The Future of Social Selling is… Your Website

social tree*The Next Generation of Buyers – The end of August means it’s time for the Millenials to head back to school. And these Millenials are your future buyers if they’re not your buyers already. In this blog series, we discuss three things that matter to Millenials and how they matter for your website: Privacy, Mobile Devices, and Social Media.

A question on the minds of marketers and sales teams everywhere is how to use social media to gain more customers. Is social media a marketing tool? Is it a sales platform? Does it offer a good ROI? Tons of questions went unanswered in the infancy of the new medium.

With research from Forrester, the verdict is in on social selling. The future of social selling is still your website.

All Roads Lead To Your Webstore

Yep, that stalwart of e-commerce is just as important as ever. According to Forrester, e-businesses see little direct benefit from their Facebook stores. Selling directly from the social marketplace did not correlate to a high quantity of near-term sales. The social media stores also tracked behind other customer acquisition techniques like paid search and email marking when it came to ROI.

Forrester did have positive impressions of social media’s ability to raise awareness though.   This means that social media remains an excellent tool to drive people to your pre-existing webstore.

While it’s helpful to get this research from Forrester on social stores, the writing may have been on the wall for social media anyway. The leading Facebook commerce firm Payvment closed down its sales app, leaving behind its 200,000 merchants. And in previous years, large retailers like Gap, JC Penny, Nordstrom, and Gamestop all closed their Facebook stores.

Customers don’t go on social media to buy. They go on social media to interact with friends and family, to learn about new brands, and to post pictures of their cats. When attempting social selling directly on a social media site, you must compete with a lot of distractions.

Another reason is that in selling directly from a social media’s page, you have much less control over the customer journey. Social media sites simply lack functionality that a quality e-commerce site does have, such as personalization. This functionality is what gives you control and the ability to guide your customer towards a sale.

There are even more social media problems when it comes to checkout. Some social media sites demand you use their own checkout service, which are often limited in options. There’s no guarantee that a social media storefront offers all the features you want, such as your own login system, international payments, integration of new payment methods like Square, and integration with your CRM.   When a user-friendly eCommerce site is only a click away, why would you subject your visitors to social selling where someone else controls their customer experience?

Furthermore, when you create a storefront on a social media site, you cede control of your branding. The site that your store is embedded in has its own colors and fonts. If your branding visually contrasts with the social media site, you end up with an ugly store. Social media sites also have their own rules about layouts, size and dimensions of images, and other aesthetics.

Social selling is not doom and gloom though. We do have to properly define what social selling is good for. As Forrester mentions in their research, social media is a great tool for awareness. Visitors to your social media pages share experiences with your brand and comment on your products. This interaction drives brand loyalty and ultimately sales.

Social selling, then, becomes a marketing medium where you send customers to your superior website to make their purchase.

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Customer Experience is the Mobile Experience

mobile*The Next Generation of Buyers – The end of August means it’s time for the Millenials to head back to school. And these Millenials are your future buyers if they’re not your buyers already. In this blog series, we discuss three things that matter to Millenials and how they matter for your website: Privacy, Mobile Devices, and Social Media.

What does the number 6.8 billion mean to you? If you guessed “the world’s population”, you’d be close. Actually, 6.8 billion is 96% of the world’s population. 6.8 billion is also the number of mobile subscriptions in the world! That’s a lot of people, and a lot of potential customers.

Of course, those potential customers wouldn’t be visiting your website on a PC, but on their phones or their tablets. More and more, the customer’s web experience is the mobile experience.

With so many mobile subscribers, the popular dictum that mobile web users are always on the move is no longer true. Whether “on the go” or “on the couch,” customers like using their smartphones and tablets to surf websites and consume content.   So how well are companies currently delivering the mobile experience?

According to a study by IBM, performed by eConsultancy, 70% of marketers described their multichannel experience for customers as either “okay” or “poor.” Meanwhile, 19% of their total website traffic came from mobile devices!

Delivering a poor customer experience to 19% of your customers might turn away a fifth of your business. According to the study, 89% of customers chose to do business with a competitor after a single negative customer experience.

The good news is that marketers and companies want to do better. The bad news is that 40% of the IBM/eConsultancy respondents said that delivering a positive customer experience is more difficult on mobile than desktop.

The survey’s respondents were asked to list barriers to a good mobile experience. Let’s take a look at the top three concerns for mobile websites:

1. Bad Navigation. The first aspect of navigation is to know your interface.  An interface is how a customer interacts with their device.  With a desktop computer, you use a mouse and keyboard.  With most smartphones and tablets, it’s all touch-based.

To give a good experience to your customer, your website should adapt to the device they’re using. Good navigation for mobile often includes larger touchscreen buttons, so people don’t have to struggle to click tiny links.

One big mistake companies often make when designing for the mobile experience is that they eliminate important pieces of content from the mobile site, making erroneous assumptions about how users browse their site. No longer should mobile sites be handicapped compared to the main site.

