A small manufacturer hires a local web development firm, and spends six months reworking his website. He agonizes over every word of the copy. He writes up product descriptions, detailing materials and tolerances. He adds page after page to the original project, as he develops line sheets, specs and usage instructions. He takes many of the product pictures himself. He fusses over the themes and colors. Many tasks that he performs in his business are delayed, because he is “working on the website.” Finally, he signs off on the whole thing and the site goes live.
The next day, a new European customer calls, asking for quotes on the largest single order he’s sold in five years. They began looking for a vendor that morning, and were impressed by the detailed, helpful information on his website.
A small distributor decided to invest in online cataloging for their customers. The software was expensive, and building the catalog with thousands of items took several years to complete. With no in-house IT staff, they were near surrender over the complexities several times, but they persevered. In the last two years, their business has grown by 50% as time sensitive (but not price sensitive) customers have “discovered” them as a local will-call source for items they were previously ordering…on the Internet.
Size means nothing on the web. Customers can only judge you by the professionalism and utility of your website. Many small business owners deliberately avoid investing in their websites. Their most frequent excuse is “Customers who buy on the ‘net are only looking for price.” That isn’t a new phenomenon. Businesses have been taking “How much do you get for…?” telephone calls for years. The Internet just allowed those people to price shop without long distance charges. (They were cheapskates to start with.)
Should you avoid the Internet because someone in East Oshgosh, whom you would have never heard from five years ago, now calls you before they don’t buy? That isn’t a lost sale, it’s a never was and never gonna be. To avoid the irritations of a few window shoppers, business owners decide to avoid all Internet shoppers.
About ten years ago Ford Motor Company surveyed customers in their showrooms. They asked how many people had used the Internet to make decisions regarding make, model, features and price before visiting a dealer. They were stunned when over 70% replied that they had. That was ten years ago.
In 1998 I asked my business owner clients if we could use email to send notices and reminders. Ninety-five percent said “no.” By 2002 we had only 3 clients who weren’t using email. By 2003 we had none. By 2005, over 90% of our clients said that they preferred email communication to other means of contact. Now we don’t even ask.
Fifteen years ago small businesses didn’t have websites. Ten years ago a website was to establish basic credibility. Today, regardless of your business, your website has to communicate who you are and what you do, along with your Unique Selling Proposition, product or service differentiation, service commitment, target customer, industry recognition and testimonials.
Would you prefer to miss the largest order in five years, or a 50% growth in business, just so you don’t have to deal with the price shopper in East Oshgosh?