Selling online - the old rules of marketing still apply

21 Nov 2010

For many established "bricks and mortar" businesses, building a complementary online presence is now an urgent task. In many industries, businesses are already well established online and aggressively pursuing domination of their respective niche.

How is an online business different from a traditional bricks and mortar store?

1. It is the biggest market of all time.
2. It is the most competitive market of all time.

  • An online business is invisible to consumers unless targeted traffic is driven to it.
  • The online market is global in reach, which means:
  • The Internet is based on Free. Free information, free services, free downloads, free products. Generally speaking, most successful online business models incorporate some aspect of free to attract visitors.

The points above simply illustrate how your business is operating in a different marketing space online. But the psychology of buying has not changed. As such, success online can be achieved through applying our usual marketing tactics to the Internet. We consider some of the common sales and marketing techniques below and apply them to online.

1. Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

The need for a USP for an online business is crucial, as you are now competing in a global market. This requires the USP to have even greater uniqueness, as your business is not necessarily protected by geographic boundaries. Often an effective USP is delivered through an outstanding service or product guarantee. Ensure that your USP and guarantees are heavily promoted through-out your website.

2. Answer objections to purchase

The web is a powerful tool for helping your customers perform research before purchasing. In a bricks and mortar store, purchasing objections are often over come through an in-person conversation. Online, objections can be overcome through providing comprehensive product and service information on your website. Another effective tool is an FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions web-page.

Make it very easy for users to ask questions online, either through a targeted online form and call to action buttons on your site with the words "Ask a Question" or "Make an Enquiry" highly visible on all web-pages. Some businesses even have online chat available and call-back functions on their website.

3. Make it easy to buy

Keep the complexity of online purchasing as low as possible. Make it easy to add products and services to a shopping cart, and reduce the number of steps in the checkout process. Avoid a lengthy customer sign-up process in any online store transaction. Provide multiple ways to purchase, including paypal, EFT, cheque & credit card.

4. Don't sell, solve people's problems

Avoid excessive selling and marketing messages on your website. Instead present a convincing argument on emotional and intellectual levels. Provide comprehensive information to help your customers make an informed decision. Also provide detailed information, tutorials, guides and manuals on your site so your customers can make the most of their purchases.


Provide complementary products and services based on the recent purchases of your user. do this brilliantly by suggesting books that others with the same interests have purchased.


Provide a comprehensive range of products on your website at various price points. For services, provide easy selection of standard, premium and deluxe packages.

Permission Marketing & Follow-up

A website is ideal for obtaining your customer details and using them in follow-up communications, providing updates on specials, as well as electronic and mail newsletters. Obtain permission to contact during sign-up and sales and then communicate regularly with your customers.

Partner with other businesses

Partner with complementary businesses and suppliers online and refer to each other's product and services. Link to your partner websites and display their logo on appropriate pages. This approach builds credibility on your website and provides you with access to complementary customers.

Market to different personality types

On key pages of your website, it is important to market to the different personality types. For owls, provide case-studies and technical fact sheets. For peacocks, make sure your site looks fantastic and is cutting edge. For doves, provide testimonials and guarantees. For eagles, offer time limited offers, make sure the price is listed on the site, make it easy to buy and finalise the transaction immediately.

Test and Measure

Test and measure is a real strength of the web, when the data is recorded and used to optimise the sales process. Measure every visit, click, subscription, sale and repeat sale. Use this information to improve your customer conversion rates and average dollar sales.

Avoid Advertising Clutter

The number of advertising messages presented to us on a daily basis is overwhelming. As such, ensure the advertising messages presented on your website are clear and relevant. Get attention through clear, simple and engaging messages, backed up with outstanding products, services and guarantees.

Perception is Reality

The web is particularly powerful in shaping customer perceptions of your business. Use high quality branding and design, staff profiles, testimonials and professional images to amplify the size and quality of your business. Trust is difficult to build online, so a quality and comprehensive web presence can be very effective in promoting a professional and trust-worthy image to your users.

You need trust to make a sale

Many web users are distrustful online. A quality website presence, backed up by customer testimonials through out the website, as well as a comprehensive product range, can go a long way to presenting a trust-worthy image. Ensure that all payment facilities online are well known services, such as paypal, and use a SSL certificate on your website to ensure encrypted online payment transactions.


Offer online discounts for referring friends to your online store and to those that subscribe to your newsletter for social media pages, like facebook and twitter.

Great Customer Service

Respond rapidly to online enquiries, have someone checking your email, etc. Rapid delivery of products / services.

Final Words

Many of the strategies that are effective offline are equally effective online. Examine why your offline business works, and apply what works in an online context.

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