  bushes, insects chattering endlessly and what does he do? He drops to his knees and he shows you a flower. And then his eyes light up as he goes into detail about that flower, while ignoring everything else around him. What he’s doing is zapping that enthusiasm right into you, but he does so by creating isolation first—and then getting his message across.

Enthusiasm doesn’t mean you have to be loud or boisterous

The best sales people aren’t those who get in your face. Enthusiasm means you feel very strongly about that one feature of the product. So much so, that you’re willing to drive home that point in detail. And if you’re exciting enough, the audience feels this surge of excitement. Yes, your product has a ton of features, but they want that one feature, and they’re willing to raise their hands for it.

This method of sales can be done both online and offline

Offline, you drive home the point in person by demonstrating or showing a particular feature. Similarly, online you pick that one feature and drive it home using more pictures, more explanations, thus isolating the importance.

Sales is a transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another.

To feel that enthusiasm you need to isolate one feature of the product that’s extremely exciting to you.  You then transfer this enthusiasm to your audience.  And then, like the Pittsburgh audience, watch as their eyes light up and their hands go up.

Yup, just like that.

sean_croppedSean D’Souza is the author of  The Brain Audit—Why Customers Buy And Why They Don’t.  To read more articles by Sean, and get a very useful free report on “Why Do Most Headlines Fail?”  go to http://www.psychotactics.com/

How to Get Better Lead Generation Results

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Gregg Schwartz. – Enjoy!

Lead PipelineAnd old saying in investing is “diversify, diversify, diversify” – you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket by investing all of your money in one company’s stock. Instead, smart investors spread their investments around to a diverse portfolio of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, cash and other assets. In the same way, a smart lead generation strategy requires a balanced approach.

Your sales organization needs to think about how you can “diversify” your lead generation efforts between inbound and outbound sales leads. Sales leads often perform differently and cost more (or less) depending on how you acquire them. Sales leads from some sources are higher quality or better qualified than others. The cheapest sales leads to acquire are not always the best, and sometimes the main cost of acquiring a sales lead is the effort it takes to create that initial relationship and attract interest from the prospect.

Here are a few points of difference to consider between inbound and outbound sales lead generation as you build your diversified “portfolio” of sales leads:

Inbound lead generation: The sales leads come to you.

With inbound lead generation, your company creates a platform of marketing activity that helps draw people in. Basically, sales leads come to you – this requires your company to invest in building the online infrastructure and human capital that make people able to find you (and make them interested to talk with you).

A few types of inbound lead generation include content marketing (blogs, articles, social media), SEO (search engine optimization – designing and writing your website in a way that is optimally suited to attract people who are already looking for what you offer), and PPC (pay-per-click ads such as Google ads, where you can put a brief message in front of people who are searching for your solution, and invite them to click through to your company website).

Inbound lead generation is great for drawing people in. Instead of attending conferences and networking events, cold calling, or buying e-mail lists, the sales leads come to you. But with inbound lead generation, you need to put in a lot of upfront work and time investment in optimizing your website, writing content regularly and staying active on social media. It’s a lot of work, but you can get a lot of sales leads.

The only drawback of sales leads from inbound lead generation is that you don’t always know what level of sales lead quality you are going to get. Most sales leads from inbound marketing are going to be unqualified – the prospects might have some basic level of understanding about your business, but beyond that, there is no guarantee they are qualified.  They can be the wrong size business, wrong geography, and in many cases, just not the right fit. The quality of inbound sales leads can vary from one week to another. Some inbound sales leads are your ideal target market, and others are not. But you might end up with a lot of great sales leads that you would not have found from traditional outbound approaches.

Another advantage is that over time, with inbound lead generation your organization is creating a lasting footprint of published content and online outreach that can potentially continue generating sales leads into the future. You never know when a valuable sales lead might find your website based on a blog article or forum comment that you published a year ago.

Outbound lead generation: Go find your ideal target market.

While inbound lead generation can help drum up a larger pool of sales leads, most B2B sales organizations are still finding big opportunities from “traditional” outbound lead generation tactics like cold calling, appointment setting and e-mail.

Outbound lead generation is pretty straightforward – you choose your ideal target customers, and go after them. You have to spend time researching prospects and investing time in building relationships, but the advantage is that these tactics enable you to target specific companies that are in your organization’s sweet spot – companies that are the right size, the right revenues and that are more likely to be in the market for what you offer.

Instead of investing in online activities and hoping that good sales leads show up at your front door, outbound lead generation enables your sales team to proactively go after the types of B2B sales leads that are the best fit for what you sell.

