Non-sales channels that sell (and do it really well)

Chapters:
Article written by Claudiu Murariu

Traditionally, a sales channel is a way of bringing products or services to market so that they can be purchased by consumers. That definition might work for offline sales, but online, I feel things are a bit more complex:

  • you don’t take the product to market, you bring the market to the product, which in itself is much more difficult
  • people can’t touch the products, not until they buy them
  • there is no human eye to eye contact so the seller can’t use empathy or improvise based on the potential customer behavior


In exchange, selling online has 2 major advantages over offline ones:

  • you can keep a relationship with a potential buyer for a much longer time, without being intrusive, via email and social media
  • every online behavior can be tracked, anonymously, so strategies are based on statistics widely available even to small companies thanks to a plethora of tools out there

We live in an age where everyone is a salesperson, everyone sells something at any moment. Every single aspect of a business, be it support, development, delivery or network security has to generate more $.

Support

Many companies use the image of an appealing  woman with a headset as the support symbol. I prefer the NASA style.

Many companies use the image of a sexy, smiling woman with a headset as the support symbol. I prefer the NASA style.

I often experience the following scenario with our main product PadiAct:

  • user creates free account
  • she has a question or something goes wrong and she writes to support
  • I reply in less than an hour, sometimes in less than 5 minutes
  • in the next hour the user purchases a paid subscription, even if her free plan…. is not used-up

Prior to PadiAct, I had no experience with offering support: I am what they call the technical guy. Indeed with an engineering background and in charge of product development, I still consider offering user support as my main priority: I get to have a real feel of our users needs.

I interact with existing or potential customers and I fix issues that don’t work well. Most companies I’ve worked with have strategies to minimize support requests. I try the opposite: get as many of them as possible, but don’t get me wrong: I don’t want our application not to work or to be faulty (which would generate tons of unwanted support).

Converting support requests into sales

What I want is that every time somebody has a “what if” question, every time somebody needs to feel there is a person behind the product, to write to support. Bad support is a deal breaker and good support will convince people to switch to paid even if they didn’t consider it till then.

In order to transform support from a necessary cost to an investment, these are the rules we follow:

  • fix the problem of the user as soon as possible by asking very few questions. I’d rather check logs, or try different scenarios till I am able to replicate and understand the problem, than having to address additional questions to the customer. This way I show her that I care about her problem and her time; and I really do ;);
  • answer as quickly as possible and always let the customer know that I take over the problem and fix it;
  • I never just say No. I say No, but… or when possible: Yes, but…

Educational Content

A visitor coming to your website can be in any of the following 6 stages:

  • Curiosity: the person landed on your website either by accident or curiosity
  • Awareness: the person has a need and realizes your company can help
  • Consideration: the person evaluates how your offering meets his need, but also checks offerings from other websites
  • Preference/Intent: the person inclines towards one offer or the other
  • Purchase: the person buys
  • Repurchase: the emotional and logical process that can lead to a repeat purchase

Great headlines, tweets or shares by influential people have a huge impact on driving people towards your website. Educational content can have a huge impact on driving people beyond that state of curiosity.

The same content helps people make an educated buying decision and ultimately, gets people to consider it as added value when they decide to re-purchase. Kissmetrics and Unbounce are 2 great examples of companies that get their customers mostly via educational content.

An educated customer beats an ignorant one any day. Educational content for the win! (Tweet this)

The more educated customers are, the better they’ll know how to use your product, the more they’ll use it, thus the more money you make. A truly winning cycle.

Educational content isn’t in itself a channel, but rather a tactic part of your overall strategy that can be implemented through channels like blogs, webinars and social media accounts.

Email Newsletters

You’ll say that people already use email newsletters as a sales channel. Yes, but tell me when was the last time you really looked forward to getting a newsletter?

Some companies understand that and are investing the extra effort to build newsletters that are valuable by themselves. Some use exclusive educational content, others use the art of story telling but none ask you bluntly to buy.

In fact, if there is a buy link, that link is the smallest link at the bottom of the newsletter. These companies understand that people are complex beings and don’t need to be told what to do. If they want to buy, they’ll have no troubles getting there. Your UX department will take care of that.

Here are a few examples:

Copyblogger.com newsletter!

Copyblogger.com email with exclusive content!

Unbounce newsletter linking to an exclusive educational bundle.

Unbounce newsletter linking to an exclusive educational bundle.

One of the main jobs of newsletters should be to make people get to that stage when they want to buy. Thus, increasing the number of email leads should be a priority as each new email is an opportunity to start a dialogue (yes, email campaigns should drive dialogue) so you can show them you are knowledgeable, to be trusted, an asset and a good investment.

Once you do that, make no mistake: your subscribers will find your buy now links, even if you hide them.

In conclusion

The following video shows very well how current online marketing tactics and strategies would look like in the offline world:

Online, we can’t empathize with our customer, we can’t have eye contact and we can’t improvise. However, we can employ support that goes the extra mile, educational content and long term relationships as our weapons. Let’s use them wisely.

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