On the subway in New York City the other day, I overheard two forty-somethings discussing the amazing development of interactive computer games. They were waxing nostalgic about old adventure games and shaking their heads 'cause some of the stuff out there now looks almost like movies. “Wow” has taken on a whole new dimension. I got to musing the same can be said of the Internet. Pretty awesome pretty quickly! But how much of that “awesome” has translated into enough sales for you to turn a profit?

When it comes to using the Internet as a medium for sales, the game isn't about the wow of technology or the wow of design. It's not even about the wow of marketing. E-commerce companies that have focused on the “wow” are going the way of the dodo, dying out faster than one major player every day; nobody even knows how fast the smaller ones are simply disappearing in silence. The time has come to move beyond wide-eyed wonder and put an emphatic wow into getting results. After all, if e-commerce isn't about making enough sales at a low enough cost to turn a profit, why are you in it?

I know, I know. Even now it's still hard for lots of folks to get their minds around the idea the little screen on their desk connects them to billions of other people all over the globe. When the Internet was in its infancy (about five whole years ago, give or take a day), folks were incredibly "Gee whiz" about it. And rightly so. Ain't technology grand? Used to be you could read discussions about how the onslaught of folks using e-mail was a misuse of bandwidth! Next we got “Cool Site of the Day”. Lots of the sites they pick really are fascinating and fun, even if you can't always figure out what they're for. At least back at the beginning, just seeing what folks could do was its own form of entertainment - kinda like watching a little human learning to walk.

And then that kid got to moving in a direction, except it was any direction. First there was, "We can use the web to disseminate our ideas!" Then, "The web is going to reach more people than any other medium we've known." And then (drum roll, please): "Hey! We can sell stuff on the web!" Commercial sites started appearing right and left, created by the "Cool Site" designers and programmers who discovered they could find a paying niche in e-commerce. Yet the sites they created weren't effective at selling at all. In retrospect ask yourself, “How could they be?” Is an expert in design an expert in sales? Is an expert in programming an expert in sales?

Inevitably (read that word again!), a huge number of those sites went (and continue to go) belly up. Being resourceful, you guys and gals looked for a solution. Since the sites had been designed by “experts”, the problem couldn't be with the sites so it must be not enough traffic (or with those stupid customers who refused to adapt to the sites). Time to bring in the marketing experts. But (3 guesses what I'm going to ask): is an expert in marketing an expert in sales? And we all know by now, if we didn't think about it ahead of time, driving more traffic to a site that can't sell is worse than useless. You burn your cash, you burn your prospects, and you burn your reputation - otherwise it's a wunnerful idea!

To recap, the Internet has evolved through three stages: from technology-centered to design-centered to marketing-centered. It was all useful provided we learn the lessons, and the fundamental lesson is successful selling is not about design or technology or marketing, it's about sales. With a nod to Mark Twain: Everybody talks about online sales but nobody does anything about it. In fact, unless they're pursued within the context of the expert sales process, design, programming and marketing can actually hurt your sales. If you're going to survive, much less prosper, your site must enter Stage Four, it must become sales-centered . And while you're at it, trash the notion that the Internet changes everything. It doesn't. Fundamental human psychology is the same as it was, and the process of coming to a “buy” decision is an emotional one. Your customers want what they've always wanted: a safe, simple, trustworthy, human-centered process to accomplish the transactions they would otherwise complete in the bricks and mortar world.

Want to make the Internet really work for you? Start thinking about how your site is going to replicate the time-tested, psychological interaction between two people who are involved in the sell / buy process. Leave the “gee whiz” stuff for the avant-garde who dare to go where no one has gone before. Most of your customers can't follow and have already provided plenty of hard shopping data that they wouldn't even if they could. And if those envelope stretchers do discover anything that will actually increase your sales, much less do so without breaking your budget, I promise I'll let you know!

© 2000 Future Now, LLC

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