So which type of lead generation is “best,” inbound or outbound? The truth is, if your organization wants to build a robust sales pipeline, you need both.

Inbound and outbound lead generation tactics help support each other. For example, your outbound prospecting calls will be more effective if your company has a well-designed website and up-to-date blog that shares your company’s expertise with customers. Your sales team can use the content marketing materials as part of its conversations with prospects.

Having a diverse portfolio of sales leads from both inbound and outbound lead generation efforts is the best way to keep your sales team busy closing deals.

GreggProfilePicGregg Schwartz is the Director of Sales at Strategic Sales & Marketing, one of the industry founding lead generation companies.  Gregg has developed and implemented winning lead generation strategies for hundreds of businesses.

The 7 Pearls of Selling Wisdom

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Jeff Kline – Enjoy!

HonestyThe concept of “selling” is different these days.  And that’s because customers are different.

Today’s customers are more educated and informed than ever. Much of this is a result of the Internet, which expedites word of mouth and provides consumers with easy access to thousands of product reviews. For this reason, old school “Slippery Sam” sales techniques are no longer effective. Customers today see right through gimmicky sales tactics, preferring instead to buy from individuals and companies they trust.

Emerging ideas about selling – what I like to call “Selling Wisdom” – focus on building trusting customer relationships. Selling Wisdom abandons coercion and embraces integrity. It’s about understanding your customers’ needs, tailoring high-quality solutions, and providing honest, educational information about your product.

Most importantly, Selling Wisdom dictates that you always treat your customers with the highest level of respect.

THE 7 PEARLS OF “SELLING WISDOM”

1) Infuse sales into your company’s DNA.
Don’t think of Sales as a single department or tactic. Instead, establish a totally sales-driven organization in which everyone sells. Every individual in your company should be expected to participate in selling – whether it’s the way the receptionist answers the phone or the message the marketing team communicates in a brochure.

Oprah2) Get to know your customers, Oprah style.
Conduct your initial meetings with customers with the same level of interest Oprah uses when she interviews her guests. Listen twice as much as you speak, and wait two seconds before responding to a comment – this will allow your customers to finish their thoughts.
Use a predefined qualification form to determine your customers’ needs.  And make sure you understand your customer’s decision-making process. Don’t be reluctant to ask the hard questions:
• Could you explain how your decision making process will unfold?
• When do you plan to make your final decision?
• Do you have an established budget?

3) Educate your customers.
Customers are most likely to trust the company that provides them with educational content about their products and services. Your company’s blog, ebooks, whitepapers, product demonstration videos and free trials are all effective tools for informing your customers and drawing them closer to a sale.

If you’re interested in learning more, I write frequently about content and its role in sales on my blog.

4) Apply the “De Niro effect” to presentations.
When Robert De Niro is playing a role in a film, the way he delivers his lines is so authentic and natural that it’s impossible to detect that he is following a script.
At Accrinet, we always use the same scripted presentation, but we apply what we call the “De Niro effect.” This means we encourage our sales people to inject their own passion and personality into to their delivery. The presentation never feels scripted, allowing us to use the same presentation over and over again.

5) Create a sense of urgency.
Today’s customers are experts in comparison-shopping and might spend weeks looking for a better deal. For that reason, it’s important to instill a legitimate sense of urgency on a proposed transaction. For example, you might say:
• “We have limited availability of the product that you are interested in and I want to make sure that it is available when you are ready.”
• “In order to complete your project by your proposed date, we would need to receive the proposal within the next five business days.”
Remember to be truthful.

6) Give to Get
Never make a concession without asking for a fair trade in return. If a customer asks for an early delivery, let them know it can be done only if they have the approved paperwork to you by the end of the week.

7) Don’t force the close.
Closing the sale should be as natural as the setting of the sun. There is no need for clever closing tactics or manipulative antics. If you’ve won your customer’s trust, you’ve earned the sale.

Selling Wisdom = Success
What makes these pearls of Selling Wisdom effective is that, no matter what, you are always treating your customers with the highest level of respect. Gain a full understanding of their needs, be honest about your products, and make fair negotiations. Treat your customers like kings.

And remember this: You are not doing your customers a favor; they are doing you a favor by allowing you to serve them.

