Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Want to grow sales online? Don't just list. Sell.



At a gathering at a friend’s place some weeks back, I was introduced to a businessman & his sister. When the host introduced me to them, his immediate response was “Oh Digital Consultant eh? E-Commerce and all that? But, does all this really work? My sister too tried some of this e-commerce thing but nothing much happened you know?”

His sister went on to explain how she had tried to expand her small family business online by listing some of their products on marketplaces. They employed a few local artisans who made handmade gifts with local designs which they then sold to some local shops and foreign buyers who regularly bought a fixed quantity. Wanting to grow the business, she had listed on 4 different marketplaces but sales were far and few in between and she had almost given up on online.

My first question to her was “So you listed your products on marketplaces. What did you do to sell?” She had no answer. So I asked her how did she sell currently, and she said that she didn’t and those who bought came to them and picked up a lot in one go depending on the designs and then repeated the orders from time to time. They bought regularly and so the business had been since decades. When she listed on marketplaces she was hopeful of being able to showcase the products to a larger audience and sell more and grow the business. But that had not worked.

So I explained – “Imagine if you sent your products to one of the large retail chains in your city to sell. What would you think would happen? Would your products sell?” “Yes” she replied. “If they were visible and the sales people were trained to explain the intricacy of the work and that it was all handmade, and if the pricing was right, we could sell”.  Then I told her “Now multiply that one retail shop and the probable sales by a few hundred times and more and that is what an online marketplace is. However just like in an offline retail shop, in online too your products need visibility, introduction, special pricing to increase sales, and a lot of other effort.” “All you have done so far is list. Now try selling” I added. “Think as a potential buyer would, and then go on to list your products. And this time list so as to enable discovery, bring out the wow, don’t just show but showcase, price it right and then go back and do it over again, and again till you get it right and you will start selling.”

She took my advice seriously and got back to me for more details later and did implement some of what I had advised. Just a few days back I got a message from her that she was now selling in a week what earlier took her more than a month to sell. And this, while she had not fully been able to implement everything as yet (I had recommended automating some things by implementing available software solutions and a few other things that she was still in the process of finalizing).

I have altered the story here a bit for the sake of simplicity and as I don’t want to name any one person or brand but this is not the first time I had met sellers like her. I have been approached by seller’s time & again, some existing brands and some new ones, and the issues is the same. Excited by the digital story they go out and list items on marketplaces, but sales don’t really grow much. Some had even tried starting their own e-commerce websites and some form of marketing too but it had not really helped.

The key problem with most of such sellers in the online space whose business I have helped turn around, is that they thought all they needed to do was to list. Of course there are other issues such as delivery and handling returns and customer feedback etc. but not selling is what I found common to most. And that is critical.


So if you are a seller who is struggling to grow sales on marketplaces, my first input to you is “Don’t just list. Sell.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Should you outsource your online marketplace sales?

An article in the ET today talked about how marketplaces are turning to advertising as a way to increase revenues. It also talked about how smaller sellers are turning to online distributors to manage their online marketing & sales.

The first part about marketplaces opening up advertising for sellers and brands was a given and bound to happen soon. Amazon has been doing this very successfully in the other markets for some years and now in India too. It is a win-win for both and other marketplaces have to follow. Its logical and it works for the marketplace, the seller as well as the customer.

As regards the second part where sellers are outsourcing their online marketing and sales, that’s the part I want to talk about today.

About two years back, in July 2014 I had written a blog post “How to sell your products online” to help people get on to selling on marketplaces. Sometime in August the same year I had written another post “How to increase your online sales” to help sellers understand the importance of analytics and marketing.

The basics are still valid, but the number of people trying to sell online in this span of 2 years has grown multi-fold. Competition has also thus grown. Not only are there more sellers, but there are also more robust and multiple marketplaces. There were not many experienced third party online marketers in India offering online management of marketplace sales at that point in time, and those that were, had just started. Same was the case with third party software to manage inventory and sales across marketplaces in India.


Selling online and specially so at marketplaces, though simple can be daunting for a newbie as they get started. It takes, time, manpower, analytics and of course some common sense apart from money. Let’s face it, first time online sellers or small sellers find it difficult to get their products online and selling, and specially so in a market like India where knowledge and experience of online sales is limited. The fact that these people are not just giving up, but turning to businesses which specialize in this, is a good sign. And that such businesses are growing, is also a good sign.