Give your website visitors the experience they’re accustomed to on the full desktop, including site search. When users can’t find the content they’re looking for, whether a product catalog or a contact page, this makes for confusing navigation.

2. Small Screens. iPhones, Galaxies, RAZRs, Droids, Lumias, tablets, and a partridge in a pear tree.  How is a company supposed to know what devices a person is using?  Fortunately, there is a way. The way forward is responsive design.

Responsive design adapts your website to a number of different screen sizes.  The design is grid-based, meaning it intelligently scales your content, both words and images, to the size of the screen.

3. Difficulty Completing Forms. Because we’ve been discussing touch-based interfaces, it stands to reason that touchscreens, which are great for quickly flicking and browsing, might not make the best for standard keyboard entries when you need to type something in. If you make it easier to fill in forms for even the most impatient customers, then you remove yet another barrier to a positive mobile experience.

One way to make forms easier is to offer a login. It sounds simple, but a login allows your customer to then automatically fill in forms and fields, such as billing and shipping information, based on previously entered info. Also, because many people are already signed into their social media accounts on their mobile devices, you may want to enable them to log into your site using their social accounts, such as LinkedIn, Google+, or Facebook.

As a final word on the importance of the mobile experience, the IBM/eConsultancy survey noted that the number of companies who said that mobile accounted for more than 20% of their traffic has doubled in the past year. If trends continue, expect more and more potential customers to be visiting your website, not on a PC, but in the palm of their hands. And if you want to give them a good customer experience, that means giving a good mobile experience, wherever they are.

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The Surprising Future of Privacy Concerns for Online Marketing

Privacy*The Next Generation of Buyers – The end of August means it’s time for the Millenials to head back to school. And these Millenials are your future buyers if they’re not your buyers already. In this blog series, we discuss three things that matter to Millenials and how they matter for your website: Privacy, Mobile Devices, and Social Media.

A lot is being made of privacy these days. We all want to believe that our personal information and communications are private, whether it’s the email we sent to our business partner or the text we sent to Mom. But how do privacy concerns affect online marketing when so much of your marketing benefits from gathering information about your prospects and leads?   Where does the future lead?

Despite privacy concerns, the future actually looks brighter than ever for online marketing. According to a new study by Mintel, 60% of Millenials are willing to share personal details with brands. Regardless of news reports of NSA wiretaps and Google’s omniscient satellites, Millenials are still more open to sharing their personal info than previous generations.

We don’t exactly know why Millenials seem relatively unfazed by privacy concerns. Maybe they don’t care because they already give over their information to Google and Facebook. Maybe because they grew up with the Internet’s lack of privacy. What we do know is that those Millenials are your customers today, and more of them will be your customers tomorrow. And the more they share info with you, the better it is for the future of your e-business.

When your prospects and leads share personal information, it directly benefits your online marketing because this info is used to tailor content specifically to them. You want to know their interests, their pain points, their needs, their values. You want to personalize their experiences on your website and in their email inbox. And you want to follow up with them using the contact information they provide.

The Mintel study also shows that a good offer overrides privacy concerns. Even for the information that Millenials considered the most private, 30% still said they would submit this info to a brand if they received a good enough offer in exchange. This is compared to only 13% of Baby Boomers.

Of course, your offer has to be relevant and compelling for your potential customer. Whether you offer a discount or a piece of great content, such as a whitepaper or case study, Millenials want to see value in the trade for their info. Webinars or other content that require your website visitor to sign up also make for fair exchanges for contact info.

The quality of the content matters, and so too does the quality of the lead form. The lead form is where your prospect submits their information to you. The more enticing the lead form, the better chance of conversion.

An effective lead form is both aesthetically appealing and designed to direct your prospect’s eye to certain parts of the page. A concise, compelling call to action tells the visitor what you want them to do (“Register Here”), and the rest of your page makes the case why this exchange is in their best interest. A shorter lead form also improves the chances that your prospect makes it all the way to the end. Optimizing your lead form often makes the difference between capturing a lead’s info and having them click away.

If the new study from Mintal teaches us anything, it’s that the future is optimistic for online marketing. More than before, your customers are willing to share their personal information with you, regardless of the privacy concerns that consume the news. With great power comes great responsibility, so use their info wisely to improve their customer experience with personalization, maintain their privacy, and increase sales.

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Why Niche Businesses Thrive in e-Commerce

Camera LensPicture a photography enthusiast on a safari. Suddenly their jeep bounces unexpectedly, and they drop their expensive 120mm lens for their Nikon camera. It shatters. But as an enthusiast, this person is an informed customer. When a customer knows what they want and they want it fast, niche e-businesses thrive.

E-commerce is more than just taking an existing business and plopping it on the web. A truly dynamic e-business leverages the advantages of being online. When you’ve identified niche, doing business in the online space is a core strength.

