The Importance of Using Your Website to Build Relationships with Potential Prospects
Business web sites have changed and are changing still
It’s all about relationships nowadays…
We often forget that the internet has only been a reality for both the average man in the street and the normal business owner for the last 20 years or so. Before that, access to the World Wide Web was limited to a very small number of government officials, military personnel, and top scientists.
It was always a dream of Englishman Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who is widely credited with inventing the internet by first connecting an HTTP client and server in 1990, that the net should be a resource available to everyone.
Now that dream is the reality of everyday life, so much so that for most people in developed countries, their first thought when they need information or answers is to turn to the net.
This is the first crucial fact that you have to understand if you are running a business. Most people who are regular internet users – and their number is growing by the thousands every day – use the internet as their primary source of information.
It follows that if you do not have a web presence, a significant proportion of your potential prospects and/or customers are going to be unable to find information about your business.
There are alternative methods of providing information through other media outlets such as TV, radio, newspaper and magazine advertising, entries in directories and the Yellow Pages.
However, as far as the current internet generation is concerned, an ever-increasing percentage of the population do not use these resources when they’re looking for information – they automatically turn to the internet to find what they need.
So, the first reason that you need a net presence is to provide information to potential prospects and customers about what you do, where you are, how you operate and so on.
However, providing information over the net is exactly what most businesses that already have a web site have been doing since the day that site was first published.
But, in the modern business world, this is no longer enough because your potential prospects are looking for a whole lot more from your site nowadays.
Many larger organizations in the West have already realized this, and have developed their sites to provide what people are looking for, but there is still a significant percentage of companies that have an online representation, but with a website that is doing very little to develop or increase their business.
So, before embarking on the process of creating your first website or updating the one you already have, it is essential to understand the mindset of potential prospects who might use the internet to find information about your business.
I have already established that in the ‘old days’ (i.e. less than two decades ago!), businesses used their websites to provide information.
For the modern consumer, however, this is not enough, because, over the last three or four years, the internet has undergone something of a revolution, a revolution that is known as Web 2.0.
While the Web 2.0 concept is a little vague and difficult to pin down, it is easier to do so if you consider what Web 1.0 was all about, which was providing nothing more than information.
In other words, if you look at any big business that is still using their site to provide little more than information and contact details, they are still using a site built on a basis that is already several years out of date.
What the Web 2.0 generation are looking for is interactivity, a way to communicate and build a relationship with the people behind business websites.
This is a natural extension of the fact that most of these people now accept it to be the norm to spend some time every day posting information to their own blog site and using other social media like Twitter and Facebook.
They do so in the knowledge that their regular readers will respond by posting comments, recommendations and perhaps even ‘guest editing’ that blog by adding a new post themselves, and they can communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world using sites like these.
There is a degree of interactivity between the site creators and their readers, a concept taken one significant stage further by micro-blogging sites like Twitter where people all over the world are able to interact with each other almost immediately.
These are the facts of modern day life that you have to consider when you are designing or modernizing your website. Adding a simple contact details form is not enough nowadays because people want to be able to interact with your business, and more importantly the people behind it, as quickly as possible.
It is all about building solid, sound relationships with prospects and eventually customers, opening up your business to them so that the whole thing is entirely transparent and therefore also completely trustworthy.
This should be nothing more than an extension of what you are doing already. No matter what it is you are selling, promoting or doing in your work every day, the people that do business with you tend to be the people with whom you already have a relationship.
You will pick up new customers and clients along the way, but even those people will eventually choose to do business with you or not based upon whether they feel comfortable about working with you.
It is a fact that people do business with people, and that they find it far easier to do business with people they like.
One important aspect of interactivity is having the ability to promote and sell your products directly via the internet. The internet community as a whole is a truly global marketplace, and an increasing number of people are used to doing business online. If you want to expand your horizons beyond your locality or perhaps your own country, you have to give some thought to how you are going to do this.
Nowadays, only the most dyed in the wool Luddite thinks about supplying only local customers, unless the product or service that is being provided does not lend itself to global trade.
However, even in this case, the situation should not be beyond redemption.
