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How To Get Past These 5 Common Challenges To Selling Online

From finding the right website builder to figuring out how customers will pay you, there’s a lot to consider when opening an online store.

Amit Mathradas

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With the new year comes the opportunity to look back at your business strategy and determine where you can grow. For many, taking their business online is still a bridge to be crossed – in fact, 29 percent of brick-and-mortar small businesses still don’t have an ecommerce website, according to a survey by Clutch of 355 U.S. small-business owners. And online shopping isn’t slowing anytime soon. Recent data from NRF shows that online and non-store holiday sales generated $138.4 billion – an 11.5 percent increase over 2016. The upside of online business expansion is too valuable to be ignored – opening a new sales channel and developing meaningful relationships with your customers can be the key to driving new revenue.

Before you open an online store, you need to be aware of the challenges you may face right out of the gate. Building a plan to address these can you set you up for success for when you finally open your virtual doors.

Here are five major things to consider when making the leap to selling online:

1. Finding the right service providers

When you build your website, one of the first critical decisions is finding the right service providers, from website builders to payments processors and everything in between. Do your homework to understand what features you’ll actually need, how the various services are priced and whether you’re getting a solution that can grow with your business. If you’re not sure what you need or what to look for, reach out to fellow business owners in your area for their recommendations.

Related: Have We Lost Our Face-To-Face Sales Ability?

Many providers also have resources that can help. For example, recent BigCommerce research showed that 64 percent of shoppers are more likely to make a purchase on an easy-to-navigate website, proving that aesthetics go a long way. The right provider can help you create a professional, secure customer experience while helping you understand why.

2. Making it easy for customers to pay you

Customers want choice, so be prepared to let them pay however they want. It’s a good way to increase customer satisfaction and help drive more sales. A recent PYMNTS.com Checkout Conversion Index shows that 40 percent of online shoppers abandon their carts in the period between visiting a business’s website and completing a transaction. So, if customers already have their payment information saved with a service like Apple Pay, Amazon Pay or PayPal, it’ll be easier for them to shop and buy – especially on their mobile devices – when you accept these payment methods.

3. Reconciling online and offline payments

online-payment-solutionReconciling online and in-store purchases can get tricky. That’s where cloud-based tools can save you time and headaches. For example, accounting software that integrates well with popular payment providers can help you track your invoices in one location. So, whether you get paid online or in your storefront, these tools easily and automatically reconcile the payments, cutting down on time spent manually sorting through spreadsheets and outstanding invoices. They can also be a big help at tax time.

Related: 5 Strategic Ways Your Sales And Marketing Teams Need To Collaborate

4. Expanding your customer base into new markets

One of the many benefits of selling online is that it opens up your business to customers in new markets around the globe. When selling overseas, however, it’s important to tailor your online shopping experience for international buyers. The key things to consider when selling outside your borders include: website translation; localized, secure payment methods; pricing that enables you to compete with local vendors; and transparency around currency exchanges and fees.

5. Connecting the in-store and online shopping experiences

Shoppers are increasingly expecting a more seamless, consistent multichannel shopping experience. It’s important to make your online and brick-and-mortar properties extensions of one another. Try offering services like “buy online, pick-up in store” and “buy online, return in store” to create unique and engaging experiences for shoppers that also help drive sales. This strategy also enables you to make the most of your physical presence in a way that online-only platforms can’t.

Making the move online is an exciting prospect for any business. Do your homework in the areas above to help you build a smart business plan that ultimately leads to growth in both your online and offline sales channels.

Resource: Apps To Help You Write A Business Plan

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Amit Mathradas is Senior Director and General Manager of PayPal's North American Small Business unit. Before joining PayPal, Amit was Senior Vice President and GM at Web.com. The information in this article has been prepared by PayPal and is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal, financial, business or investment advice of any kind and is not a substitute for qualified professional advice.

Company Posts

Why Customers Don’t Respond To Disruption

You’ve got chatbots running your customer service, interactive screens across your stores and you’ve just appointed a chief digital officer. Why aren’t you seeing sales going through the roof?

PwC

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PwC partner Quinton Pienaar says there could be many reasons for this. But the short answer is probably that in your understandable rush to stay relevant and keep up with the latest technology trends and developments, you lost sight of your number one priority. You’re just not that into your customers – and they know it.

