Bringing Salesmanship to the Web Staff

Updated · May 10, 2001

By Steve Pittenridgh

E-commerce may be skyrocketing, but that's not much consolation to the 80% of companies on the Web that are still losing money. One of the stumbling blocks to successful closure of Web sales is customer service, with many sales currently being lost due to technical problems, difficulty navigating the Web site to find products as well as delivery problems after the sale.

Another major obstacle holding back e-marketers is the lack of proactive salesmanship. If the Internet is to reach its full potential, the fundamentals used by "Brick and Mortar" retailers still apply: success comes down to how well you can reach out to meet a person's needs and maintain the relationship.

Traditionally, the Internet has been an extremely passive sales environment. Almost without exception, few sites create the sense of urgency that is at the core of many successful retail or direct marketing operations. The ease of price comparison on the Web often causes shoppers to lose sight of the total value a company puts into its product. The result: countless "shopping carts" are abandoned as customers put off their buying decision looking for a better deal, leading to a highly price-sensitive, low-margin marketplace.

Fortunately, new Internet technologies like chat, push and callback now allow online sales consultants to converse one-on-one with a customer, send documents back and forth, and even take control of the customer's browser to assist in navigation of the sales site. These technologies have already helped many larger companies provide the customer service shoppers need to help them make buying decisions.

Many Internet companies are finding that live customer service and sales is extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming, requiring a multitude of man-hours. This makes it difficult for e-commerce sites to use new customer service technology effectively, in much the same way that many companies have traditionally had trouble manning and operating an effective in-house call center.

The good news is that many of today's existing call centers that have traditionally served direct marketing or brick-and-mortar retailers already have the staffing and infrastructure in place to help more companies capitalize on these new Web technologies. (In fact, what we now refer to as "call centers" should more appropriately be known as "customer contact centers" or "customer sales centers.")

This is especially true of the new breed of sales-driven contact centers that have evolved to handle sales of high-priced products sold through Infomercial campaigns. These campaigns rely heavily on a high-level of customer service not often found online. However, effective call centers employ roughly the same strategy for telephone and Internet sales. The only thing left to bridge the digital divide is to incorporate the necessary technology, and provide the added training to convert telesales representatives into full-fledged online sales professionals.

Here's how call centers and Web marketers can work together in the near future to make profitable e-commerce a reality for the many, instead of the few:

Focus on proactive selling. The click-through rate means nothing if people don't buy. Using time-tested one-on-one customer sales strategies, successful e-commerce sites will proactively build relationships with customers while they're online. On top of this, a sales consultant can use chat, push and navigation technology to provide more details about a product, highlight promotion deadlines, explain warranties, point out key information on the site, help the customer place the order and much more. This level of salesmanship can only enrich the buying experience, increase consumer confidence and add value to what is already a highly price-sensitive shopping environment.

Increase order sizes. Companies like have established effective automated upsell programs, where customers who place an order receive a message about products of similar interest. A live sales consultant can increase revenue the same way on a much larger scale, by taking the necessary time with a customer to offer product continuity programs, custom accessories and many other upsell and cross-sell items. Additional customer data can also be collected by the consultant that will set the stage for back-end E-mail and direct mail permission marketing programs.

Incorporate cutting edge technology to expand available information. Many telephone-based call centers often use technology called Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) to enhance sales and service. When a customer calls, this technology allows customized order screens and product information to appear on the sales consultant's screen automatically, based on the phone number that was dialed. This is an immense boon, as it permits the sales consultant to see past purchases and customer information while saving both the consultant and the customer valuable time; i.e. the customer doesn't have to re-enter their order info.

Similar technologies called Computer Internet Integration (CII) can equip online sales representatives with a wide range of services they can offer to customers. For example, when a customer requests help online, this technology pushes a screen full of detailed information and links to the sales consultant's screen automatically. This provides them with more information on the customer's interests indicated by the Web page the customer was surfing when they originally made their inquiry for help. This will permit sales consultants to recommend appropriate upsells, last-minute specials and other purchases they know the customer is likely to be interested in. This ability to be appropriately responsive will not only improve customer service, it will also make true salesmanship possible, even on sites with hundreds of products.

Extensive training will be needed so consultants can navigate customers to the relevant pages of information needed to close a sale. They will also need to know enough about the products to answer difficult questions and recommend the right upsell for a specific customer.

Given these scenarios, e-marketers and customer sales centers will be able to work closely together to create highly dynamic sites that will truly deliver proactive salesmanship.

Some may say the Internet is preparing to go the way of the dinosaur. However, this shortsighted way of thinking omits the possibility that what we may be looking at is the Darwin-like shakeout of online consumer sites that do not provide the quality of service and selection that today's public craves.

Consumers want to make the best choice possible for themselves and their families and the more information they have at the ready, the better. Additionally, an analysis of likely consumers' spending patterns reveals they buy on the Web because they enjoy the privacy and "low-key" shopping the Internet provides.

Done correctly, a Web site combined with specifically trained call center consultants can maintain these advantages as well as manage to provide customers with personal attention, build meaningful, value-added relationships, and drive e-marketing's bottom line.

Reprinted from NewMedia.

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