Jeff KlineJeff Kline started his sales career with the Fortune 100 Company Burroughs Corporation, where he was quickly promoted to branch and regional sales manager. A serial entrepreneur, Jeff founded his first company Adcom Corporation in 1986, overseeing the sales of office technology for ten years. Jeff has since owned three other companies, all in the technology field. His most recent endeavors are Accrisoft and Accrinet Corporations. Jeff writes weekly about internet marketing at blog.accrinet.com@Jeff_A_Kline

3 Simple Steps for “Makin’ It Rain” On Your Website

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Aaron Houghton – Enjoy!

rainmakerThe term rainmaker is often used to describe highly productive members of sales teams. These individuals have a special talent for communicating the value a business’ products provide.

What impact would adding a new rainmaker have on your team? What about one that only costs you a few bucks each month? Even better!

For many small business owners, that rainmaker is their website.

Today I’m going to talk about how to easily capture more sales leads from your website. But if you sell directly from your website, you can use the same process to drive more online purchases too.

Don’t Make This Mistake

Think for a second about the last 100 visitors to your website. Will you ever be able to interact with them again? In most cases, that chance is gone.

That is, unless you captured their contact information while they were on your site. To follow up with someone all you really need is their email address, phone number, or maybe their social media handle.

There are many ways to capture contact information from your website visitors. These include social media login, email newsletter signups, real-time chat, header bars, and embedded web forms. Among these options I prefer web forms.

Collecting sales leads through web forms works great because most people are comfortable typing their information into them. They also require less commitment than account sign-ups and shopping-carts that ask for credit card details.

Savvy business owners use web forms to convert more website visitors into new customers.

How to Use Web Forms to Generate More Sales Leads From Your Website

Convertingmistake more sales leads from your website using web forms is easy when you follow these three steps.

1. Give Visitors a Real Reason to Submit a Form

“Submit our form and we’ll contact you.” Seen that before? This is probably what your competitors’ web forms actually say. Your visitors are used to seeing this.

Let’s make it worth their time to submit your form by giving them a real incentive. You’re asking them to share their personal contact information with you. What are they going to get in return? Make it good.

A few common incentives include discounts like a 10% off coupon, a one-on-one demo, or access to something like an e-book.

Make sure to mention what they’ll get in the text right at the top of the form. But save the reward for after it’s submitted. Include the reward in the confirmation message or in your follow-up response.

A great incentive sentence looks like this:

Request a quote and we’ll send you a 10% off coupon for any products you purchase this month. Complete the form below to get the coupon.

2. Pick a Form Tool That’s Easy to Use

computer tech servicesTo collect your users’ contact information, you need a good form builder.

A good form tool makes creating forms easy. Editing forms should be easy too. And finally it should send submitted data somewhere convenient for you like an email in your inbox, your email marketing system of choice, or a Google Docs Spreadsheet.

Other nice-to-have features include the ability to send confirmation emails to visitors and to redirect visitors to a specific thank you page after they submit the form.

I have personally used Gravity Forms for WordPress before but I also hear great things about WuFoo and FormStack too.

All you really need is a nice short web form. Super long forms scare people away so only ask for information that you’re going to do something with. For instance, you probably don’t need to collect a fax number!

Important fields usually include name, email or phone, and maybe an open-ended field where the user can type a question or explain what they need.

3. Track Conversions and Optimize

Having a strong incentive and having a short web form are a great start. But it’s actually impossible to guess upfront which incentive or form will perform best with your actual website visitors.

Because of this it’s crucial to measure your conversion rate – the percentage of form submissions to unique website visitors – to determine how effective each incentive and form is at getting visitors to submit their contact information.

BoostSuite and Informly are two free tools that can be used to measure your sales lead form conversion rate. Sales lead forms on small business website usually have a conversion rate of about 5%.

If your conversion rate is less than 5% you should test various incentives and forms. Use one incentive for a month and then measure your conversion rate. Next month try swapping in a smaller form.

Solar panel installation company Southern Energy Management tested various incentives on their website and found one that produced 419% more sales leads than their original incentive.

The higher performing incentive drove in 160 new sales leads for Southern Energy in just one month. Compare that to just 38 sales leads from the original incentive – with similar website traffic – in the previous month.

A Little Bit of Work, Lots More Sales Leads

You work hard to get visitors to your website. Don’t make the mistake of letting them pass you by forever.

Build and test some incentives and forms on your website and you’ll find a winning combination that turns more window-shoppers into new customers for your business.