What sellers must however keep in mind is that selling online is like opening a retail shop in a mall but a virtual one. And whatever you do, if you are a serious long term player, then outsourcing all your retail outlets at all the malls for a longer period may not really work that well. You have to manage your stock, your price, your customer experience and feedback and use it all to learn and grow your business and grow your customer base. That can only happen if you run at least a one such store yourself, then a few more, understand the dynamics of how it works and apply it to other such stores as you open them.


How does one sell online? By cataloging the products well - the title, the description, the images, the price and the description and keywords. By marketing. Then monitoring & analysing the results and tweaking all of these based on the customer response. Deciding on stocks and procurement and product innovations. Monitoring and responding to the reviews and ratings. Ensuring timely delivery and managing returns. Monitoring the competition on a regular ongoing basis and building your strategy. Monitoring sales and price point triggers. Taking all this this information and using it to create better products. And a lot more.

Now tell me can a third party know your product or customer or competition better than you? Can they understand the seasons, and buying patterns & behavior for your products better than you? Can they internalize this knowledge to make or source better products or its variants and respond to the customer better? Can they be as committed to your long term success as you?

Yes, they would understand the nuances and technicalities of the front end and back end better, they would be more adept at using software to manage inventory and logistics. They would have the knowledge of selling multiple kinds of products across marketplaces and hence would know tips and tricks better, and may also have better relationships with the marketing managers at some of the marketplaces. So, you do need the technical expertise that they possess. But online selling is a combination of product knowledge, customer knowledge, technology, warehousing delivery and logistics, CRM, analytics, and marketing.


So my suggestion to all people starting or wanting to start now is to start small yourself, or by outsourcing, but learn fast and move it in-house as soon as possible. And learn all the way. Finally, only you can understand your own products, market and consumer as well as you do. Slowly build a team of people who can master the software to manage your sales, inventory & logistics. So if you want to really do this well and do this long term, then at the right time take it in house. Use the right software and build a team to manage your online sales. If you are also selling offline, then integrate the two teams so that learning from one can easily flow across to the other and both can leverage on each other’s strengths to increase business.


Do it slowly if required, but do it well. Learn, adapt, use all the software available to automate as much as you can. Online sales is here to stay and will continue to grow over the years. It can help you reach markets you could not reach before and also give you information that you can use to create better products and brands. Internalize it. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Is Social Media Marketing Dying?

And once again the debate has begun. Is Social Media Marketing Dead? Is it dying? How does it affect you as a Marketing professional or Business owner?

Josh Bernoff, co-author of Groundswell, the bestselling book on the topic, says in his recent blog 'Social Media is just mostly dead'.  Augie Ray (founder of Experience: The Blog) wrote a post 'Burn It Down, Start From Scratch And Build a Social Media Strategy That Works'. Jamie Turner followed these with a post 'The end of social media as you know it.'

So what is the answer? Is it dead or mostly dead or dying? and what should you do? Do you need to scrap your Social Media Marketing efforts?

The answer actually is simple. Social media by itself is not dead or dying. Social Media is actually growing. What is happening however, is that a lot of Businesses, Marketing professionals and Agencies are realizing that what they are doing on social media is not working.

While some of that has to do with the changes happening on social media platforms itself (e.g the throttling of organic reach of Brand posts on Facebook), a lot of it has to do with what a lot of businesses have been doing on social media so far. In some ways it is like this toon from getsatisfaction.com
Over the past few years any & every business, got onto the Social media Bandwagon. B2B, B2C, small home based businesses to large corporate houses all got Facebook pages, and had Twitter company accounts and LinkedIn pages and also Pinterest Boards and Instagram accounts. They were all posting multiple times a day on multiple platforms and collecting Likes, Followers, and Shares and doing anything to generate Comments (including funny cat videos and beautiful sunsets with quotes on them). While some activity on some platforms worked for some businesses, most efforts went wasted. Why? Because likes is not equal to sales leads and shares for a photo is not the same as referrals for the brand and comments on a generic  quote is not brand engagement.
  
