Tips to generate more revenue through direct, online selling
As if there wasn’t already a trend toward improved digital experiences, COVID rushed it along further and faster. There’s an incredible level of comfort in buying online today. It’s not limited to just Amazon or Walmart, either, or the purchase of books, CDs, or computer hardware.
More than 20 million sites offer the direct purchase of goods ranging from groceries to alcohol to machinery replacement parts. Buyers want experiences that are fast, convenient, and personalized.
That’s why businesses are embracing e-commerce. They’re finding ways to expand their operations and better meet the demands of their customers.
Along with this, a new wave of online shopping that’s more sophisticated and more efficient is allowing businesses to generate added opportunities for revenue.
Why E-Commerce Is Important
COVID forced many more companies to embrace e-commerce. And it encouraged more consumers to shop online. According to Digital Commerce 360, consumers spent $860 billion online in 2020; that’s up 44% compared to the year before. Additionally, e-commerce sales made up more than 21% of total sales across all industries.
E-commerce can be carried out in a variety of ways. For the mom-and-pop shop, freelancer, or solopreneur, marketplaces are convenient ways to present and sell products. Think of sites like eBay, Etsy, Amazon, and Facebook; even dealer catalog sites can operate similarly.
Some can lean on these big platforms that already have tested, proven systems. But there are often fees associated with setup, hosting, and management, and you don’t own the data. Plus, there can be inconsistencies with the fit, meaning not all products make sense for these consumer-oriented sites.
Instead, you can manage your own site. With an owned e-commerce platform, you sacrifice something big: being where the users are (Amazon has tens of millions of dedicated shoppers!).
But on the upside, you have total control over product placement, the sales process, advertising and customer data.
And that data is gold. It’s what you will ultimately use to optimize the shopping experience for your buyers and push the products that are in demand or big revenue drivers for your business.
As an equipment distributor, consider the many types of products you could leverage on your owned e-commerce platform:
- Equipment parts
- Fluids, oils and lubricants
- Merchandise, clothes and toys
- Gift cards
In moving these products to the web, you can reduce sales time, increase buy-time, improve inventorying and turnaround time, and ultimately push more products out the door to boost your revenue stream.
How to Sell Goods Directly Online
For equipment dealers, it’s important to think through the many ways you can put an e-commerce system to work.
Ask yourself: What can be sold without the involvement of a human resource?
Once your catalog of categories and product SKUs has been created, you’ll need to gather supporting information that will help fill out your online store.
It’s important to sync your e-commerce system to your point-of-sale (POS) and inventory management systems to ensure a smooth flow of information, from view, to buy, to process, to charge, to ship, to replace.
Information you’ll need to add into the backend of your e-commerce system:
1. Product name and number
2. Specs and other information details
4. Product photos
5. Videos (e.g., how to use the product)
Pickup location or shipping information
The more information, the better. Not only will it provide a richer online store and help service the customer while he/she is shopping, but many of those product details will provide search engine optimization (SEO) value as well.
What E-Commerce System Works Best?
Looking to get started in launching your e-commerce store? Equipment dealers have a number of options to explore.
Large companies with deep pockets and a desire for full and complete customization can build a full e-commerce system from the ground up. This certainly allows the most flexibility, in that it can be built around the dealership’s products, needs and buyers. But it would be both costly and time-consuming. Most companies do not need to go this route.
If you are currently using a WordPress site, WooCommerce is king. As one of the market leaders, it’s built for WordPress with its plugins and seamless integration.
The product management can be performed directly in WordPress, and many WordPress themes present product information in a clean, organized manner. It’s part of an open-source environment, so there’s a ton of information out there for help with setup and troubleshooting.
For those that are outside of WordPress or those looking for dedicated support, there may be better options.
Shopify has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, mostly because of its ease of use for both the store owner and the customer.
It’s an all-in-one solution, meaning it can be used as a full site in addition to its e-commerce capabilities. The fact that it can scale makes it convenient for small and large businesses alike.
It also integrates well with many POS solutions and Facebook Marketplace. However, it can be more costly than other options because of its pricing model.
A step up from WooCommerce and Shopify, BigCommerce has very large clients to its name. It offers a much more robust e-commerce experience and works well for stores with a vast library of SKUs. It’s flexible and can scale well. On the other hand, it has complex features, so it’s not a great fit for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) or ones looking to launch quickly without complication.
There are many other options available, especially for small businesses (Wix, Squarespace and Magento, for example). But those come with more trade-offs than the more popular and more scalable solutions listed above.
