The Internet is changing how small business does business. Today, a key component of every small local business’s marketing plan needs to be a strong, compelling offer for their website. This is so important that I recommend testing, testing, testing. And testing some more.
To understand why offers are so important, let’s compare the Internet as a marketing medium with the way a local service business used to market itself.
In the “olden days,” local businesses relied heavily on two methods of marketing: word-of-mouth and the Yellow Pages. Neither of these marketing media are appropriate for using offers, so many never developed good offers. Even those businesses that ran newspaper, radio or TV ads, or who used direct mail and door-hangers often didn’t include offers in their marketing messages.
This also was a time when most of a business’s advertising was viewed “in a vacuum.” Except in the case of Yellow Page advertising, prospects did not have an easy way for side-by-side comparisons of one business’s ad, prices, or “call to action” offers with those of a competitive business. They viewed each business’s marketing message separately, and the marketer’s goal was simply to put an ad in front of potential prospects and get their attention.
The Internet is a totally different environment. It’s more like a mall where all of your competitors occupy space in the same wing. It takes just a few seconds and a few clicks to visit dozens of competing companies—sometimes all over the world!
Using an offer as a call to action is a great way to stand out from the crowd in the Internet environment. It always amazes me how few websites actually include one. But, in the online environment, that’s not all a great call to action offer can do for you.
In mass media print or electronic advertising, the prospective customer must use the phone or come into your store or place of business in order to accept your offer. In the online environment, the call to action can generate an “impulse” action, because the offer can be accepted on your website with just the click of a mouse. How much more powerful is that!!!
What is a good offer? A good offer is one that causes the prospective customer to take action. The only question is: What action do you want them to take?
If you sell products online, you want the customer to buy. In this case, a discount may be the best offer you can make. Some have found free shipping to be an attractive offer. For other online retailers, providing an inexpensive way to sample products can be a good offer.
Most consumer service businesses also can use these kinds of offers.
However, if your sales are typically closed by a sales person, I have found that a different type of offer works best. I would also recommend this different kind of offer if you sell a business or personal service that is more long-term. For example, a dog grooming business, a cleaning service, or a lawn service. Or a payroll, accounting, or management training service. Your website can begin the sales process by providing lots of good information. But, in this case, your offer needs to motivate the prospect to make a first appointment—either with a sales person or for their first service. Make sure your website allows the prospect to do that online and you will get far more leads from your website than if they have to phone you. But, an offer is also essential.
A good offer for a service provider is NOT…
• A free “evaluation” or consultation
• A free quote
• A discount or reduced price on service or first-time service
The first two are just part of the sales process. And, while the third is perhaps helpful in getting a prospect interested in your company, it is not an offer that will necessarily get you a new customer. Personally, I have never liked “first-time discounts.” If you want the customer to return again, don’t de-value your service by discounting it. If they think the discounted price is fair, they may not be back at your regular price.
So what are better offers?
• A free gift (something the customer would find at least somewhat valuable, and preferably something related to the service in some way) when they set an appointment with a sales person. Have the sales person deliver the gift to the prospect. It’s a great way to “break the ice.” Example: A kitchen remodeling service might offer a free chef’s apron or a trivet. These gifts do not need to have your company’s name on them. The perceived value may be greater if it does not appear to have a promotional purpose.
• A free add-on service with their first-time service. Example: I have a hair stylist client who offers either a free deep conditioning treatment or a free shine treatment with the first visit. That is something that the customer usually would not treat herself/himself to, and something that has a defined monetary value. It is an offer that has worked well for her online.
• Sometimes the offer can be used to increase the business’s credibility in the eyes of the prospect. Examples are white papers, either created by the company or by a company they represent.
The bottom line is, Internet marketing is direct marketing. Direct marketing works based upon the strength of the market targeted and the strength of the offer. On the Internet, with a well-marketed website, a strong market will find you. Most companies haven’t figured out the importance of a good offer. So, if you prominently display a compelling offer on your website, your company can be a real winner!