Over the years that I have been involved with small business development, I can tell you that there are almost always costs to running a business that the entrepreneur fails to see and take into consideration. Smart business owners don’t like surprises, especially surprises that cost them money they weren’t planning to spend on those costs.
Two of the areas that solo business owners sometimes don’t consider are the costs of product and marketing support.
Often, when a new businessman enters the market, he forgets or totally ignores the cost of support for his products and services.
Depending upon the type of business he/she operates, that could be a very costly mistake. Why?
Because if you don’t understand fully the expenses of doing business in its entirety, there is a good chance you will have a good portion of your profits consumed by these “hidden costs.”
Obviously, your product and marketing support will vary depending upon the type of business you operate.
In some product lines, the support will be minimal. If you sell digital information in the form of an ebook or a DVD, your ongoing support costs should be fairly insignificant. Most everyone can figure out how to read the ebook or play the DVD on their machine – without any special knowledge or instruction.
You may need to coach some customers on how to download digital files. But that should be fairly easy and inexpensive.
However, if you choose to sell a product like software, your support costs could severely impact your profit margin. Software products are notorious for customer questions and problems because often the interface and even the very concept of use is new, unique to the product, and sometimes confusing to less experienced computer users.
Many folks feel it’s just as easy to get on the phone and call support for an answer as it is to figure out how to do something by studying the user’s manual or included documentation.
If half (as an example) the customers that purchased your software also called for assistance, you could be spending a great deal of your time (or that of a support person) on the telephone coaching customers on the use of your product.
If fact, you could even end up losing money on individual sales if the buyer repeatedly requires your time to figure out how to make your product work properly.
If you sell an inexpensive product, say at a $29 price point, and a customer requires your assistance for 1/2 hour, you may have just eaten up all the profit there was on that one sale if your time is worth anything.
Now I’m not suggesting that you solve this dilemma by refusing to give customer support. It’s important in today’s online marketplace to treat your customers like gold since you want them to make back end (repeat) purchases from you in the future.
Customers expect to be given personal assistance if they need it with any product.
My point is that you need to make sure you include the cost of support in the expense column of every product and service you sell. If you consistently track such things, you will have a good idea what that average cost per user is over time.
Don’t forget that there may be a support cost for other business activities besides product costs. Customers will ask how to sign up for a service, how to pay for items (credit card or not), when you will be sending goods, how to send goods back, how to remove their name or information from your records, how to get a discount or special price, and even how to get a new password because they forgot the old one.
You can minimize support needs by having excellent FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) and a clear and intuitive navigation structure for your web site. You can also be very clear about your policies and procedures in advance. But there will always be a need for some level of further customer and prospect support. You just need to make sure you have a clear picture of what that need will be in your business and how much you should budget for that expense.
To your online business success,
What to Do if Folks Just Don’t Respond
One of the most frustrating aspects of web business is trying to figure out problems to customer response rates on your web site. Why are my customers getting lost online? Why are they not responding to my ads? Why are my offers being ignored?
The challenge of this puzzle is figuring out what parts of the web site need to be fixed.
Is it the offer itself? Are my navigation signals unclear? Is my offering price too high? Is my offer language boring or uninspiring? Is there a problem with my ordering system?
You see, it seems that there are an endless number of little variables that could be hindering sales at the web site. Often, trying to figure out where the roadblocks are is a difficult and frustrating exercise.
If you are not getting the kind of customer web site response you think you should have, there are a number of starting points that you should consider in order to get to the root of the problem.
First, know your web site. Be aware of the traffic patterns of your online visitors. You can track where the clicks on your site are happening. You may find that your navigation is confusing – a real problem. Confused visitors are frustrated visitors who are not in the mood to buy anything. If your customer is confused about your web site, she might believe that your products will be confusing as well.
Lead your customer by the hand into taking the action that you want. Tell them or show them where you want them to go next. The “call to action” is one of the most important parts of your visitor ordering system. There should be no doubt about the progression of your intended path through the sale.
Make buying easy. If you have a long sales page, strategically place “buy now” buttons throughout the text. Sometimes the customer is ready to buy early on, sometimes mid-way through the offer, and often, not until the very end. Most of your clicks to purchase will come from the first and last opportunity, but your intermediate buttons will also get clicks. The point is, you want the customer to be able to pull the trigger when he is ready, regardless of where he is on the sales page. If he has to wait until the very end of the dialogue, there is a good chance the sale may be lost.