How to Pick the Right One
Every e-commerce site has its set of pros and cons and, depending on your business and what you plan to sell, one might be a better fit than another. Here are some things you’ll want to think about as you select the e-commerce platform that’s right for you:
- Monthly e-commerce management budget
- Your current POS and inventory management systems
- Your current website and its content management system (e.g., WordPress)
- The number of product categories
- The number of product SKUs
- What you plan to sell
- Shipping plans
Okay, It’s Built ... Now What?
Just like your corporate website, your e-commerce store does not have a “build it and they will come” advantage. You have to send people there and encourage them to buy.
This is where proven marketing comes into play. You’ll need a combination of both organic and paid efforts. Instead of a form fill or phone call, the action you’re now after is a direct purchase. And because that action is different, it brings on a new set of opportunities for marketing.
You’ll still need “traditional” outreach efforts. Consider SEO, events and show participation, and social media. But you’ll also need to focus on some added marketing tactics that specifically complement e-commerce.
Here are the five biggest areas that need to be taken into consideration if you introduce e-commerce into your business model.
1. Reviews and Recommendations
According to Inc, 84% of folks trust reviews just as much as they trust a friend. On top of that, it notes that 91% of people read reviews when making a purchase.
There’s no doubt that product information and sales messaging only go so far. Buyers are smarter today than they used to be. They rely on third-party perspectives to validate whether or not their investment will be worthwhile.
Improve the buying experience by leveraging user reviews to give buyers an inside look at their peers’ experiences. Recommendations and related products enable cross-selling and encourage more items to be placed in the shopping cart, increasing revenue over time.
The e-commerce platform you select will dictate how you roll out reviews and recommendations in your system. If reviews aren’t built-in, consider third-party review tools like Facebook Reviews, Google Reviews or Trustpilot to incorporate them into the shopping experience.
For cross-selling, you’ll need to be mindful of product categories and product tags. Think this through before building out your store. And be mindful of the shopping cart experience and where/how buyers can add additional items, merchandise, warranties, and promo codes and discounts to the order.
WordStream notes that users spend 95% of their time outside of the Google search engine. That means you can’t focus on Google search ads alone and must diversify your activity.
From billboards to mobile game ads to streaming ads, there are a million and one places to advertise today. But your buyers aren’t on all platforms. You must understand your buyers, find the sites they frequent, and advertise there with the messaging that will motivate a purchase.
Take time to research and understand your target audience before running your ads. Any criteria that you feel is accurate is important. Geography, gender, age, title – all these things help to filter the 4.7 billion people worldwide who have access to the internet and narrow them down to your niche audience of buyers. Maybe that’s 100,000 or maybe it’s only 10,000, but using the right targeting strategy helps you avoid wasting dollars on the wrong folks.
Next, make sure the ads are written (text ads), designed (display ads), or produced (video ads) in a way that hits on the needs of the buyer and directs them to the right place to buy. Sending traffic to your homepage is one of the most prevalent problems in advertising. Users expect to arrive on a page that lets them fulfill their needs with as few obstacles in the way as possible.
Finally, adjust your ads based on analysis and findings. Ad programs take time to mature. You’ll never have a perfect ad program after a month, and sometimes not even after a year.
Mature programs come with audience testing and refinement and improvements to keywords, copy and bidding – over and over again.
Marketing experts used to say it took seven touchpoints to make a sale. Today, some reports are estimating that it’s closer to 20, since we’re inundated with so many brand messages each day. It’s harder to get buyers’ attention and get them to recall our product. Regardless of the number, there’s one thing for sure, you’ll rarely convert on the first visit.
If your conversion rate is 5%, what are the other 95% doing on your site? They’re reading, learning, leaving, coming back, reading some more, etc. Remarketing ads continue to remind your buyers about your brand and, in particular, the product that they looked at, so you can actively bring them back to close the deal.
Install remarketing code on all pages of your site. In your advertising platform of choice (whether Facebook, Google or a programmatic third-party service) you’ll need to build custom audiences based on the pages they visit.
If you have a general remarketing brand campaign, use all pages. If you are able (i.e., if you have the time, budget and resources) you’ll want to get much more granular. Build out custom audiences based on product groups or even individual products.
Then, build your ads around these product groups or products, so users will see ads with products they’ve already expressed interest in. For some businesses, you can set up an integration with Google Merchant and automate much of this work through dynamic display remarketing ads where Google pulls product info for its ads based on pages/products that users have previously viewed. Facebook Ads can do this as well with a similarly smart, dynamic system.