It’s fairly easy to get dazzled by the array of technologies out there. But the trap that you’ve got to guard against is that you start seeing the world through a technology lens, rather than a customer one. Remember, technology is a tool, not an outcome. It’s the means to the end, not the end itself.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be transforming your business digitally. You absolutely should. But there’s a big difference between investing in technology to keep up with the Joneses, and investing in technology that’s going to drive specific business outcomes and improve the customer experience.

Related: Reimagine The Use Of Technology

In fact, it would be downright dangerous to ignore the game-changing benefits that the current wave of emerging technologies brings to the table. To understand what they can do for your business, you have to know what they are. We at PwC talk about the ‘essential eight’:

  • The Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the building blocks for the next generation of digital work.
  • Robotics, drones, and 3-D printing are all about machines that extend the reach of computing power into the material world.
  • Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) merge the physical and digital realms, and offer incredible advances in customer experience.
  • Blockchain rethinks our approach to commercial transactions by allowing participants to exchange value, and verify ownership of something, without a third party.

Some of these technologies are verging on science fiction. So how do we use them in a way that supports customer obsession? The starting point of any successful customer transformation is a customer-focused design that brings together three essential elements – business strategy, customer experience and technology – into a coherent, fully-fledged digital strategy.

In other words, today’s most successful companies have a strategy that is focused around a simple and regularly-updated list of priorities. They incorporate the new generation of technologies like IoT, blockchain and AI. But they keep their people, and their customers at the core of their business by designing strategies that directly address customers’ underlying needs and desired outcomes.

Related: Why Your Latest Tech Investment Might Not Be Wowing Your Customers

This sounds dead obvious. But what we find is that many companies we talk to are focused on growing their revenues, or making improvements to their products and services, rather than creating better customer experiences. Or they have the strategy, but are battling to execute it effectively.

Of course, to underpin this customer transformation journey, you’re going to need some data and the foundational technologies on which today’s innovations depend – data mining and analytics, mobile, and cloud. You may also need to rethink your processes to manage, enrich and maintain data, and operationalise it throughout your business.

So you have all of that in place? Good. Now stop. Breathe. Ask yourself whether your technology and data are truly supporting an unwavering focus on the customer. Because if you take one message from this article, let it be this: in today’s marketplace, putting your customer at the centre of your business is imperative to driving growth and profitability, winning market share and unlocking the value of your technology investments.

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Techniques

How To Seal The Deal By Understanding The 3 Phases Of The Customer Buying Cycle

If you want to close more sales, you need to understand the three phases of the customer buying cycle.

Pieter Scholtz

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A common misconception is that business transactions are simple affairs: Customers express interest in something, they buy, and then they leave. This is a vast oversimplification of what is at work.

Business majors and entrepreneurs have spent decades plotting out and exploiting every step of a customer’s buying process to better attract and retain clients. There are three sequential steps that customers take when they show an interest in purchasing something. Each phase reflects a different stage of their mentality, meaning that the ideal strategy to exploit each phase will differ.

These three phases are awareness, interest, and purchase. Awareness is the phase where they first become aware of the product or service that you are offering. Interest reflects the period where they show that they might want to buy your product — a customer that enquires about specific details relating to what you sell would be a good example. Targeted sales pitches are usually made in this phase. Lastly, purchase is the period where they make their final evaluation and the decision to purchase from you.

Understanding how to address the needs of each phase will go a long way towards boosting your sales and securing long-term business from your customers.

1. Awareness

This is the incipient phase of a customer’s awareness of who you are and what you are all about. This phase of the customer buying cycle is where customers make their first assessment of you. This phase is important because it’s where you can craft your message to appeal to the desired market segment.

Related: What Really Drives Sales Growth And Repeat Business?

Another important tool that is commonly used during this phase is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). This refers to the practice of tailoring your website to the demographic that you wish to target.

Businesses will commonly insert relevant keywords into their indexed pages with the intention of leading searching customers to their website.

2. Interest

This phase of the customer buying cycle is when customers express interest in buying from you. The awareness phase is where you grab their attention, and this phase is where you have a chance to build upon it. Customers are typically non-committal during this phase; they are usually conducting additional research and/or shopping around.