Be dramatic and bold with your buttons. Don’t leave any doubt as to how to respond to your offer or your direction to a resource or link. Don’t hide these jumping off points in ordinary text or tiny graphics. Leave no doubt about where the prospect needs to click to get somewhere.
Many web businesses don’t take the opportunity to follow up on a customer action with an email. Whether it’s a “thank you” email for subscribing to a mailing list or a “this is what to do next” follow up to a download, you need to take every opportunity to maintain and enhance your contact with the customer or prospect. So many businesses fail in this regard. Customers will notice your concern if you always follow up on their actions. This practice alone will set you apart from 95% of the competition. Yes, it’s a little more work to do this, but the results will be more than worth the extra effort.
Remember to offer options. Maybe your customers aren’t buying because they would like to try something out before committing to high price tag. Can you give them a two-week trial offer as an alternative to the full price offer? Can you give them a price point that’s significantly less than the regular price for a “lite” version? Sure, you want to try to get full price for a sale – but getting something is always preferable to getting nothing. And if the customer is pleased with his initial purchase, it will be that much easier getting her to come back to order the full version and even more!
Always test, test, test. It is really surprising what a little testing will do. Sometimes simply changing a color, a button placement, a new headline, or a little added text will mean a 100% increase in a response rate. It’s true! The only way you’re going to know what little tweaks will help your conversion is to test one thing against another and track results. Of course you know that there is a proper and a wrong way to test variables. That lesson is for another day . . . but just remember . . . testing and tracking will often turn money losing offers into money winning offers. Likewise, good results can be tweaked into becoming outstanding results.
Don’t be afraid to up-sell or cross-sell once a customer has pulled the trigger. Don’t be shy about taking advantage of the immediate time following a web site sale. To simply tell the customer “thank you” and leave him on a dead end page is to lose the opportunity to make additional money. The best strategy is to offer a very related product, a longer term, a deluxe version of what was just purchased, a greater supply of the product, a customer discount to an affiliated service, or membership in a “club” or user group.
One good way to jump into the customer’s shoes is to actually ask the customer for feedback on varying aspects of his web or buying experience. Ask if she has questions about a product or service. Ask if the price was the reason a prospect didn’t buy. Ask if any of your instructions were unclear or hard to understand. Feedback on why a prospect didn’t buy is invaluable because the chances are very high that other folks are feeling the same way.
Have a path to follow for those that say “no.” In other words, if a prospect is not ready to pull the trigger with your call to action on this visit, you should have an alternative path for him to get something else from you. Don’t let the customer leave empty-handed. Surely there is some kind of value that you can give the non-buyers for stopping by your shop. It could be a free download of “tips” in your niche, it could be a trial offer of a product, or it might simply be direction to a related resource. Whatever you decide, make sure the customer feels that her visit was worth the time and effort. You want the prospect to have a reason to come by again.
The internet is a great place to scan, but often a lousy place to read long copy. Given the choice, most people would rather read a physical book than sit at the computer screen and scroll through an online book. Think about it – when you come to a computer screen with lots of text, what do you do? Don’t you tend to do a quick scan to see if there are headings or bullet points or underlined text so that you can get the jist of what’s going on without having to suffer through reading everything? Most folks are that way, by far! I’m suggesting you cater your delivery of information to the style of the reader. Offer summaries, headings, bullet lists, shortened text, etc.
Here’s my last point for this installment: keep everything simple and brief. Don’t force the customer to do too much. Remember “easy,” “short,” “simple,” “summary,” “brief,” etc. When you ask for information, keep it to a minimum. When you give directions, make it simple. When you ask for a sale, make it happen in one click. When you want a question answered, give one to three options and ask which they would prefer. Remember what we said earlier: when a customer is confused or frustrated, he is not in a buying mood.
I hope you’ll remember some of these suggestions so that solving the non-response puzzle will be easier and faster for you than ever before. Often, you will find what the problem is sooner than later and you won’t have to scrap your whole project idea or offer because it’s not converting.
To you online business success,
How Ethical Are Your Marketing Tactics?
All small business owners will be faced with the decision to use less than truthful advertising and promotional strategies in their sales letters, email communications, ads, and other promotional material.
How do I know? It seems to be the way business marketing has evolved on the Internet.
Deceptive practices include all those little white lies, half truths, and marketing tactics that many feel are perfectly legal, excusable, and appropriate in this day and for this medium.
Some, I know, would question why we are even discussing this topic as they feel anything is game as long as you don’t cross the line of outright lying in your presentations.
I don’t see it that way.
