seems like we're all so busy these days that taking our business
online can seem like just one more "to-do."
top of seemingly constant time pressure, there's the need to make
a reasonable return on any kind of marketing or customer service
investment. How do we know that our investment in a new technology
learning curve, the commitment of valuable resources and the other
kinds of time drains are worth it?
this evaluation can be especially challenging, given that we're
in the early stages of the Internet's development as a communication
medium, and lots of web experiments have proven to be unsuccessful
when evaluated against a straight return.
why, this month on The Web Edge, I'm taking on the question, "How
do I know if the Internet is right for my business?" Apparently
it's a concern that a lot of people share. After all, creating a
website can be a risky business. It's a new form of communication
on a new frontier, and therefore, it's easy to make mistakes. In
fact, that's part of the reason that the "cutting edge" is sometimes
known as the "bleeding edge" and why this column is called The Web
NEW COMMUNICATIONS ENVIRONMENT
But, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to talk you out of anything.
Au contra ire! In some ways, because I'm such a believer in the
power of the Web. I think the question should be, "What's the best
way for my company to get on the Web?" (I'll address that question
more concretely in next month's Web Edge column.)
Bottom line, I think that almost every business can benefit from
an effective website, however that doesn't mean that you should
over-spend which is where I think a lot of the negative feedback
a recent headline in the San Francisco Chronicle shouted, "The Internet
boom is just beginning." Reporting on the Summer Internet World
97 in Chicago, the article quoted Alan Taffel, a VP at mega-ISP
Inc. as saying "Our network has to grow by a factor of 10 every
year. What industry has even come close to that rate?" Another report
says that the number of web pages posted on the Web doubles every
53 days. Everybody has their favorite statistics, but the phenomenal
growth of the Internet is indisputable, and it is continuing to
literally reshape the computer and the communication industries.
As far as I can tell, it will continue to do so for at least the
next three to five years.
the large technology companies, everyone from Microsoft to Novell
is reshaping their entire business strategy to try to take advantage
of the Internet's growth and impact on communications. And what
have been their biggest mistakes? They didn't move quickly enough
when the dimensions of the ways that the Internet is changing business
began to become apparent.
So what should you do?
NEED TO NETWORK
The specific answer to "what you should do" obviously depends on
the size, nature and resources of your business. I'll get more specific
about that in a moment, but first I want to tell you that I believe
that it won't be long (if we're not there already) before not having
a website will be something like not having a fax machine was just
a few years ago.
way to think about it is to remember that as far as communications
are concerned you need to put the customer first. A few months ago
when Kinko's asked me to write "5
Ways To Do Better Business In A Digital Age," my first point
was " Open all channels of communication." The critical factor here
is that you need to be able to respond to your customers through
whichever medium they prefer. I've now got many clients who prefer
e-mail communications. Can you imagine how short-sighted it would
be of me not to accommodate them? Fundamentally, in the same way
that it's obvious that you need a fax machine now a days, pretty
soon you'll need your company connected online (both outgoing and
incoming communications, both e-mail and a website) just to keep
all of your customer "channels" open.
Now, let's get down to seven specific recommendations regarding
what kinds of businesses are most likely to create short term success
stories on the Web. To get your creative juices flowing, I've written
seven simple questions designed to nudge you in the right direction
if that's appropriate. Although I think every business can benefit
from being an online leader and from carving out a niche in cyberspace,
if you've got an enthusiastic "yes" to any one of the questions
below, then you're likely to benefit even more handsomely from being
a web entrepreneur.
Can you use the web to demonstrate your business's ability to deliver
Most of you probably know by now that simply putting a sales brochure
online is not enough to impress a web audience. Whether it's an
interactive exercise or a solid article that illustrates your expertise.
The best way to attract potential clients or customers to your site
is to offer something of value for free. For example, I'm just completing
a site for Sterling
Consulting Group who are international experts on customer service.
In addition to posting the newsletter that they create for the International
Association for Quality Service, they have also developed a free
interactive quality service audit that offers real insights to any
company who visits their site. Participants answer ten simple questions
online and then receive free consulting in the form of a response
that's determined by their answers. It's fun, and more importantly,
doing the audit gives online viewers a tangible illustration of
Sterling Consulting Group's expertise.
could you offer online that would demonstrate the value of the services
or products that your company provides?