Specialized storefronts may be hard to find locally. Rent can get to be a bit pricey when the business only serves a limited geographic area with a niche product. Niche e-businesses, on the other hand, are able to offer specialized products, like specific lenses, to people all around the world. An e-business may also tailor specific aspects of the shopping process (such as shipping) to the specific products offered.

Specific products also tend to come with all sorts of accessories as well. Cameras have lenses and tripods and filters and all sorts of gizmos. When a niche e-business carries these accessories, cross-selling leads to increased revenues. These peripheral items are often items that consumers need, whether the business serves passionate hobbyists or specialized B2B clients.

Enthusiast customers or people in specialized fields also like dealing with companies that know the product. For the lens example, a customer wants someone that knows the difference between a 120mm lens and a tripod. This knowledge and expertise instills confidence in the customer.

Niche e-businesses hold up well against the big boys. Finding the correct lens at an Amazon or eBay could be a crapshoot, and they’re certainly not going to offer the expertise and specialization that can come with being a master of their domain. If a customer wants a specific lens, they probably want a store that deals confidently with camera equipment all the time. They want a store that knows a scratched lens is a valid reason for return or that has downloadable PDF instruction manuals for each camera.

E-commerce also gives the niche business a perfect opportunity to flaunt their expertise with content marketing. In addition to downloadable PDF instruction manuals, blogs, whitepapers, case studies, videos, and other types of content draw in your target market. These customers are those that use search engines to find, specifically, information that is presented in your content.

Providing a specific, knowledgeable store is where niche businesses thrive in e-commerce. Without having to risk appealing to a limited market in a single shopping center, a niche business online has the reach of a thousand tiny storefronts.

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Selling Many Flavors: Microsoft Dynamics NAV and Product Configuration

ice creamThink about all that data in your Microsoft Dynamics NAV system. An ERP holds a lot of knowledge. Everything from inventory to product info. Baskin Robbins boasts about having 31 flavors, but it’s possible your products come in even more flavors. So how do you deliver all these flavors to your customers with the self-service options that improve the customer experience? Product configuration is your answer.

Some customers want vanilla frozen yogurt in a cone. Other customers want a scoop of pistachio with sprinkles in a cup. Configuration is for more than just Baskin Robbins though. Configuration, by way of an online configurator, empowers the customer to define the features they want to have for the product they want to build. And the best news is that you don’t have to switch ERPs or go through an intermediary to make it all work. Just integrate your Microsoft Dynamics NAV with the configurator, and you reap the benefits.

Inventory Integration and Information

When you integrate a product configurator with your Microsoft Dynamics NAV, your customer is no longer limited to seeing only the stock on the shelves. Instead, you give them the full power of your inventory. Customers who know what they’re looking for get to experience the whole range of options before them. To take it back to ice cream – because who doesn’t love ice cream? – customers like to know if you’re out of gummy bears or if you only have waffle cones available.

For B2B, it gets much more complicated than frozen desserts. B2B customers are on the hunt for complex, specific solutions, so both of you benefit when you give them access to inventory data. The inventory integration also automates updates to your website in real-time. Stock levels, product info, and even specific pricing or discounts are all handled with the immediacy your customer expects.

Configuration Boosts Customer Experience

Customers appreciate a good self-service solution, and that’s what online product configuration provides. The customer experience is greatly enhanced when customers don’t have to go through long waiting periods or phone calls to customize the product order they want. They just build it on your site and hit submit. And because of the ubiquity of the Internet, this is a process that is done at their convenience. The inventory data from your Microsoft Dynamics NAV updates automatically on your site, available for configuration, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Pricing: You Have Options        

Depending on your product, there are different options for pricing. One option is to present the price as the configuration is being done. When the customer adds Component A, then the price automatically adjusts, courtesy of that Microsoft Dynamics NAV integration. This is convenient for you and them.

The other option is for your customer to submit a quote. Sending in for a quote is also convenient for the customer because they got to take all the time in the world tweaking and customizing their chosen product prior to submission. Then, after they know what they want, your sales team contacts the customer via email or phone and works out the pricing.

Dependencies and Constraints

You might be wondering how a product configurator works so well. After all, there are combinations and configurations of parts that just aren’t possible. Anchovies don’t work with chocolate mousse, and some manufacturing parts don’t go with other parts. Fortunately, that’s where a powerful configurator like the Cincom Guru saves the day.

The Cincom Guru integrates with Microsoft Dynamics NAV, allowing you to set dependencies and constraints. Dependencies mean that some parts must be included with other parts, because the product only works when those two are included. Constraints mean that some products are limited in what they include, due to power consumption or size limitations. All of this is automated and seamless for the customer. Your customer never has to worry about creating an impossible product.

Customization for the Customer

Product configuration streamlines the sales process for you and your customer. And the road to a better customer experience begins with the Microsoft Dynamics NAV system you already have. When it comes to your ERP and product configurator, integration hasn’t tasted this good since peanut butter and chocolate.

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