4. Marketing Automation
Users today aren’t just on Facebook, and they aren’t just using Google. To think you can do all your selling by being active and present on only one marketing channel is just silly. That’s why experts today emphasize an integrated, “omnichannel” approach.
The omnichannel strategy simply involves being present on multiple channels with consistent outreach and messaging throughout. A key component of an omnichannel approach is email automation. Often considered the marketing tactic that produces the greatest ROI, email is a perfect complement to other marketing efforts like social, advertising and SEO. Plus, it utilizes the owned customer data you have from past business dealings and future e-commerce activity.
Select a marketing automation tool that’s right for your business. This can include HubSpot, ActiveCampaign, or Salesforce’s Pardot. Ensure your website forms and e-commerce system are set to sync data with your marketing automation tool.
Now, build email campaigns that push relevant emails to cold buyers to spark interest. Build automated campaigns that seek reviews from buyers or cross-sell complementary products. Coordinate emails to go out based on the seasons, past purchases, order size, and more. In utilizing your e-commerce store, don’t forget to consider loyalty benefits, promo codes and discounts.
5. Live Chat and Customer Service
The rule of thumb when it comes to customer service is that you should have team members ready to help customers during your hours of operation. That means, for most B2B companies, you should have someone ready to pick up the phone and respond between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. But with the addition of e-commerce, those purchases can now take place 24/7.
It’s unrealistic to think that SMBs can afford to have round-the-clock resources available to answer phones and respond to emails throughout the night. But systems should be set up to help cater to your customers and more swiftly respond to buyers. Automation can help.
Customer service is important to any business. It’s even more important to companies with e-commerce because you have less control over the sales process and there’s usually less human involvement when the sale takes place.
This means companies that take customer service seriously need to step up and make sure they have systems in place to keep buyers happy. You need to staff your customer service platforms properly to make sure, when requests come in, they are being responded to in a timely fashion. Consider the many channels of customer service and automate where possible:
- Website forms
- Website phone numbers
- Website direct emails
- Website live chat
- Facebook direct message (DM)
- Twitter DM
- Instagram DM
- Reviews on review sites
- SMS (text messages)
How to Measure Success
Unlike some other marketing activities, such as public relations or branding, e-commerce marketing can and should be tightly tied to the bottom line.
You must make more than you put in.
Identify your goals at the start of the program, develop your marketing plan to support those goals, and measure regularly (monthly, quarterly and annually) with key metrics that help optimize the program and help you understand if/when that goal has been reached.
Things to Measure:
Spend (marketing cost)
Spend (e-commerce management cost)
User behavior (via heat mapping)
Traffic, time on site, bounce rate, pages per visit, page views, source/medium
Shopping cart abandonments, successful transactions, high and low items
Advertising clicks, cost-per-click, conversions, conversion rate, revenue per sale
Things to Optimize:
- User experience (UX)
- Search engine optimization
- Product information and messaging
- Product photos
- Advertising ad groups
- Advertising creative
- Advertising copy
- Email subject lines
- Email creative
- Automated email campaigns
- Chatbot responses
- Customer service scripts and messaging
Things to Remember:
- Identify the average revenue per sale and understand the margins across your products and services. You’ll want to invest in marketing efforts on the items that drive the biggest impact to your business.
- Consider both short-term and long-term sales, and always remember to consider average lifetime customer value. How many times per year does an average customer buy and at what level? It’s always acceptable to spend more on earning a first-time customer, knowing they will do repeat business.
- Remember to calculate first-touch and last-touch interaction. A prospect could come from an ad on their first visit, leave, and then, 30 days later, come back through a Google search and buy. You’ll want to “reward” advertising with that sale since it was that initiative that brought the customer there in the first place.
How to Get Started
E-commerce ushers in a whole new world for growing businesses. For equipment dealers, this means reducing the load on the sales team and allowing more added revenue. But it also means putting extra focus on the online experience and marketing to support it.
For help, get in touch with the team at Site-Seeker. We’re experienced in consultation and strategy for e-commerce websites and e-commerce marketing, and we can help build and execute a program that produces positive results.
Thomas Armitage is a senior account manager at Site-Seeker Inc., a digital marketing agency in Central New York. He has been with Site-Seeker for more than 8 years. Part time, Thomas is an adjunct professor at Utica College, teaching courses on market research and social media marketing. His blogs have been featured in Entrepreneur, MarketingProfs, SEMrush and PR Daily. He earned his master’s in integrated marketing communication from West Virginia University and his bachelor’s in public relations from Utica College of Syracuse University.