I’ve been working on a project for one of my clients that has allowed me to spend a significant amount of time reviewing company websites (I’ve probably reviewed a couple hundred in the last two weeks).
There are two things that have shocked me:
- There are still a lot of small and mid-market companies that pay little to no attention to their web presence. They’re sites are old, clumsy, look bad and offer nothing of value. It’s amazing, because I’m sure they wouldn’t let their employees look as disheveled as their website.Your customers and prospects will all come across your website at some point, and if it doesn’t it isn’t reasonably strong, it will harm your sales efforts dramatically. It doesn’t cost that much to develop a reasonable site, so if yours isn’t up to par, please fix it.
- The bigger shock is just how difficult it is for a prospect to reach out to begin a discussion.
It’s this second point I want to focus on. I lost count of just how many sites have three methods to connect:
- A “Contact Us” page
- The choice to email either info@ or sales@ the company.
Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and prospects. How special do you feel reaching out that way? Why don’t we just ask our prospects to put a big, fat “Sell Me” sticker on their foreheads?
I’m not saying don’t have a contact page, or even email addresses like these; but, please – PLEASE – give your prospects a comfortable path to connect and engage with you. For example:
- If you have a blog (especially if it’s multi-authored) make it clear who’s writing the posts, and how could someone connect with them.
- If you’re highlighting a product/service, give them a name and a real person’s email address that they can connect to. We live in a noisy world, give them something personal.
- If you’re going to list your leadership/management team, let people know how they can connect with them, in some means other than sending an email to an info address.
Making it more comfortable for your prospects to connect or engage with you and your company will reduce their fear and increase your lead generation.
I hear it all the time: “I just need a brochure that explains what we do better,” or “If we could just create a piece that gets people to see how we’re different,” or “Hey, let’s mail our brochure to prospects and then they’ll be more likely to meet with us.” While I’m not (necessarily) against brochures or corporate collateral, the vast majority of them (like 95+%) are not only bad – they kill profits.
How? They completely commoditize you and your company. They’re like watching a home slide show, without the entertainment. High gloss and filled with we-do’s and pictures – here’s our warehouse, here’s our headquarters, here’s a stock photo designed to look like a client collaborating with one of our engaged employees, etc. They not only bore your audience, they make you completely indistinguishable from your competition (remember they have access to stock photos too).
I’ve said it before – and I’ll say it again (and again) – your buyer’s don’t have the time, the desire, or the inclination to care about you. What they care about is what you can do for them. What you need to provide is context. Stop telling them about what you do, and start enabling them to understand how what you do impacts them in relation to the results they want at this moment in time.
To do this, you must stop thinking of the world from your perspective and start thinking about the world from your client’s perspective. It means that you must know and understand you customer better than they understand themselves. It means start creating demand, rather than merely fulfilling it; and creating value in all (and I mean all) aspects of your business development efforts.
Now, if you want a brochure that drives profits, make it a book; albeit a mini-book. Think about the business books that you’ve read (and enjoyed). What did they all do? They created value by addressing your issues, rather than talking about themselves. They diagnosed issues and helped you design solutions. They stood on their own.
Think about your favorite business book for a moment. What do you think of the author? In the vast majority of circumstances, I know three things about your answer:
- You have no personal knowledge of the author or their abilities.
- You view the author as an expert and you trust what the author has to say.
- The author did not provide you a brochure to “prove” their abilities or establish credibility. (The closest an author comes to providing a brochure is a bio and there’s a reason the bio is usually at the end of the book – it’s the least valuable part.)
This is why content and a content development strategy is so important. It packages your wisdom and capabilities in such a way that buyer’s desire it and it makes you more attractive. It forces you to create value – whether the prospect buys from you or not. It also drives better performance from your employees because they better understand their importance.
Most importantly, a good content strategy separates you from your competition and allows you to grow your profits.
I was reviewing websites of a group of people who attended one of my speeches yesterday. As I was looking at them, I couldn’t help but think of the Seinfeld episode where the characters always spoke in third person. It was hilarious.
It’s not so funny with a website. Your website is your opportunity to personalize your firm and to connect with new people. Third person language homogenizes the discussion. It is cold, boring and blah.
So, drop the artificial third person language and start a conversation. Speak to me like I’m a person you want to do business with.
