People will come, Ray! They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn into your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it…. “Of course we won't mind if you look around,” you'll say, “it's only twenty dollars per person.” They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it.

—Terrence Mann, Field of Dreams

It is now almost unheard of to find a consulting, technology or professional service business that does not have a Web presence. But if you build it, will people come? And will they hand over their proverbial $20?

It is all too common to hear service business leaders lament, “We've spent all this time and money on a Web site, and we have no idea if it is helping us generate clients or not.” Essentially, they are wondering whether people are coming because the business built a Web site, and whether it is affecting their revenue stream.

Over the last few years, we have identified five major effects that a Web site has on service business branding and service business marketing. By evaluating how your Web presence stacks up, you can draw conclusions about how your Web site affects your ability to attract and retain clients.

Effect #1: First Impressions

Nowadays, potential clients of service businesses form a good part of their initial opinion of a firm based on the firm's Web site. During their first Web site visit, prospects spend a minute or two quickly evaluating the following three questions:

  1. How clearly does the management of this company communicate? Based on the flow of content, clarity of content and professional look of a Web site, potential clients develop a first impression of how well the people in the firm communicate.
  2. How modern is this service firm? Service business clients want to know that their service providers are actively engaged in staying current with new technologies and approaches to service delivery. If a service firm has a Web site that looks like it was built in 1998 with 1998 technologies for 1998 buyers, it raises questions in buyers' minds about how current the firm is.
  3. Is this firm attentive to detail? Mistakes such as bad grammar and typos, broken links, and out-of-date “current events” raise questions of quality. Web site browsers (those who may become service customers) will ask themselves, “If their own Web site is full of errors, how good is their client work?” Essentially, they are asking themselves, “Is this firm up to my standards?”

Effect #2: Service Specialty

After a prospect forms a general opinion of the quality of a service firm, they move forward (assuming they have not dismissed the firm after forming their first impression) to evaluate whether the specific service offerings apply to their needs. Clients look for specialties.

For example, clients may want to know that a CPA firm has a specialty in “mid-market mergers and acquisitions” or “estate planning for clients with over $1 million in personal assets.”

If the prospect finds that the services are applicable to them, they may think, “This service specialty may be important to me soon. I'll have to remember this company.”

Effect #3: Increased Brand Impressions

Many site viewers forget that a site exists because they visited only once. Like all advertising and marketing efforts, the creative piece and its core message must be seen and remembered. It does no good if the brand impression does not make, well, enough of an impression.

Consider the following two points to make sure your brand and message are not forgotten:

  1. Number of qualified site visitors: When it comes to Web sites, if you build it, do not assume they will come. Marketing directed at driving qualified prospects to your site, search engine optimization (pay attention… this is becoming more important because it is becoming more effective), and the overall searchability (from a technical perspective) of your site are important.

    Service firms can spend tens of thousands of dollars building their site, employ a webmaster to keep the content fresh and the site debugged, and then gain little marketing leverage from the site because there are too few qualified site visitors.

  2. Power of brand impressions: The more visitors return to your site because they find value in the content, the more affinity they are likely to have for you.

    A June 2003 study released by the Online Publisher's Association (OPA) found as follows:

38% of “high affinity” visitors were “very or somewhat likely” to buy in the next three months…. Thirty-two percent of “low/medium affinity” users said they were “very or somewhat likely” to buy.

The three measures used to create an affinity index are: a) the likelihood to recommend the site to a friend; b) satisfaction with site content; c) whether the site is considered a “favorite” within its category. The study builds on previous OPA research that indicated that users' affinity toward a Web site influenced their reaction to advertising on the site.

Given this, ask yourself how much your site content gives viewers a reason to stay and a reason to return.

Effect #4: Service Lead Generation

Now assume that you have Web site visitors who believe that your service firm projects a high-quality image, that the service is applicable to them, and the site content is satisfactory—what do you do to convert them into buyers?

You simply follow the tried-and-true AIDA direct marketing formula: You have already captured their Attention, generated Interest, and created a Desire for your services. Now you have to get your prospects to take Action.

This action may be signing up for a consultation, registering for an event or webinar, inquiring about the service itself, becoming a newsletter subscriber, or requesting a white paper. Eliciting action from visitors is a necessary step to converting them from a Web site visitor into a live prospect.

Effect #5: Service Loyalty

Let us assume you have a client discussing his great satisfaction with your services to a colleague. The colleague asks your client if your firm has a Web site.

Your client may say, “Well, their Web site is a bit of a mess, but their services are great.” They could also say, “Have a look at their Web site, you will be impressed with that as much as you will be impressed with their firm.”

The question you want to ask yourself is this: “Does our Web site support and strengthen the confidence our clients have in our firm, or is our Web site a liability that makes them question our professionalism and quality, thus limiting the amount of colleagues they refer to us?”

So If You Build It…

Trends in how people buy services are leading them to your Web site. This Web site visit is a critical component of the overall impression that a potential client forms about your service firm.

As a result, it is essential for most service firms to

  1. Build a Web site that creates a positive impression with appealing visuals and valuable content.
  2. Drive as many potential clients to that site as possible.

  3. And inspire them to engage your firm and become a loyal client for years to come.

Clearly, if you build it, they will not simply come. And if they come, but you do not build it right, you will not be seeing their $20.

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image of Mike Schultz

Mike Schultz is president of RAIN Group, a global sales training and performance improvement company, and director of the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research. He is the bestselling author of Rainmaking Conversations and Insight Selling. He also writes for the RAIN Selling Blog.

LinkedIn: Mike Schultz

Twitter: @mike_schultz