Are all social media platforms the same? Do you post your personal photos of the Friday party with friends on LinkedIn? or Offer coupons to your target audience in your Television commercial? Of course you don't. You know what social media to use for personal posts and similarly what traditional media to use for your business marketing.  Then why not use the same common sense when using social media for marketing? While audiences at times may be common across multiple platforms, what they do on each platform is different. And that's what businesses have to do also.

So the problem is not with social media but the why, what, when & where of social media marketing. And as I had written last year, in my blog post 'Does Social Media Work' - Social Media does not work. You have to make it work.

What is most important is to have a Strategy - Know what you are doing - for whom, where and why. From acquiring new customers, to getting repeat orders from existing customers, from branding to product sales, from solving customer issues to engaging loyal users and more, Social media can be used for multiple things. However what channel you use for what, depends on your business, your target audience and what you want to achieve.

For a B2B business, LinkedIn and Twitter may work better to connect with businesses and engage with them. For a fashion or lifestyle business, Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook may work better to engage with customers while LinkedIn may work better for recruitment. Customers of Commercial Airlines or Telecom or E-commerce companies, may want to engage with the business more on Facebook, Twitter or even a messaging platform like WhatsApp instead of calling their Call center.

Also some other digital marketing solution may actually work better for a particular business to achieve its objective. Do you want to attract more new customers? For a particular business or brand it is possible that Search marketing or mobile marketing may work better than Social. Do you want to get repeat customers? It is possible that email along with engagement platforms like some specific social channels and messaging platforms may work better for you.
What to do where, starts from why do it, and depends on the business & the target audience. Know what the channel is capable of, who is there and use the most appropriate channel or a mix of channels & activities for each objective and then do the right things there. Then let marketing handle all marketing advertising handle all advertising and CRM handle all customer issues, and the related channels. Don't just bundle all digital activities, from SEO to Social to SEM and E-Commerce and hand it over to a particular department or agency. Don't just be there for the sake of being there.

Build a strategy first. Social is a part of Digital and always evolving. Evolve & Grow with it. And most importantly to really succeed  - Don't just Do Digital, Be Digital.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Brands! Are you listening?

Would you spend money to ignore your customers? Would you spend time & effort to create an impression among your potential customers that you don't care about what they say? Obviously not. They why do it in Digital?


The other day I came across a sponsored post from a leading bank on LinkedIn where, in response, some readers had posted negative comments. That reminded me of the negative comments I have seen from unhappy customers on Facebook posts by a  leading airline. What was common in both the cases was that not once, had I seen any response from the company to these comments. So I checked and realized that these companies were present on different social channels, and were posting regularly. But they almost never responded to any comment negative or positive.

What does this mean? This means you put out a piece of communication that someone has read and responded to that but you ignored them. And lo! there comes another post after that. That too got some responses, some related, and maybe even some unrelated responses, but no one responded to that either! Over a period of time people realize that it's all a one way communication and stop even reading all the content you are regularly churning out. Followers drop, likes reduce and your effort slowly goes down the drain. Worse, people do not connect with your brand or company and hence stop buying from you or using your services as you have created the perception of being unapproachable and unmindful of their views.

Companies spend millions on Branding. They hire experts, create campaigns, and spend again to do brand surveys & gauge customer receptiveness to their brand. But then, they fail to even acknowledge a direct response to their presence?  Here is an opportunity to connect and engage with their current customers and to create an image in the minds of their potential customers and they ignore it? And worse - they don't realize that they are actually creating a negative impression and hurting the brand by their behavior?


Why does this happen? In some cases, it's because the 'job' of posting or churning out content is being handled by people,  or agencies not directly connected with the business, and they are doing just what they were told - to post.  In other cases it's because, people handling dissemination of the post or content do not know whom in the organisation to turn back to for answers to a comment or a query - the marketing department, the tech team, the product team, the CRM team, the CEO? or who? And in some cases it's because, well, they just don't know how to respond.

This is just one aspect of listening in Digital. There are tools out there that can help you listen in to your competitors posts, responses to those, your customers and potential customers posts, the influencer's posts and to responses to your own posts and that too in real time. But only a few companies or brand are using these tools. Listening can tell you so much about your business category, your competition, customer views and opinions, industry views etc. Listening can then help you plan products or services, or changes to the same, it can help you draw out new marketing strategies, it can help you target new customer segments you didn't know existed , it can help you serve your existing customers better, and so much more. And it can help you build a Brand.