I believe that Internet marketers have a responsibility to their prospects and customers that includes being upfront, honest, and ethical in everything they publish, say, and do.
I understand that I am opening myself up to a lot of potential criticism from the IM (Internet Marketing) community by suggesting what I am about to suggest.
But I do it as an IMer who wants to help and “take care” of my own customers. I want to practice what I preach about putting the customer first.
Haven’t we all been repeatedly giving lip service, at least, to “It’s not about you (the IMer), it’s about the customer and what he/she wants.”
Okay, here’s my rant:
1. Why does every big launch IM product cost $1997?
2. How can a product with a “real value” of $38,650 be sold for $97?
3. How come all the “short window” launches are reopened or extended because the guru’s server crashed (again) from all the massive unexpected traffic? Didn’t he learn how to take precautions the first time that happened?
4. Why do I need to know that I’m not going to pay $10,000, or even half that much, no not even $2,000, or $1,000, not $700, not $397, not even $197, not even a ridiculous $97, but if I order in the next ten minutes I only have to pay $27? It’s a game that seems to work or it wouldn’t be copied so often – but is it really truthful – to even suggest that the product could easily be sold for $10,000? I doubt it.
5. Why do IMers get to send me multiple emails on the same day promoting their offers simply because their email service messed up again and they’re not sure if the list I’m on ever received the first email? It’s a tactic to flood the prospect’s inbox with multiple sales messages … maybe one will stick?
6. How could there only be 7 copies left of any digital product? Anyone should be able to see right through this one.
7. How can an IMer send me promotions for nearly every offer that comes along and still claim that he only wants to tell me about “the good stuff that he uses and that is relevant to the reason I subscribed to his list?”
8. If a product owner is willing to pay affiliates 50% or more for a buyer from the affiliates list, why should I (the consumer) not feel like I’m paying more for the product than it’s actually worth to the owner? Yes, I understand that the product creator is paying for someone else to market and sell his product … but if that cost is really built into the product, then why can’t I pay the owner something less than I have to pay to purchase through an affiliate?
9. How many IMers actually read or immerse themselves in a product prior to promoting all kinds of wonderful things about it? Let’s be honest now . . . 30% ? . . . 20% ? . . . 10% ? . . . 2% ? . . . Why is that?
10. Why does an income screen shot of a merchant or Clickbank account really matter:
a) when they are easily doctored or faked altogether?
b) when the small print income disclaimer at the bottom of the page says that the income described in the sales letter is not typical and that YOU may not experience any income at all?
c) when it’s the product owner’s account rather than that of a product user – someone like you or me that’s purchasing the product?
11. Why should I care about being on the first page of Google? (I only want to be ranked for relevant search terms that will bring me traffic that will convert to sales) If organic search results are your complete marketing system, then “yes” being found ranking well on Google for your keywords is important.
12. Why are guarantees only for the cost of the product? If you guarantee a six figure income, why isn’t that the amount you should pay me?
13. Why do you say “this is the most important email you will ever read” over and over again?
14. I recently copied and pasted a guru’s one page sales letter into WORD and it ended up being 37 pages long . . . how could that be?
15. When I close a screen it means I want to go somewhere else. Why do I have to be interrupted by another pitch, then another, then another, then another when I’ve already decided I don’t want your product?
16. When you claimed your product generated $350,000 last month alone, shouldn’t you also disclose that you and your staff burned through $345,000 in operating and marketing costs to get there?
17. Is there anything wrong with seeing a picture of you and a hired model sitting in a rented Lamborghini in front of a friend’s mansion?
18. If I initiate contact with local businesses about purchasing a web site I designed, contracting for my SEO services, buying a domain name I’ve already registered, or simply listing your business in my directory, how is that not considered unsolicited commercial email (UCE), or as we have come to affectionately call it . . . SPAM?
19. Why didn’t you tell me that your PLR or MRR product would be selling for $1 on eBay shortly after it was released to the public?
20. Why do I have to give your company my name and email address for every single new video or offer that you release? Can’t you keep track of what I’ve already given you? Don’t you segment your email lists?
I could go on and on some more, but I will stop there.
Yes, I understand some of the reasons, techniques and motivations of selling and marketing that lead IMers to employ these tactics and many, many others. And no, I don’t claim to be an expert in any of them.
What I am wondering, however, is whether using these strategies are really in the best interest of our beloved prospects and customers?
Or do we simply believe we need to use them because that’s what we see other IMers doing so we figure that’s what we must do as well to be successful?
Most of these strategies, when you get right down to it, contain elements of deception . . . or dare I say it . . . lying!