Targeting buyers during this phase means that you need to give your potential customer a compelling reason to purchase from you instead of your competitors.

The responsibility here is two-fold: First, you need to market yourself as the solution to the customer’s unique problem. Second, you need to address the customer’s needs and perspectives. Businesses will frequently offer positive reviews and testimonials of their products to convince these potential customers that they offer the solution to their needs. Offering a persuasive sales pitch is only half of the solution: Make sure that the customer feels that you are concerned with what they want.

3. Purchase

This phase of the customer buying cycle includes not only the actual purchase of the product or service itself, but also the final evaluation. During this phase they might still be reviewing their options, however, the difference is that they have shown a distinct desire to purchase the product or service in question.

Related: 3 Strategies For Closing Sales Without Picking Up The Phone

This gives you an opportunity to give the customer a more comprehensive overview of what it is that they wish to purchase, and it is also the appropriate time to upsell additional products or features.

Car dealerships are especially fond of this point in the cycle. Once the customer sits down and begins negotiating the price of their future vehicle, the sales team moves in and does everything they can to get that person to buy the car. Whether they slash the price, throw in extra bonuses or offer them rebates, they will do whatever it takes to turn that expressed interest into an actual sale. This is where you want the sales team to take over: The amount of persuasiveness and personal magnetism they exhibit is every bit as important as their receptiveness and concern for the customer’s needs.

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Techniques

How To Stay One Step Ahead In The Knowledge Era

How do you succeed when your customers, competitors and even employees know as much as you do or more?

Ed Hatton

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‘They’ are customers and potential customers, but also suppliers, bankers, service providers, and business partners. The balance of power used to come from knowledge you owned and they needed. The huge amount of information now readily available has changed that balance of power. This change has been most significant in sales, so this article will focus on sales, although the principles apply to other business relationships.

In former times, the salesperson was the custodian of knowledge. Their role was to show your offering in the most favourable light and to push for a sale. Many salespeople still use this approach and can seriously irritate prospective customers.

Information is freely available

We live and work in a world where information is freely available. Prospective customers can (and do) find significant amounts of information about you and your company without making any contact. This is especially true of B2B sales. Aquity Group found that 94% of US B2B buyers conducted research online.

There is accessible information everywhere: On websites, social media, directories, credit information bureaus, review sites, market analysis, blogs and personal profiles of you, your managers and staff. Knowledge acquired by the buyer can change the traditional buyer/ seller roles significantly. In many cases the buyer knows more than the salesperson. If your organisation ignores this change, your salespeople become simple order clerks.

If you stay in this passive role, you take the risk that competitors could produce better online information than you do, causing you to fall off your buyer’s radar. Falling sales may be your first indication that this is happening, and by then you may already be in trouble.

It is relatively easy for even a small competitor to generate a strong, content-rich Internet presence and appear to be the better supplier. Do some online research, as if you were a potential customer and see how you shape up against your competitors. It’s also good to check where your company and its services are mentioned by doing keyword searches. Then take steps to improve your online presence, even if you seem to be the leader right now. Things change with frightening rapidity in the online world and you need to get and stay far ahead of, or at least abreast of competitors.

Varying knowledge levels

Buyers have varying amounts of knowledge about the type of product or service you sell. Some of that information may be wrong or distorted. This means you have an opportunity to provide information and correct misinformation. Online content is much more than having a website that is an electronic brochure. People in search of knowledge about the type of solutions you provide will turn naturally to content that educates them.

This means sharing your knowledge in the form of articles, blogging, webinars, video tutorials and similar media. You want to take the position of subject expert in your field. Your competitors will see this information too and may benefit from your knowledge, but the advantage of your company being regarded as an expert in your field far outweighs minor disadvantages.

Upskilling salespeople

However much online information is available there is still an emotional involvement in sales — buyers want to trust their suppliers. This means that salespeople are very important in the relationship. They may need to change their behaviour to something more in tune with the knowledge era. Their role includes being ethical, correcting misconceptions, supplementing information and making sure that customer needs are understood and satisfied.

They will destroy a lot of trust if the customer believes they are pushy or more interested in commissions than solutions to the customer’s problems. It is important for the salespeople to educate themselves, to keep in touch with what is happening in the knowledge era and to continually improve their skills in this new style of selling.

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