Aaron HoughtonAaron Houghton is a serial entrepreneur who builds web marketing products for small business owners. Aaron is currently co-founder and CEO of BoostSuite.com. BoostSuite is a product that helps small business owners get more marketing results on their own. Formerly Aaron was co-founder of email newsletter leader iContact.com that was sold to Vocus in 2012 for $180M. Aaron was an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year winner in 2008, was listed to Inc Magazine’s 30 under 30 list 2010, and was named as a Top 10 Most Influential CEO in 2010 (behind Zuckerberg, Andrew Mason, and Matt Mullenweg). In his free time Aaron is an avid wakeboarder and outdoor adventurer.

 

 

People Who Search Convert

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Terry Costa – Enjoy!

People who conduct searches on a website convert at a higher rate than people who don’t.

So it makes sense to find ways to improve the search on your e-commerce site. There are several ideas for doing this. And the good news is that these ideas – taken from our “Big Book of Site Search Tips,” available at http://getsliebooks.com – don’t demand too much from your IT experts when you’re working with a full-service site search vendor.

Keep all eyes on the search box: The search box should be designed so that it’s different from other forms or boxes on your website’s home page, such as a newsletter subscribe box. Given that site visitors expect to easily find the search box – and given that they may abandon your site if they can’t find it – you should highlight the search box prominently on every webpage. To avoid confusion, in a newsletter-subscribe box, you can add text that reads “Your email,” which tells people that this box is expecting an email address, not a search term. Also, avoid using images that look like a search box, such as text inside a small rectangular box.

Another good way to get people to pay more attention to the search box is to name the button that begins the search process something like “Search,” “Find,” or “Go” – or use an icon such as a magnifying glass, which is clearly recognizable to visitors. Another alternative is to use a triangle that looks like an arrow. Some website owners use a combination of text and an icon – a good strategy, as both clues are clear and recognizable. In fact, the search box for Duct Tape Marketing, seen at the top of this blog, adds both features. Also, you can see here how the shoe retailer Footwear etc. adds text to its search box.

Since we’ve already concluded that people who search convert at a higher rate than people who don’t search, it makes sense to find ways to get people back to your search box again and again. To ensure your search box is always visible to visitors, float it so that it always appears at the top of the page as visitors scroll down. If you go to the website for wedding retailer American Bridal, you can see how this works: as you scroll down the page, the search box and coupon codes are always visible.

Learn to “searchandise” results: You should be able to manually control the order of search results, which is useful when you want to showcase something that’s different from what your search is showing. For instance, you can place sale or promotional items at the top of search results to attract attention.

Highlight different content types: It’s becoming more common for websites to add content such as blog posts, community forum posts, and videos to their search results. If you’ve spent time creating this content on your own website, it’s good practice to make this content easily searchable. The health and fitness website for 24 Hour Fitness uses tabs to draw attention to social media content.

 

Show a “breadcrumb” trail: Breadcrumb trails help visitors keep track of where they’ve come from when they are navigating through your site.  A search-oriented breadcrumb trail will show the search term the person used, and any refinements that they have applied to narrow down their search, like color or price options. It makes it easy for visitors to remove refinements and go back to a broader range of results – say, for example, if they think they narrowed down the search too much.

Make the most of search results “cells”: To help people more easily scan search results, organize information into what are called “cells.” Place each result in a thinly outlined box, or in a box with a colored background. If you want to create a more open look and feel, add enough white space between each cell so that people can easily tell the difference between products. If your product images have a colored background, spacing them just a few pixels apart should be enough to provide a natural separation. Search results cells typically contain a product title, product image, price, and a short description.

If your website is product-focused, think about showing larger product images when people mouse over a thumbnail image in search results cells. The reason is that search results pages usually show smaller thumbnail images that make it hard to see the full detail of the product. By adding a large image pop-up when people mouse over results, they can easily examine the close-up details without having to click to the product page.

You can also use “quick view” windows in cells – they help people view more product information without leaving the search page. Add a button that opens a product detail window, which eliminates the need to load the whole product page and saves people time.

Also, think about adding inventory status to search results cells. People like to know if a product is available before they begin checkout (and it annoys them if they find out they can’t buy something once they’ve set their minds on the purchase). One way to provide current stock or inventory information is to add it to your search results – for instance, including a message such as “In Stock” or “Out of Stock” in the search results cells next to each item, as Harry & David does here with a sold-out item:

If you include inventory status in search results, people can quickly find alternate items if their first choice is out of stock, and they’ll be less frustrated and less likely to leave your site.

Search results pages present great opportunities to promote sales and discounts, since people are usually sensitive to price and interested in chances to save money. Add a special “on sale” logo or banner to the relevant search result cells, place sale items at the top of results, or let people refine results to see what’s on sale.

