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Selling is a contact sport

"It's not what you know that counts. And it's not who you know. It's what you know about who you know that counts."
— Harvey Mackay

Offline, knowing customers as much as possible grants the salesperson the ability to qualify them appropriately, create rapport with them, remain in constant contact with them, upselling them with additional backend offers, and, of course, networking with and through them.

They say "Knowledge is power." Knowing people is the crux of most good, long-lasting and truly rewarding relationships. Therefore, knowing not only about your customers but also knowing them -- at a more intimate level -- will increase repeat and referral sales. Nothing appeals to the customer's ego more than a company or person who knows, wants to know or is concerned about her -- not in a way to pry into her private life but as a way to become more involved in her buying process.

Simplifying the buying process is the key.

For example, Dale Carnegie, in his book "How to Win Friends and Influence People," noted that the sweetest sound to a person's ear is her name. As web personalization will become an increasingly important factor to online success over time, including the use of technologies such as CRM (or "customer relationship management"), at the most basic level it starts with the simple gathering of information about your customer, overtly and with permission, which can be done in many ways.

When you get an order from a customer or at least an inquiry for more information, do you simply ask for the order? Or do you also go through an information gathering process?

On the Internet, you have the ability and opportunity to know your customers at a greater level -- again, with their knowledge and consent. Therefore, the first thing to do is to provide easy-to-find contact information (or a link to such) on every page in order for customers to reach you. To this end, offer a phone number, a postal address and an online contact form.

Web-based forms seem to encourage more feedback than email links (such as "mailto:"). A reason could very well be the fact that some people:

  1. Surf the web without an email client
  2. Browse the web on a third party's computer (e.g., library, work or school)
  3. Use a web-based email client (e.g., Hotmail.com). If the only way people can reach you is through an email "mailto" link, which forces them to use an email client, you are probably losing a percentage of visitors willing to get in touch with you let alone sales.

As a client requires further assistance or while she is making a purchase, offer the option to provide key information to you as well. Try to get not only her contact information but also an understanding of her needs, goals, comments about your site or product, and so on. You want to collect as much important information about a prospect or client as possible -- but be discreet and patient, as too much too soon can kill the sale.

Knowing your customers, being concerned about their needs or at least showing that you are concerned about them (which is what a form, survey or any request for more information can do, if communicated well) can cement more profitable relationships. In short, the more you know about your contact, the stronger the potential relationship can become with her.

But it's worth repeating: Undeniably, this process should take place over time. You should keep specific records like contact and activity histories of each individual (be it a subscriber, member, prospect or client) in a database, which you can mine later on. Most plain email list managers will not offer those capabilities. But some software programs do, such as Mailloop (see http://successdoctor.com/partners/tips/mailloop.htm).

Ultimately, in the very least you want qualified leads to come forward voluntarily and identify themselves to you. Get them to subscribe to a newsletter, participate in a survey, join an opt-in list or enroll in an online community (or even post to a simple message board on your website) -- these tools provide that opportunity in the easiest way. If not, offer some kind of free service, application, trial or piece of information, whereby receiving such forces the visitor to provide at least their basic contact information in order to obtain it.

Offering freebies, such as downloads, access to a section of your site, ezine subscriptions or interactive tools -- like discussion forums, web-based email accounts, chat rooms, web communities, greeting cards, calculators or reminder services -- can help nudge visitors in providing not only their contact information but also important marketing intelligence. More importantly, combining a survey with a free draw, contest or giveaway can help nudge unresponsive recipients into action.

For example, at http://BabyCenter.com (a store catering to parents of young children), visitors are encouraged to become members and to use a pregnancy development tracker. Expectant mothers enter the baby's due birth date and an email address. By starting the process of providing information, it allows that online business to remain in constant contact with their visitors and, of course, make special offers along the way (such as coupons for baby items, clothing, diapers, etc).

Of course, it goes without saying that you should provide a strong privacy policy indicating what you will do with the information gathered. In addition to not sharing the data, include security information, such as what will protect the information once gathered.

According to a recent interview on CBC with the CEO of Chapters.ca (at http://cbc.ca/news/radionews/newscast.html), who commented on the upcoming holiday season, studies overwhelmingly show that the number one deterrent from buying online remains fears about security and privacy. Therefore, include privacy and security policies.

Nevertheless, the more information you gather -- overtly, with permission and over time -- about your visitors, then the more equipped you will be to increase traffic and sales. (And keep in mind that doing it over a period of time is critical, as you must instill trust in, and establish a relationship with, people in order to have them voluntarily provide information. The more personal the information is, the longer the process of gathering information will inevitably be. So be patient.)

Moreover, this process is not limited to visitors, prospects, subscribers or clients. You should also gather data about (and from) your affiliates, employees, suppliers, partners, joint venture associates and strategic marketing alliances.

Simply stated, always remember that those people who are important to you and your business WANT to know that they are important. Offering to collect more information about people, and clearly communicating the importance to them in doing so, is the first step. The way you ask and collect the information is important.

If done well, you'll be excavating a gold mine.

About the author
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, "The Profit Pill." See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!

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