All that is needed is a little thought and an acceptance of the fact that, no matter where you are, the internet allows you to communicate with prospects all across the world 24 hours a day without limitation.
Irrespective of what are your products, there are people all over the world who would very probably like to buy what you have to offer. So, you have to think of a way of supplying whatever you produce to them.
For many people who run small to medium local businesses that have had no previous experience of doing business on the internet, this is a slightly surreal concept to take on board, but it is nevertheless a fact that you can do business anywhere in the world via the internet.
That being said, it might need a fundamental shift of thinking and approach for this to make any sense as far as your own business is concerned.
The bottom line is, no matter what you supply or manufacture, you have to think outside the normal parameters of your current everyday business activities to see how you can push what you do out onto the global stage.
There is a massive world market made up of millions of potential prospects out there, and a significant proportion of those people have access to the internet. it is possible to take your marketing message right into the very heart of their homes, and as long as your website does its job properly, there is absolutely no reason why those people cannot become a customer of your business.
No longer are you limited to dealing with a few hundred thousand people in your local community, because through the power of the internet, you have access to a market of millions.
Your site has two tasks to address…
Firstly, it has to give people what they want, and it has to be constructed in such a way that it enables you to build a relationship with prospects who have seen your site and are interested in what you have to offer (irrespective of where they are).
Secondly, you must understand from the outset that you can have the best website in the world, which might nevertheless be a complete waste of time without one thing.
Once you have created your interactive, relationship building website, it is absolutely essential to do everything possible to make sure that people find your website because without that, you have no prospect of making sales either.
This is one of the biggest mistakes that companies or individuals who decide to start an online business make. Whether it is a brand new business or an extension of an existing ‘bricks and mortar business world’ operation, it is absolutely essential that you learn what it is that sends people to a website, because without this knowledge, your online business is dead in the water before it even ‘sets sail’.
The stories of would-be online entrepreneurs who came up with what they believed to be a world-shattering idea, and spent months on developing that idea and an associated website, only to find that they never sold one product, are legion within the online business community.
In almost every example, the primary mistake was that the individual or company concerned focused all of their time, effort and attention on completely the wrong aspects of building a site based business.
While your business does need a website that does what your prospects and customers want it to do, it does not need a perfect website (if such a thing exists).
Nevertheless, many would-be website owners who are putting their presence online for the first-time expect a perfect website and are not prepared to publish anything less. They spend weeks or even months tweaking, modifying and altering tiny aspects of the site that most people wouldn’t even notice, all the time delaying the day when they can first start earning money.
When they do eventually launch their website, they sit back to wait for visitors to start arriving. And they wait. And they continue to wait…
Until eventually, tired of waiting and finally becoming aware that the world was not ready for their brilliant idea, they can the whole thing and that is the last in the world ever sees or hears of it.
The problem with this scenario is that visitors do not simply arrive on your website. It is possible that the odd visitor might turn up every now and then by mistake, but there are never going to be enough of these people to keep your business alive, and the fact that this visitor arrives by mistake indicates that they are not going to do business with you, because they are not targeted.
It is targeted visitors you need, people who are genuine prospects for your product when they arrive on your website because they are prequalified before they come.
As an example, imagine that you have a website from which you sell green widgets.
As part of the promotional efforts, you pay for advertising to be placed on other widget related web pages, or you write articles that you submit to the International Widget Association who publish your articles on their site.
In both of these examples, in order to be presented with your promotional materials, an individual would already be visiting a widget related web site. They are doing so because they have some interest in widgets, and so, if they choose to follow the link to your site from your advert or articles, they are a hot prequalified prospect for your green widgets.
In terms of online marketing, getting your website seen is important. However, it is nowhere near as important as getting your website seen by prequalified prospects, because these are the people who are most likely to become your customers a little further down the line.
So, how do you find targeted prospects of this type?
The first answer is by publishing promotional materials like advertising, articles and so on.
The second way you drive targeted traffic (i.e. visitors) to your web pages is by getting the search engines to find individual pages of your site and present them to people using that search engine to find information like yours.
This is where search engine optimisation (SEO) starts to come into the picture, and why it is so important to your business website.