The goal of any business is to earn a profit. Businesses achieve that goal by generating more revenue from sales than they pay out in expenses. So, if you run an online business, how can you increase sales?
Here is an action plan to increase sales:
1. Ensure that you have identified your target markets fully.
Build out personas (a description of a typical customer written as if they were a real person) to describe who your target markets are and what problems they have. Give them a face and a name and a personality and a back story. It makes it far easier to sell to someone when you "know" them. Create a persona for each target market you have.
2. Outline your current sales funnel.
Your sales funnel is the process that someone goes through, from the very beginning of the relationship when they first learn about you and what you sell, all the way through to the point where they buy from you and you deliver the product or service to them. What are the steps along the way? What are your prospect's motivations at each point? (Hint: Earlier in the sales funnel, your prospect's motivations are often to learn more about the solution you offer. Later in the sales funnel, your prospect's motivations are to make sure your product or service is the right fit for them).
3. Optimize your sales funnel to improve the effectiveness of your marketing.
Once you've outlined your current sales funnel, look for new marketing opportunities based on who your target market is and what their motivations are in each step. A prospect who is looking for more information will respond very differently to marketing content that helps them learn more versus a prospect who is much later in the sales funnel and is comparing your solution against a competitors' solution.
4. Test new marketing activities.
Now it's time to test new marketing activities. E-businesses have a number of online marketing options. Here are a few to test:
- Articles: Find article directory sites, especially ones in your target market and post helpful, keyword-rich articles.
- Blogging: Create a blog where you can be yourself and write engagingly but informally about your business. Build a following of readers and connect with them through comments.
- Forums: Find forums where your target market is hanging out and participate. Don't blatantly sell, just get on the forum and listen then help.
- Comments: Find blog posts where your target market is reading and comment. Don't spam the comments with hard-selling content. Rather, give your feedback and quality help.
- Social media: There are many social media channels – from Facebook to Twitter to Google+ and more – so find the right combination of social channels where your target market is spending time. Participate, listen, and help.
- Press releases: Identify newsworthy information in your business and generate press releases about it. Develop a regular stream of public relations content to keep you in the news.
- Videos: Film videos about your products and services, about your customers, and about your business. Post them on YouTube.
- Pay-Per-Click: Set up pay-per-click marketing and send your target market to specific pages that communicate one important solution to their problem.
5. Start marketing.
Now that you have tested your marketing and found a few options that work effectively for you, start marketing consistently. Go for quality and quantity. Avoid spamming but work to be truly helpful within the marketing channels you choose. Remember: Each marketing piece is not a transaction in and of itself that will sell your prospect. Rather, it is part of your larger sales funnel and the goal of each marketing piece is to move the prospect toward a sale.
The key is quality and consistency. Writing two or three articles every month or two, with a once-a-week tweet isn't going to build the relationship with the prospect to move them forward in your sales funnel. To provide quality and consistency, brainstorm 3 months of content in advance and always keep a list of content ideas a quarter of the year ahead. That way, you're never at a loss for ideas.
6. Increase your marketing.
It may seem like a cliché but it's true: Sales is a numbers game. You need to get more people into your sales funnel and you'll convert more into customers. So once you have made your marketing more effective (in the above steps), then it's time to increase your marketing. Test out the impact by doubling your marketing in one month. Pay attention to the period between your doubled marketing and when your sales increase. In theory, doubled marketing should double sales (although there are other factors that might be present, which could dampen or increase this number, such as the time of year or the state of the economy). But doubled marketing should increase sales.
7. Keep tweaking for more sales.
If you've increased your marketing as described above, you should see an increase in the number of prospects and an increase in sales. However, there are scenarios when this might not be the case. If you see an increase in the number of prospects, but not an increase in sales, take a look at the following things:
- Is your call to action clear and easy to act on? You might be feel that it is but it's easy to get too close to your business. Make sure your call to action is simple and intuitive and obvious so that your prospects can take action when they are ready. To test this out, find friends and family who haven't been on your website before to test out your entire sales funnel and see if it is easy to follow your marketing all the way to the point of purchase, and then actually make a purchase. Stand over their shoulder and watch them.
- Are your prospects finding an alternate product or service (or a do-it-themselves solution) after gaining information from you? If so, your marketing needs to do a better job of explaining the value you provide to them. (Providing really helpful marketing is critical, so don't stop doing that. Just make sure that you also point out why you should be the only source of the solution to their problem).
- Are your prospects finding your value too low for the price you're asking? If so, consider testing different price points or making changes to your marketing that shows why your product or service is worth the price, or how the prospect's problem actually costs them more. Try adding some free bonuses and see how customers react.
- Are your prospects happy with the how you promise to deliver your product or service? Experiment with changing up the time of delivery, how the product or service is delivered, and when the customer pays. See if these small changes in what you promise make the prospect more likely to buy.
- Have you addressed your prospect's skepticism? Potential buyers are naturally skeptical, and for good reason. It's easy to start online businesses and promise a lot of things and take people's money but it's a lot harder to deliver value. Your prospects don't want to part with their hard-earned money unless they feel confident that you will actually solve their problem. Review your testimonials (make sure they are real!), and strengthen your guarantees and refund/return policies.
Once you have gone through the above steps and make sure that your sales funnel is as optimized as it can be, then it's time to ramp up your sales force. Create an affiliate program that shares profit with other people who promote your products and services. Empower other people to sell by also providing them with marketing content and training to help them sell more. Keep some profit for yourself (of course) but generously incentivize your expanding sales force so that the more they sell, the more money they make.
The internet levelled the playing field, making it possible for many small businesses to finally compete with big, established businesses. But this advantage came with a draw-back: There is now so much competition that prospects have more choice, which makes it harder for you to sell. Fortunately, by following these 8 steps, you have an action plan to increase sales.