You might say to yourself, no I’m not really lying since I’m not intentionally trying to harm or hurt my prospects. I just use these tactics to help my conversions because that’s what I see all the experts doing and supposedly that’s what works.
Please understand that I’m not singling out any person or accusing the entire IM community of underhanded and dishonest marketing methods. Some marketers don’t do any of these things.
My purpose in discussing whether or not we are doing a disservice to our prospects with these strategies is rooted in my desire to be up front and honest with my own customers and to not insult their intelligence with obvious tricks, games, and techniques that could lead them to the conclusion that I care more about my own sales than I do about what’s really best for them … my valued customers.
In the early days of the Internet, consumers may have been oblivious to such tactics.
But to me at least, it seems apparent that today’s Internet consumers are becoming more and more aware of, and tired of (no . . . actually fed up with) these and other deceptive marketing approaches.
Am I being too harsh about marketing practices? Maybe. Is this really not as much of a concern as I’m making it out to be? Could be. In your mind, are these practices really not deceptive at all?
Do we in the IM community need to, at a minimum, stretch the truth in our marketing in order to be successful at promoting and selling our products? You will have to decide that for yourself!
To your online business success,
Traffic vs. Offer
There was an interesting debate in one of the marketing forums today about which is more important for the marketer – to be able to drive significant traffic or to be able to craft very appealing offers. It seems a “guru” is saying that there is never a traffic problem. If the offer is great, it will be found and people will buy.
The discussion thread began with the following quote from a very prominent marketer (I’m not going to say his name . . . mostly because the poster couldn’t remember for sure exactly who it was . . . I know who it was but it’s not relevant to this discussion).
Here is the quote: “There is no such thing as a ‘traffic problem’ there are only ‘offer problems.’ If you spend all your time on the offer, you can’t fail. If the offer is great, everyone is going to want to promote it, and you’ll make enough money to afford the best SEO guy, the best ad guy, etc … People think they need more traffic, but what they really need is a great offer.”
Forum members lined up in both camps, some saying that offers are nothing without people seeing them (traffic to the offer). Others argued that with enough traffic, most offers can be sold for a profit, even a not-so-great offer.
So what do you think? Do great offers sell themselves? Is getting traffic to your offer never a problem?
Here is my two cents on the topic:
Debating which is more important to marketing success, a great offer or the ability to drive traffic, is really not the point.
It’s not the point because you don’t need to be deciding between one or the other. It’s not as though you have to decide upon one at the exclusion of being able to incorporate the other into your selling campaigns.
Both are possible, both are very important, and both go hand in hand . . . it’s the way smart marketing is done and that should be your goal.
A great offer might sell itself . . . but you know that if you can drive tons of targeted traffic to it you’re going to make more profit from it than if you don’t. Think about how long it would take to get an offer in front of a targeted audience if no traffic was purposefully driven to the offer page? Sure, eventually some people would find it and the offer might go viral and be spread all over the niche. But do you want to base your income on waiting on that possibility?
On the flip side, sure if you’re good at driving traffic you can sell a mediocre offer . . . but you know that if you have a fantastic and compelling offer you’re going to make more profit from it than if you don’t. Great offers aren’t inherently more difficult to craft than lousy offers. It’s just that you have to know what you’re doing and have the skill to understand what will turn the offer into a great selling machine.
“It doesn’t matter how thin you make the batter, a pancake always has two sides.” That’s what my grandma used to say!
So the question becomes: how can you craft a fantastic offer and then drive all the traffic you reasonably can to it? Why not strive for the best of both worlds? Why can’t you have your cake and eat it too in this situation? Internet marketing offers you the opportunity to always do both. But most people “settle” and don’t strive for the win-win. IMO, it’s never great offer vs. traffic.
It’s great offer + traffic = many sales.
Figure that out and you’ll make way more money than if you simply debate the issue and set up your camp in one side or the other and only take action on your chosen side of the debate!
I always encourage online business owners to employ as many marketing and promotion tactics and strategies to the selling campaign as you can. Now that doesn’t suggest that you include methods that aren’t profitable or that don’t work given the time and effort it takes to implement them.
You always should strive for a profitable return on investment (ROI). But by including numerous marketing tactics you potentially widen the scope of your offer’s “reach”. . . you cast a wider net and will typically pick up more sales than you would expect with fewer selling approaches.
There are a thousand and one ways to market but you don’t have to know them all or even use them all. Get really good at doing just a few of them and you will see positive results.
To your online business success!
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