Another good idea is to show both the full price and the sale price in search results for items that are on sale. If you show shoppers the savings they’re receiving by contrasting regular and sale prices, you give them even more motivation to make a purchase.

Include social sharing buttons: By helping your website visitors share your products and information on their social networks, you broaden the reach of your marketing. Consider including social sharing buttons such as Facebook “Like,” Pinterest “Pin it” and Google+ “+1” in search results. These social endorsements are even more useful for shoppers when they’re shown among a collection of similar products in your search results.

Add infinite scrolling: You may have noticed this feature on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter – when you get near the end of the page, more posts are loaded automatically, creating an endless scroll. In site search, when users reach the bottom of visible search results, more results are loaded without them having to click on “next” or a page number.

Use synonyms to offer more results: For instance, if a site visitor searches for iPods, and your site offers other MP3 players, connect these and other similar items so that they appear together in search results. This provides shoppers with more alternatives, encouraging them to browse similar products.

Allow people to refine by price: For product searches, as opposed to searches for content like news articles or blog posts, it’s helpful if people can refine results by price, since that’s an important part of many buying decisions. One option to consider is a price slider, which allows people to easily set a bottom price and a top price. It takes up less screen real estate than a list of price ranges, and it offers more flexibility than fixed price ranges.

Monitor keywords that are gaining popularity: Watch the keywords that your visitors are using more often so you’re able to meet increasing product demand. Trends around popular terms may shift with the seasons, or with popular songs and movies. As people use the same search terms with growing frequency, you get advance word, so to speak, that the products that go along with those terms will likely also gain in popularity.

As you make improvements to your website’s search function, keep a close eye on changes in visitor behavior – for instance, more people using search, more people making purchases after conducting searches, or a lower abandon rate. This will tell you that the features you’re adding to your site are actually working.

Terry Costa is vice president of marketing at SLI Systems (www.sli-systems.com/). 

The Best Place to Invest Your Marketing Dollar

Budgets for marketing are always tight, but these last few years, well, they’ve been stretched beyond tight.

marketing budgetSo, how do you decide where to invest the little money you have. Traditional thinking points towards advertising and other ways to make the phone ring, get more traffic to the site, but I say there are lots of low cost and next to free ways to do that and the real payoff is in conversion. It’s amazing how much money is wasted generating leads that go nowhere. If you are generating a decent amount of leads, but only converting 5% to customers, ask yourself what it would take to get that conversion number to 10%. It might not take much at all and you would double your business. Wouldn’t that be worth your time, money and energy.

My guess is you actually don’t need any more leads, in fact, cut out the non qualified ones and you could probably double your business with less leads than you have today if you focused more of your energy on lead conversion. It’s the first place I go to fix a business when asked.

Here’s your plan of attack for greater lead conversion

Get metrics – figure out where you are today – use Google Analytics and pick up Avinash Kaushik’s book Web Analytics 2.0 to find a host of tools and techniques that will help you better understand all of your online and offline conversion numbers. Understand these four variables and go to work on improving them: 1) % of leads converted 2) Average $ amount per customer/transaction 3) Average number of transactions with each customer 4) Cost to generate a customer

Get better – Do some usability and multi-variant testing on your web pages using tools like Crazy Egg, UserTesting.com, and Google Website Optimizer to find out how to change them to get higher conversions. Pick up Tim Ash’s book Landing Page Optimization or better yet consider hiring a page optimization firm like Ash’s Site Tuners to help you increase the interaction, engagement and conversion from all of your web pages.

Get a process – Create scripted process that allows you to qualify, nurture, convert, transact and repeat with each lead that comes into view. Know what everyone in the organization is going to do with a lead to move them to the next step, present your unique value proposition, make an offer and thrill them after they agree to purchase. Have set, documented and scripted approaches for all to follow and follow them. Here’s a hint though: Don’t simply copy what everyone else in your industry does. Use your conversion process as a differentiator. Create an intentional interruption and be prepared to show why your way of doing it is a benefit. Invest whatever it takes in time and resources to get this right and continue to tweak it.

Get training – Not everyone comes out of the womb selling. For some it’s hard and sales training is often a great investment. But that doesn’t mean you have to come off as the stereotypical schmoozer sales person to be effective. Effective sales training is often a matter of creating some patterns and processes that make you a better listener, more authentic, and better prepared to demonstrate you understand the problem a prospect is experiencing rather than simply having an answer. I for one think books like Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play or Go-Givers Sell More are more relevant in today’s relationship selling world than the “close them or die” approaches of the past.

Image credit: stuartpilbrow