Do you understand how to develop one-to-one marketing programs?
Businesses are built on relationships, and the whole business environment
is changing rapidly from a mass marketing model to a marketplace
where one-to-one marketing strategies will create real strategic
advantages. The essence is that inter activity enables a whole new
kind of relationship building, and the web is a great environment
for these new brands of outreach. The people who wrote the books
on this subject are Don Pepper and Martha Rogers. You can find out
more about their books and about "One-to-One Marketing," at their
website at: www.marketing1to1.com.
Can you use the Internet or the Web to offer better service or support
than your competition?
Airlines and courier services as well as high tech companies have
already discovered that enhancing their services by extending them
into the online universe can please customers while also saving
money. For example, UPS
has saved lots of money in service phone personnel payroll expenses
by answering questions about pricing and helping customers track
shipments through their website. At the same time, software companies
are designing a whole new generation of tech support e-mail services
that automatically search for key words and then generate on-target
might your company be able to do to support your customers by making
useful "inside" information more accessible to your customers?
Are you already selling products that could be offered online with
little incremental cost?
is everybody's favorite example of success in online commerce. With
20-20 hindsight, it's clear that Amazon took an initiative in a
niche where online commerce really makes sense. What's also clear
is that more and more products are going to be sold through the
Data estimates that by the year 2000, 46 million American consumers
will be buying online, spending an average of $350 each (which means
online retail would become a $16 billion market). That's an astronomical
increase from the estimate by Forrester
Research for 1996 of $520 million, but no matter what you think
of International Data's projection, it underscores the significance
of online commerce in the years ahead.
you're already selling products directly to consumers (or especially
if your selling products business-to-business), shouldn't you be
taking the initiative to create an online marketplace for your goods?
Are your customers asking for or would they like more online interaction?
Little explanation is needed here. If you're listening to your customers
and there is any indication whatsoever that they would like to be
interacting with you online, then please consider that to be an
"alert" signal that represents the tip of the iceberg. Act now.
Is your company already using multimedia or video in your sales
and marketing process?
All media is becoming digital. If you're already using multimedia
or video in your marketing or communication programs, you're already
ahead on the learning curve. The Web is a great way to leverage
that advantage so that you will look even better than your competition.
However, if you've got "digital assets" that you can bring to your
website, don't just make them an electronic brochure. Figure out
how to make them part of a relationship-building exercise, contest
or some other kind of creative program.
Can your company benefit from being part of a virtual community
and form networked team building?|
I'll write more about this in the December Web Edge column, but
many companies today are recognizing the value of virtual teams
who use the network to stay connected. E-mail is the base line,
but file transfers, group ware and advances in video conferencing
will continue to enhance the power of these professional relationships.
Furthermore, I believe that web entrepreneurs with the vision to
build virtual communities around their product or service focus
will reap large returns if they have the resources to continue to
develop these enterprises over the next three to five years. If
you're interested in learning more about this opportunity, I'm sure
the book Net Gain written by two McKinsey and Co. Consultants, John
Hagel and Arthur Armstrong will prove to be a worthy read.
As I said at the beginning of this column, I think that almost every
business can benefit from an effective website, but that doesn't
mean that you should over-spend. Beyond all of the valuable ingredients
described above, and perhaps more important than climbing the technology
learning curve, is the skills and talent that are necessary to effectively
balance your resources. I think a lot of companies suffer from an
overdose of entrepreneurial enthusiasm without the counter-balance
of careful planning.
my recommendation is to determine first which of the web's many
strategic advantages will benefit your company most. The result
will be the creation of realistic goals. Then, if you set your objectives
precisely and design an efficient plan to achieve those goals, your
reward will be a successful website.
month, I'll talk about strategies for website implementation. In
the meantime, my general recommendation regarding whether the Internet
is right for your company, is that the answer is probably "yes."
However, given the challenges I've discussed, you should proceed
with care, but proceed. Otherwise, you will risk being pre-empted
by your competition.
next month, stay tuned.
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