Just as I had written in my Blog post titled "Are you listening" highlighting the benefits of listening for effective communication in general, similarly, listening is very important in today's live, always on, connected Digital world.

So are you listening?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Should you move your Digital Marketing in-house?

An article in today's Mint caught my eye. Titled 'Why marketing is moving in-house' the article has been written by Mark W. Schaefer for the Harvard Business Review, and talks about how companies are moving their marketing in-house from agencies. He also explains why. While he has written it more from the perspective of overall marketing, I think the reasons are more to do with Digital.


As a Digital Strategy Consultant, depending on the client's target audience as well as their short term and long term goals, I many a times recommend them to handle digital marketing on their own. I have nothing against agencies and in fact some of the agencies out there do a really great job, and I recommend them too. They can really help companies who are just getting started in Digital as they have the expertise, tools and experience that companies don't.

Then why handle digital marketing in-house? Here's why:

1) Digital marketing almost always, is not a one time or periodic marketing activity. It is continuous and ever evolving, and needs live monitoring and changes on the fly. For something that's always on, alive and can always be continuously bettered on to improve ROI, would you leave that to an external party to handle? or manage it yourself?

2) Digital marketing is directly measurable and results have to be tested continuously, and campaigns tweaked or altered accordingly on an ongoing basis. Creatives, landing pages, content, choice of media all have to be tried, tested and changed all the time to get the desired results. Would you be willing to lose time and money going back & forth with an external party for the same?

3) Digital marketing is almost always a mix of - onsite marketing, content marketing, blogs, SEO, SEM, Social, Videos etc, and there needs to be a coordinated effort across these for best results. Do you think external resources in different teams, sitting under different silos with their own targets to achieve, would be able to do that?

4) Digital marketing is less about broadcast and more about engagement. Frankly a lot of marketing heads and agencies are still living in the broadcast age and hence their campaigns are all about push. Being an interactive medium, digital enables customers to share their experience with your service or brand to one and all and you need to be able to respond to that in real time and in fact, encourage and also channel the same for your benefit. Can an external agency handle customer engagement as efficiently and effectively as you can?

5) Data & Analytics is a big part of digital marketing. And a lot of it is in real time too. It needs to be implemented & used effectively, and not only helps in better marketing but can also be useful for future product development. Would you rather have this in-house or handled by an external party that itself may change tomorrow?

6) Last but not the least, in digital, your product team, technology team, HR team, CRM team, delivery team, all have to work together along with your marketing team for best results. And that can only be done if your marketing strategy as well as execution is in-house.

Can't agencies provide that? Yes and No. Depending on the stage of your business, your budgets, current expertise & your business focus, you may decide to go with an agency or multiple agencies, and at that time that may be the best solution for you. If your business is digital, or your target audience is on digital, or if you seriously want to use digital for long term, then in-house may be a better way to do it. You may still use an agency for a part or some parts of your digital marketing, however the strategy and the core activities may be better handled in-house. 

Yes you would need tools and people with expertise, and good people are hard to get. However if you consider the long term benefits of building a team and expertise, it would be worth it.

Like I said above, I am not in any way trying to discourage companies from using Digital Agencies. All am saying is, at every stage of your business evolution, think about your current and long term needs and then take a decision that is most suited for your business.

For those of you who would want to consider an agency here is a blog I had written sometime back on 'Selecting the right digital agency for your business'. Also read this very pertinent article by Mark Traphagen, from Stone Temple Consulting on 6 signs of a valuable digital marketing agency.

Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to comment below with your views & suggestions. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

7 Points to keep in mind when going Digital

As I work with new clients helping them make the best of Digital media, or when I interact with some of my older clients helping them plan newer growth strategies, there are some key points that I find myself repeating over & over again. Some get it immediately while others take time. So I thought why not put down a few key points that are critical to anybody who is using or planning to use Digital for their business.

So here goes:
  1. Tie in all your digital presence. Is your website connected to your blog, and your social media presence? Is your pinterest page connected to your e-commerce site? Is your blog helping you draw more customers for your product or service on your website? Is your app notification helping you increase app opens and are these then helping you increase product or service sales ? Is your e-mail marketing helping you get people back to the site or to interact with you on social? Tie in your presence with your goals. Also tie in your offline presence with your digital presence.