Cessna has just launched a new advertising campaign – and I LOVE it. Cessna gets who their customer is, and they’re not worried about anything else. It reminds me of what Thomas Baldwin, CEO of Morton’s, said about staying focused on the things you can control.
Fast Company doesn’t like the ad; saying, “Where can we get a reality-distortion field, like the one the Cessna people have?” Cessna understands two critical items:
1. Fast Company is not their client, and
2. The only stance that provides any chance of success is an assertive, confident one.
Difficult times call for leadership. Leadership requires risk. Leadership, by it’s nature, is positive. In difficult markets, you must embrace the negative and stay positive. Recessionary markets are not for the meek or the weak of heart. Succeeding in a recession requires focus, confidence, aggressive action, and taking the long view. It’s not about winning the battle – it’s about succeeding in the war. Cessna gets that if they don’t drive an agenda they lose by definition.
Now think about this for a moment – what percentage of people in the country fit the psychological profile of a Cessna buyer; and have the need and ability to buy? Maybe .01%? If that’s the case, that’s the entire universe Cessna should pay attention to. 99.99% of market opinion doesn’t manner. What’s more – what if Cessna is being delusional? What if Fast Company is right and it’s foolish to buy a private jet or use Cessna’s services right now? There would be no point.
One of my favorite movies of all time is The Shawshank Redemption. It’s the story of Andy Dufresne who goes through several trials and tribulations – both physically and mentally. Andy never forgets that his goal is to get out and get to Mexico. Near the end of the movie, Andy is sent to solitary confinement for a considerable amount of time. Andy is released and starts talking to his close prison friend, Red, about his dream of going to Mexico. Red becomes worried about him and thought Andy has lost his will. The dialogue from the movie is right on for today; here it is:
- Andy: You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?
- Red: No.
- Andy: They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.
- Red: I don’t think you ought to be doing this to yourself, Andy. This is just shitty pipedreams. I mean, Mexico is way the hell down there and you’re in here, and that’s the way it is.
- Andy: Yeah, right. That’s the way it is. It’s down there and I’m in here. I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.
For those who have seen the movie, you know that Andy did not lose his will; as in the next scene Andy escapes.
So how are you talking? Are you talking the language of living; or are you talking the language of dying? Cessna is clearly talking the language of living – and it’s the only language that makes thriving possible.
Recently, a client asked me for advice on the strategy of their website. I’ve written about the accidental power of your website before, and I firmly believe that when properly utilized, your website provides a tremendous opportunity to grow your business, make powerful new relationship, and cement old ones. Done improperly, your website can be the greatest commoditizing force you face.
I thought I’d share my thoughts with you (name and some data altered to protect the client’s identity):
Your website has two purposes:
- On purpose: someone looking for specific information for a specific purpose, fully aware they were going to your site.
- Accidental Visitor: There are several ways an accidental visitor can come:
- Word-of-mouth: They’ve heard about you, been referred, whatever – but they are not clear on who you are nor are they clear if there is anything they need or what they would need.
- Search query: They’ve searched to answer a question and a your page comes up.
- Blog entry or link: Similar to search query, our page has been linked to by someone for some unrelated purpose.
Actions for the accidental visitor:
- Positioning is critical. If you are perceived as an “provider,” then we are commoditized and may never get a chance.
- Beginning the conversation, content should exist on the site that encourages the visitor to come back. In essence: how does the site begin the conversation (and encourage reaching out) when there is no direct sale on the block.
- Create thought leadership. This is what will causes incoming links – critical to broadening our audience and increasing search engine positioning.
- Frame the conversation:
- What a company says about itself and how it positions itself unconsciously frames the conversation. We need to frame the conversation to be: how do you solve the problems you don’t know you have.
- Teach vocabulary: one of the biggest problems facing companies today is that their customers don’t have the vocabulary to understand the problems that the selling company solves. They think things are fine, because they don’t know any better. Vocabulary helps create awareness of problems.
- Create awareness:
- Obviously, we want to create awareness of your company
- As, or more, importantly we need to create awareness of problems that the customer is unaware of. We do this by creating diagnostic interaction that creates awareness.
Too many websites miss out on the demand creation potential of the web – thus contributing to their own commoditization. One of the smartest (and wisest) pieces of advice I ever received from a coach of mine was, “Doug, remember that everybody wakes up in the morning with one goal in mind – to get through the day without meeting you.” While he was certainly being facetious (maybe), there is a lot of truth in the statement.
