by Geoff Hineman
My very first job after graduating college with my Master’s Degree was selling vacuum cleaners. Sounds cliché, doesn’t it? At the time, I took what was available while looking for something a little more lucrative. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that my brief stint in selling expensive household appliances door to door would offer me a clear blueprint that I could take with me for the rest of my career: Always Be Closing.
No matter how good an $800 vacuum cleaner may be, it will never sell itself. Likewise, you may have the utmost faith in your products and their value, but until you build a desire for your products that burns inside potential customers, you are simply wasting your time.
Today, we are going to talk about the ABCs (Always Be Closing) of conversions and what you can do so that, by the time a customer makes it to checkout, the deal is already done. While you can find plenty of articles about the mechanics of conversion rate optimization with regard to site design and development, this article will cover the psychology of getting the conversion. We will start with what you need to be doing before a prospect walks through your digital door and what to do after a sale has been made.
Let’s get right to the core of selling and the first question you need to ask yourself: Would you buy something from someone you didn’t trust? Of course not. That’s why, as a retailer, you need to establish yourself as trustworthy, and that happens well before a potential customer even shows up. Today, customers have unprecedented access to information about your business, and that is only going to increase with time. Customers can and do vet sellers with whom they are considering doing business. They will look for reasons NOT to buy from you, so you need to be ready to anticipate and remove doubts before they ever surface.
Social media — What’s that? You don’t have a Facebook page? Then make one now! It is so incredibly easy to set up a social media page for your business that not doing it can look suspicious. The nature of your business will often dictate which social media platforms you should be on; however, at the very least, you should be on Facebook. This doesn’t mean you have to update all the time. It also means you shouldn’t use your Facebook page as another way to only push products. People want to see the personality of a brand or business so they can gauge how comfortable they feel handing over their hard-earned money.
Healthy social media profiles should include links to resources and stories that will be of interest to your audience. Post questions that encourage your audience to participate. Share photos of your personnel so that your audience can see there are actual people standing behind the products. Finally, you should always address criticisms or complaints that may come up. This not only allows you to keep your customers happy, but shows prospective customers that you won’t simply disappear after you have their money and they know where they can find you if they need you.
Meta descriptions — Because meta descriptions are not a ranking factor for search engines, some individuals choose to ignore them in pursuit of other endeavors — cough, cough, link building, cough, cough — that can be much more time-consuming and actually have less bearing on conversions.
The meta description is that little snippet that accompanies a search result. It is between 150 and 160 characters long and gives a brief description of what the page is about. If you don’t fill out your own meta descriptions, search engines will display whatever page text they think is relevant. The question is: If you have the ability to control what Google is showing your prospects, why wouldn’t you do it?
Think of meta descriptions as small ads for your pages. Include the most important information possible, which may encompass attractive pricing, free shipping, huge selection, money back guarantees, and whatever else you consider to be a key value proposition for your brand or products. Call to action? Customers have already expressed what they are looking for with their search query; if you can show you have it before they even get to your site, you have just opened the door for a trusting relationship.
Grammar — The importance of proper grammar cannot be stressed enough. Sure, the vast majority of people use poor or improper grammar, both in writing and verbally. Still, they expect YOU to know how to use it correctly. Misspellings, botched (or no) punctuation, incomplete sentences, misplaced modifiers, and the like simply make you look disreputable. Would you want to do business with someone you consider disreputable?
Site security badges — Identity theft is very real. Many customers, particularly the more mature ones, have a legitimate and steadfast fear that if they make one wrong move online, someone will steal their identity, drain their retirement, and crazy glue their loose change to the floor. This concern needs to be addressed and, perhaps just as important, promoted on your site. If you have taken the measures to deliver a secure site — please, say you have — then you need to show it with site security badges and, perhaps, even create a page that explains your dedication to security. This is an area where you really can’t go too far.
Guarantees and return policies — If you stand behind your products, make it very clear. Promote your guarantees and return policies in a very easy-to-find place. We have all made the mistake of making a purchase and having the product be a lemon, only to find that we can’t get a replacement or get our money back. This is a mistake you only make once. Make it clear to shoppers that, when they buy from you, they won’t be making a mistake.
Inform. Inform. Inform.
One of the most beautiful aspects of selling online is that you have virtually limitless space to inform customers about your products. It’s not a catalog, where pages and printing costs can be a factor, that forces you to choose between either fitting in more products or highlighting fewer products in more detail. Online, you can do both!
Features and benefits
Too often, people see features and benefits as being nearly the same thing; they are not. Quite simply, features identify the parts, pieces, measurements, and the like, while benefits explain the ways in which the features can make your life better in some capacity. You should have a healthy dose of both features and benefits for your products.
Some people know EXACTLY which feature they need from a product, and that alone will be the deciding factor as to whether they will buy. The issue with selling online, however, is that you never really know which feature each customer has in mind. This is why you need to include all of them. Start with the obvious points that are often unique to each product, but also include practical information such as SKU or UPC, dimensions, colors, or related products (when necessary).