  2. Make sure your connected digital presence is helping your customers or target audience. e.g. Are they able to know about your new collection from your social post or app notification, see the range immediately on your pinterest board and buy it from your website or e-commerce channel?



  3. Understand that you do not have to be on all social media, but only where it's relevant. Know your business, your audience and what you want to achieve before you choose the social media to be on. It's not about being on all possible Social media but being on the right ones for you, and then, doing the right things there.



  4. Remember this is an interactive medium so try and interact. Do not just broadcast - have conversations. Engage with people. A website can be more than just a brochure. Social posts can be much more than just announcements. Don't just push. Pull. Also make sure you respond to user queries & problems quickly and positively.



  5. Measure everything. Have analytics in place and use what you learn, to change, modify and improve results. The advantage of the Digital Medium is that it is measurable. So if you are not measuring visits to your website, user demographics and behavior, social media analytics etc then you not making full use of the medium. Your visitors, members, followers, what they do, when they do it, what they react to, is all there for you to see and learn, so use it. Test changes, see results and change again.



  6. Use Marketing. First market on your website, your blog, your e-mail communication, your social presence, your mobile app, and then use marketing such as SEO, SEM, Social Media Advertising, Mobile advertising, Affiliate marketing, etc. Here again run tests, measure the response and test again.
  7. Keep testing and changing. We still have a huge overhang of traditional media where we made brochures once in a few years or ad campaigns that lasted for a while. In Digital Change is the only constant so keep changing, measuring, and change again. A website once made is not done. A social media page is not something you make once and forget . Technology is changing, how and where people access is changing, and what you can do there is changing too.


While there are many things that can be added here, and many more if we get into the details of each, just keeping the above seven in mind should help you as you go about making your Digital Strategy and then implementing it.

Please feel free to add your points to the above and do write back with comments.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ask Why before you decide What on Digital

At a recent gathering, a business person I was introduced to, remarked - "Oh! You are a Digital Strategy Consultant? You know? I have tried everything, but this Digital thing doesn't really work" . When asked what he expected, he replied  " I don't know. At least something should have happened after spending so much money on all this, but it hasn't."

Turns out that wanting to 'Be Digital' they had got a fancy website made, had a LinkedIn Company page, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Pinterest account, A Google+ account, a Blog, they were on Instagram, and every place else. The problem was - That was it.


They had made it all and now didn't know what to do with it. They expected that just being in all these places, making announcements (social posts & blogs, emails etc) should have, in some way, helped their business. And when nothing changed, they blamed it on the medium.

My suggestion to them all - First ask "Why"?


The problem is, if you don't know why you want a website, or an e-commerce site, or a Facebook page, or an app, or any other digital presence, then - 
  • You will be doing it all, or nothing at all, or doing something that you really didn't need.
  • Doing it all wrong, because there is no particular result you are looking for.
  • Losing time and money, as you would have done it and will then ask "Now what?"

And hence you will finally get nothing out it.

So first ask yourself a few basic questions to define why you need a Digital Presence. Then get down to where, how and what of it. Start with simple questions with specific answers. 
  • What Business are you in? 
  • What  business problem are you trying to solve? 
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What problem are you trying to solve for your Target Audience?
  • Where is this Target audience present?  What channels, devices, technologies do they use most, and are likely to use in the future?

These will help you decide digital medium to use, to solve what problem.

Next ask
  • What do we do there? 
  • How do we do it? Do we have the required expertise in house, or do we need to hire externalresources?
  • What is the right way to do it so that we get the desired result? How do we make people come there?
  • How do we know it is really working or not? Is there a way to measure the effectiveness of the channel?
There are just too many businesses out there with a website that has no traffic, those who are posting daily on social media but ignoring customer queries or remarks, those that have build apps that no one downloads, those with company blogs that no one reads, and those with e-commerce websites that make no sales. Being there and doing that is not the solution unless you know why.

So start with a strategy, know why you are doing what you are doing, and work towards achieving what you set out to achieve. You can do brand building, connect with your existing or potential customers, increase sales of your products or services, service your customers better, acquire new customers, sell more to your existing customers, improve business efficiency, reduce customer acquisition costs, increase customer retention, and a lot more depending on what You set out to do.


All digital channels are just the medium. Digital will not do it for you. You have to do it using Digital. And No, it's not a fad to be on Digital. So please don't just do it.