Internet sales success strategies: IBM

By LOW YIK CHOONGeneral manager for IBM Malaysia's Global Small and Medium Business Division.The best sites today offer a combination of three elements: content, community and commercial transactions.

By LOW YIK CHOON General manager for IBM Malaysia's Global Small and Medium Business Division.

The best sites today offer a combination of three elements: content, community and commercial transactions. Content is a given. No content, no site. But the nature of the content you display is vital. Content that mimics a brochure is read once and will rarely bring a visitor back. High-value Web content involves true interactivity: site visitors provide data about themselves, and, in exchange, get back a greater depth of information. Most important to that visitor, the information can relate directly to them. Think about what knowledge, and access to knowledge, your busines has that could interest your target customers. Start your content development there.

On-line communities, or communities-of-interest, can provide tremendous value to site visitors as well. Create discussion areas around specific topics or interests. Give community members access to related informatiion and buying opportunities. This way, you engage site visitors and form a stronger relationship, which often leads to revenue opportunities. To start an on-line community, pick a topic or interest you are passionate about. It doesn't guarantee your success, but means you'll have more insight about what will make it live and grow.

Many small businesses go on-line to seek new sales. It costs less to set-up a virtual retail operation and your reach exceeds that of a physical retailer. Remember, your competition has similar, low barriers of entry to this type of business; so, you need to consider your strategy clearly. Why would buyers seek you out? What is your point-of-difference? Can you sustain that difference over time? Products and services that typically sell well online are those where buyers are given information on the product, such as reviews, before purchasing. Commercial sites offering books, travel, wine, stocks, music and software fit this category.

Even with all three elements in place, you must promote your site to get people through the doors of your virtual storefront. Register your site at the major search engines, directories and online Web malls. This helps build "foot traffic" to your Web site through links. Also, combine your real world marketing strategies with your Web marketing efforts. Place your Web site and e-mail addresses on business cards, brochures, retail counters, store windows, and advertisements. Not every visitor who visits will return, so use every opportunity to exchange some of your knowledge (a newsletter, for example) for their email addresses. With these addresses captured, you can conduct outbound marketing to invite one-time visitors back with an attractive promotion or learning opportunity. This will keep the traffic to your site on the rise.

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