Gary Halbert is a successful, no-holds-barred, in-your-face direct marketer. He often advises copywriters, marketers and sales folk: "Look for a starving crowd."

When you find the crowds, however, they might think they should jump right to the main course rather than starting with bite-sized information. Online sales, just like off-line sales, involves a process.

While consultants and people who are knowledgeable about selling know this, many don't. Often, it takes more than one interaction to get the sale. So how does an expert explain to a client that the process involves initial work before you reach the goal—i.e., making the sale?

Read on for valuable advice about the most effective way to educate clients about the various research and interactions needed for a successful online sales process.

Stuffed after a great meal? Can you share your dessert with a reader who asks for advice on when to introduce a product to its public? Click here to offer your advice.

Past Challenge

The previous question asked how to teach clients that Web-traffic generation is only one of the steps needed to convert visitors to customers:

'Feed a starving crowd'—educating clients about online sales

Direct marketer Gary Halbert's advice is to "look for a crowd of starving people," which is certainly the biggest and best thing you can do to market your services online. But what if you have a starving crowd who wants your services, but for you to provide true business value (i.e., attributable bottom line profit) you need to "educate" your clients that your initial work (Web traffic generation) is only the start, and conversion is the key. No doubt it's a problem that many people encounter—how do you "educate" your clients about the online sales process in the most effective way?

—Tom, Director

Many marketers who responded indicated they're as stumped as Tom is on how to effectively educate clients on the sales process. Fortunately, Zahid Adil, marketing and branding consultant with Thinkmor, provided a detailed approach starting with "Put yourself into your customers' shoes":

Take time to understand their business, their needs and understand their limitations as a company. After all, you want the client to run with you, but you cannot make them run if they don't even know how to walk yet—at least in the online world. When you are educating clients to whom you are also selling your services, it helps to combine the two and overlap at strategic points. After all, don't you want the client to give you the business saying "Yes, Yes, let's do it!"? Remember, you still have to ask for the business to get the business.

First, provide your clients with the overall benefits. For skeptical small businesses and entrepreneurs, nothing better gets their attention than demonstrating potential profit and ROI by using online sales. Demonstrate using the Return of Investment (ROI) expected by using solid case studies across various industries and ideally within your client's industry covering the minimum surface of the sales process. Spice up your metric data by including industry-known research data/stats for extra credibility.

Make your process simple and understandable

Make your process simple and clear by using language your client will understand. Identify and collaboratively agree on clear goals from the outset. Help your client understand the small milestones that lead up to ultimately achieving their online sales goals. If using special jargon, then clearly explain what these words are and don't assume anything.

Manage steps in your sales process

Try and break your overall sales process down into chunks that are digestible, get buy-in after each stage from the client and confirm the client's understanding. When moving to next steps, quickly recap previous ground—reaffirm milestones where they relate to the overall goal. Getting clients to buy in (assuming you have also pre-qualified them too) at each stage is common sense, otherwise you may end up wasting your time.

Get clients paddling: 'Come in, the water's great!'

By this stage, we assume you have a fair idea of your client's business, know what key driving factors are important for your client and your client now knows how online sales can dramatically help their bottom line. Now you need to take them to test the water. Establish clear metrics and expectations, assuming you have already conveyed how online measurement is highly measurable and better than most mediums, for your client to start stage one of optimizing their Web sites through search engine optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM), for example.

Clearly document measurements before and after optimization. We have found clients that have little knowledge of the online sales world, maybe because of skepticism or plain ignorance. But in the long term, develop long and substantial online investment through a hand-held approach they can see tested in small projects. Once they are confident and can see a difference, they commit wholeheartedly.

This approach is not a short-term strategy and depends totally on how well you qualify your prospects and the level of mutual respect and relationships between both clients and consultants.

Thank you, Zahid Adil, for thoroughly explaining the process. Many companies post their process or details on "How we work with our clients" on their Web sites. Being up front about the process might prevent customers from thinking the process isn't moving fast enough or producing results as quickly as they expected. Share results from past campaigns along with the turnaround times with clients so they have a realistic view of how things happen.

Go on and feed your client who is starving for results. If possible, start with an appetizer by doing something on a small scale that produces results to leave them wanting more.

Can You Solve This Challenge?

Top Secret: Announce a New Product or Keep It 'For Your Eyes Only'?

We're a small company in a niche market and we're doing well in the industry. At a user conference, we introduced new product concepts to get feedback from our target market. The audience responded positively to our presentation, so we're moving forward with installing the products at select client sites.

So what's the problem? Our marketing team wants to move forward with launching the product and spreading the word to our markets. However, Mr. Bigwig, spy wanna-be, wants to keep it under wraps because he doesn't want enemies to find out about it. What strategies do you take when it comes to bringing a new product to the marketplace and communicating that to the market?

—Laurie, Director

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Hank Stroll ( is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.