Small Business Services

Online Sales Sinking? Retool Your Strategy

The concept of having a “strategy” is many centuries old. It was first used in military settings, but the word is ubiquitous these days. The football coach has a strategy for scoring more points than the rival team Saturday afternoon. The school district has a strategy for producing successful, engaged students. The struggling health care facility has a strategy for keeping its doors open.

Businesspeople talk about their strategies a lot, whether they use the word or not. And if you’re trying to sell online in the ridiculously competitive e-commerce universe, you have to answer the same questions that the ancient military leaders and the modern-day football coach share. What are we fighting for? How do we win? What does victory look like?

Your online sales strategy is not your business plan—it’s not broken down into so many details—and it’s not your set of goals and objectives. It comes closest to being your company’s mission statement, and should answer a handful of questions, like:

Why did you start the business? If your answer is to make as much money as we can, your corporate culture and your operations will be very different than if you said to bring back the lost art of handwriting by creating and selling superior writing tools. In either case, you of course want to make a profit. But do you see how business decisions might differ between the two?

Who can benefit from your products and/or services? You don’t have to answer this one down to the zip code or other demographic. But you know who your core customers will be – and who you’d like them to be.

Are you trying to solve an existing problem, or are you trying to create a need? Have you developed a way to manufacture a garden hose that really won’t kink, or a cutting instrument that will really open that blasted plastic packaging without breaking? Or does the world need [fill in the blank]?

How will you be different from other vendors, if they exist? Again, keep it general. You can do spec sheets later. But either you started the business because you had a better mousetrap or you wanted to jump on the bandwagon. Pick your cliché.

What is the endgame? Sometimes it’s obvious. If you’re trying to invent a shopping cart whose wheels don’t wobble and which has an antibacterial coating on the handle and you manage to do so, there’s the battle that won the war or the touchdown that took the team over the top. On to retirement – or the next strategy.

Other entrepreneurs would say they’ll feel they’ve succeeded when they grow attractive enough to be acquired by another company. Many would say to stay in business or to expand into [x] market or to increase profits and staff by [x] every year or to be the country’s sales leader.

Strategy First, Then Tactics

Once you’ve clarified what it is that you’re trying to do with this business of yours, you can start formulating tactics. In military terms, your strategy might be to win the war and being peace to the region. Your tactics are all of the things you’re going to do to bring that about. Some people call those “strategies.”

Call them what you want, as long as you’re clear on your overall mission. Here’s a quick list of micro-tactics for your website that may move some of your prospects into the “Customer” column:

  • Make your headlines work for you. Spell out a benefit in them or describe a problem solved, but make them descriptive and compelling.
  • Don’t overwhelm your audience with too many product or services on one page.
  • Build a sense of urgency into some pages. Prices only good until midnight. First 100 respondents get the discount.
  • Don’t make your audience hunt to find your opt-in offers, your contact information, or your sale items.
  • Keep blocks of text short, and use bullet lists, subheads – anything you can do to improve readability.
  • Extend your reach. Use sharing buttons to encourage your audience to move your wares to social media pages.

It will be easier to develop your own list once you have a clear strategy in mind. After all, how will you know if you’ve succeeded if you don’t know what it is that you’re trying to do?

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