Benefits are different from features in that they illustrate all the goodness that comes from the product and its associated features. Do some of these sound familiar?
- Collapses for easy storage
- Easy to clean
- Cuts your work time in half
Identify the benefits your product offers and emphasize them repeatedly. One of the ways you can do this is by presenting additional useful information that adds layers of benefits that shoppers may not have even considered. More benefits add value to your product. For instance, if you sell a product that helps people sleep better, the obvious benefit is waking up feeling well-rested. Additional benefits include the effects that proper rest delivers, such as better-functioning metabolism, decreased signs of aging, and more energy. With a little effort, you now have a product that doesn’t just solve one problem, it address several others as well!
Create an environment of YES
Whenever clients ask for some copywriting pointers, one of the very first things I tell them is to eliminate negative language from their copy. Every sentence that uses a negative word (e.g., no, never, not) can easily be rewritten to eliminate that word for a more powerful message. Take the following sentence, for instance:
“Not only does our treadmill easily wipe clean after your workout, but it also collapses for easy storage!”
These are great points that can be important for people looking to buy a high-quality treadmill, so get that negative language out of the way. Try the following instead:
“Our well-designed treadmill easily wipes clean after your workout AND collapses for convenient storage in a closet or under a bed!”
It’s more difficult to get someone to say “yes” when it is time to purchase if you have been saying “no” in all your copy.
Speaking of saying yes, it’s good practice to get your customers into the habit of saying yes. One way to do this is by asking questions that really only have one answer, such as:
- Would you like to have more free time?
- Would you like to have more energy?
- Would you like to feel more secure?
- Would you like to perform your hobby or job better?
- Would you like to make your home look nicer?
By creating a full list of features and benefits, explaining them in detail, and leading with questions that get prospects thinking “yes,” you have gotten closer to selling the product before the customer even reaches the checkout.
Create a sense of urgency
Nothing good lasts forever. In fact, sometimes the best way to prove how good your product is, is to limit incentives to buy it. This can include putting limits on how many people can have access to the product or setting clear deadlines on deals. When customers think they can get your great product or great deal at any time, they often forget about it entirely.
Limiting access — I’m a guitar player. I have been for nearly 30 years. One thing that guitar manufacturers do better than anybody else is create limited-run items. If you have your eye on a guitar, but there are only 500 available, you better not wait too long to pull out your plastic if you really want that guitar.
Some retail outlets use this strategy with toy with manufacturers, offering a limited edition version of a toy that is only available via that retail outlet.
Another way to limit access is to say that a particular deal is only available to the first 500 customers, whether that deal be a price discount, a bonus product, free shipping, or something else of value.
Setting clear deadlines — If you are extending a deal, know when to take it off the table. Set a deadline for an offer and stick to it. This lets customers know that your limited-time incentives are just that. By fostering an environment where incentives are limited, it promotes urgency on behalf of the customer, but it also shows that you believe in the quality of your product and you don’t HAVE to offer an incentive; you CHOOSE to offer incentives. This speaks to generosity of you as a retailer, while still maintaining the integrity of the products you are offering.
So you finally made the sale. The folks in the warehouse are prepping the package for delivery to a customer who is eagerly awaiting its arrival. Now is the time to begin closing the next purchase with proper follow up. There are several things you can do within the first two weeks of the order being placed, namely: Offer an incentive for a second purchase; invite the customer to keep in touch on social media; and, inquire about customer satisfaction and ask for a review (incentivize a review request with a discount offer).
Offer another incentive. Your customer has just ordered and is feeling good. Show your appreciation by offering a coupon or other incentive, such as free shipping. Taking the lessons from the previous section, be sure to limit the duration of the coupon to create urgency and piggyback on all the efforts that just went into getting that initial sale.
Use social media. When done correctly, a sale is just the first step in a longer relationship that is mutually beneficial for you and the customer. This provides a sense of security for your customers and gives you a platform upon which to extend new deals or launch a new product offering to an audience you know is already interested.
Ask for a review. After sufficient time has passed for your customers to receive and become acquainted with their purchases, send a follow-up email to inquire about their satisfaction. This is just good form. In fact, take it one step further and ask them to leave a review about the product to help others make an informed decision about whether said product meets their needs. In fact, you could even combine this step with offering another incentive, like OpticsPlanet.com does in this example.
There are many things you can do to your website to make the checkout process seamless for customers. Even if your checkout is as simple as clicking a button, not establishing enough desire in prospective customers to get them to click that “submit order” button results in money left on the table. Remember that each conversion starts from the very first moment a prospective customer finds you and extends well beyond the point of purchase. In short, remember your ABCs and align your marketing and sales strategy to Always Be Closing.
Geoff Hineman is an SEO manager with Lett Direct Inc., a catalog consulting firm specializing in circulation planning, forecasting, and analysis since 1995.
Stephen R. Lett, president of Lett Direct Inc., spent the first 25 years of his career with leading catalog companies, both business to business and consumer. He is the author of the book Strategic Catalog Marketing. He can be reached at 302-539-7257 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.