People go through life pursuing their objectives and not considering yours.
What does this have to do with websites, you may ask. Quite a lot. I’ve been involved in several projects reviewing websites and working with my clients in the creation of new ones. The biggest “intent” mistake that I see with websites everyday is that they are designed almost exclusively for those people that are going to your website on purpose.
The problem with this approach is that you are only communicating with people who already know who you are, believe they know what you do, and believe they know how they may need to use you. There is certainly value in this function, but the hidden (and real) value of the web lies in those people who “accidentally” find your website.
The web is a powerful “answer” mechanism. People regularly search for answers to their questions, or (dare I say) solutions to their problems. (Side comment – when I say solutions, I DO NOT mean products/services/ offerings posing as solutions – I mean the intelligence and knowledge of HOW to solve their problems.) Now understand when your prospect is searching the web they are not “looking” for your website – nor are they looking for your services. They’re looking for – well – whatever it is that they are looking for.
In my experience, you need to keep three things in mind if you want to make the accidental visitor a repeat visitor – and eventually a customer:
- You must make you website a resource. Highlight your knowledge – not just your offerings. The most effective question I’ve used to assess whether your site is supporting this aim is: What reason would an accidental visitor have to bookmark your site?
- Remember that your web visitors view the world from their perspective – not yours. This means that you need to be careful how your label your site. You may know what “custom services” mean, but it’s a good bet your accidental visitor doesn’t. Next time you view your site, view it through the lens of someone who knows nothing about you.
- Stop making your visitors work so hard to understand what you do – they can’t. Drop the we-do’s. Your biggest competition isn’t someone (or some company) who claims to do the same things you do, your biggest competition is noise and clutter. You job is to break through the noise. You do that, not by bragging, but by demonstrating that you understand your customers, instead of forcing your customers to understand you. Demonstrate your competence by demonstrating the intimate knowledge you have of your desired visitors.
I realize that it’s a lot easier to develop a website for your “on-purpose” visitors – but the real marketing leverage comes when you turn the accidental visitor into the on-purpose visitor, and then a customer.
Despite the fact that it is more difficult than ever to get and keep people’s attention – the opportunity is also greater. People are spending more time online and a recent study by Online Publishers Association indicates that they are spending more of their online time with content.
It has been said before – and I’ll say it again – “Content is king!”
Time and time again, I hear business executives (who, by the way, regularly use the web to find information) tell me that their market is different – that their customers don’t use blogs or the web as frequently as other industries. They say this in an effort to justify the lack of resources (time, money and effort) that they put into keeping their websites relevant, up-to-date and interesting. They complain that actively managing a website takes a lot of time (too much time, they say), and where’s the pay-off?
This study demonstrates that if the content is good, people will spend more time – NOT less with it. How’s your content? Is it worth reading? Is it worth spending time with? If you were a prospect of your company, how much time would you spend on your website?
Here’s the question that every fast growth executive should be asking themselves: “Whose content are my client’s and prospect’s spending time with?”
If it’s not yours, what are you doing about it?
I was working with a client today, discussing ways to monetize content on the web. He was talking about Google AdSense and other revenue generating techniques [full disclosure: I am an ‘affiliate’ of Amazon.com and people can buy books through Amazon on my site, after which I get paid]. These techniques have always seemed small and shortsighted to me.
I also have no problem, per se, with advertising. I work with a few media companies who do an effective job of building a community of people with similar worldviews. I have no problem with them getting paid for building the community.
My client was telling me that I should use these techniques to generate revenues through the increased traffic to this blog, the website and, soon, our podcasts. This got me to talking about my favorite website from a design standpoint – Google. It’s so clean, so pure. Even when you go to their “more” page it’s clean – and there’s no advertising. We then looked at Yahoo and MSN – their homepages were nothing but links and ads. It was then that I realized the genius of Google. They do not expose you to advertising or direct you to content (what’s in it for them) until the viewer has gotten something of value (the response to their search). They create value before they receive value in return– that’s a rule we should all live by.
Until next time, Doug
Scott Heiferman (co-founder of Meetup.com) has a great post on why people aren’t using your website. It’s humorous and insightful. I’ve already forwarded it to Chris, my brand development guy. Take a look at it.