Six Ways to Sell Your Expertise Online

Many of my clients over the years have been in the business of being “Experts.” Some are consultants, some are advisors, and some highly-skilled professionals within their field. The challenge with using Digital to market one’s expertise is that the online world is full of charlatans, and most people who’ve hired a few “experts” have had at least one of them not live up to their claims.

Selling expertise face-to-face is quite a bit easier. The true Expert’s skills come across in their body language, their confidence, their humility, and how they carry themselves. Most of this non-verbal communication isn’t accessible online, so how can you use the Web to market and sell your expertise?

Here’s six ways I’ve seen work, in no particular order:
1. Persuasive Copy – One of the biggest (unspoken) challenges of selling expertise is persuading the prospect that it’s OK for her to give up control. How do you know that the Expert will make you look good to your bosses instead of bad? No one wants to feel stupid, and no one wants to lose face, so overcoming this objection online is very tricky. Persuasive copy is probably the best way to solve it. Look at this copy from Jeff Sexton:

p.s. Once, a very long time ago, when I had just gotten my license, I was with my father in a rather [expletive] of a snow storm in the mountains of North Carolina in my new car. The weather was awful and I was scared to death… and I’m not ashamed to admit that. We were seriously in danger of sliding off the edge of the mountain. Then, I remembered something he had told me years ago when I was a kid.

He taught me that if you’re ever in a situation where you happen to be traveling in a DANGEROUS situation, give the controls of that vehicle to the person with you who is most skilled at operating a vehicle under those types of conditions. That means you should not necessarily take control yourself… or to give them to the person that’s been driving the “longest”… or to the person that has the most driving “certifications”…

You should give the wheel to the person who is BEST at navigating that car through that particular dangerous terrain.

So, rather than let my pride possibly take my car away from me:

I gave the controls to my new car in that dangerous situation to my father!

In this situation… ask yourself… “Who should I give the navigational controls to?”

See how the copywriter used a parable to let prospects learn it’s OK to give control to an expert who can handle a particular situation?

2. Video Testimonials – Text-based testimonials are intrinsically “fake-able,” and some skeptical prospects may dismiss them as less than real or authentic. I’m not sure why more companies aren’t leveraging video testimonials, which are a lot harder to fake. When someone believes in their heart that you’re an Expert, and they’ve placed their trust in you, that emotion should come across in a good video.

3. Search Engine Optimization – Let’s face facts…buying a Pay Per Click ad to tell me you’re an expert isn’t very persuasive. Seeing you (or even your name) a few times on the first page of organic search results is. There aren’t many businesses that don’t need to be working on their SEO, but if you’re selling expertise, you’d better be putting some resources towards showing up organically for your target keywords. NOTE: Proceed with caution – overly-aggressive search optimization practices can hurt your credibility with searchers AND search engines!

4. Have a credible web presence – there’s a whole field of study around online credibility, so I won’t spend much ink on this, but it’s worth mentioning that the credibility of your design, content, and even your social networking accounts will definitely have an impact on your ability to market your expertise.

5. A Good (Accessible) Track Record – Maybe this one goes without saying, but make sure your prospects can find your “track record” — your case studies, before and after comparisons, etc. And please don’t make them submit a lead form to get to them. Put the content out there, and if they’re interested, they’ll reach out to you.

6. Publish or Perish – Somewhat related to numbers 3-5, what I mean by “publish or perish” (apologies for jargon from Academia) is that you have to be constantly proving and re-proving your expertise. Especially in the technology space, just because you were an Expert 18 months ago doesn’t mean you are now. So make sure that your case studies stay fresh. Keep updating your website to deal with hot topics in your field, and when you don’t have time to do either one, you’d better be blogging or micro-blogging. If you give out a strong, consistent signal, prospects gravitate towards you. If you get lazy, they’ll flounder around for a bit, then follow the newer, stronger signals.

In summary, it is absolutely feasible to sell your expertise online, but the skills you have as an expert won’t necessarily allow you to sell that expertise in a digital space. You may need to rely on the expertise of others!

[A version of this post was originally published August 19th, 2009 on, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]


3 Ways to Lose an eCommerce Sale

What you’re about to read was inspired by a real-life online shopping experience. I won’t mention the guilty site, but I’ll say they sell clothing and jewelry to young urbanites.

As I relate the following three eCommerce mishaps, be thinking about whether you can eradicate all of them from your business by the time the “Holiday Rush” hits. ALL are preventable if you start today and take one item at a time.

Let’s start at the “precipitating event;” the spark that lit my desire to shop online…

1. An email with a promo code arrived. w00t! They paid attention to past purchases, and sent me a great promotion: 10% off a brand I’ve purchased before, and free shipping if the order exceeds a certain amount.

How They’re Losing Sales: Despite not mentioning an expiration date for the promo code, it was expired by the time I reached checkout. I’m notoriously slow for opening emails from online retailers, but I bet I’m not alone. Creating a sense of urgency with an expiration date is fine, but remember that shoppers sometimes go weeks without going through their personal email accounts to read your promo codes.

And now it’s Customer Service’s turn…

2. When the promo code came up as expired, I was understandably disappointed. I’d just spent a fair amount of my weekend building up enough value in my shopping cart to qualify for the free shipping (Yes, I’m cheap.) My credit card was out of my wallet. So, I clicked the live chat in the cart to see if they’d extend the promo code, or give me an equivalent one.

How They’re Losing Sales: The live chat agent, while polite and earnest, was not able to do anything to help me (be a cheapskate). They weren’t empowered by their employer to get creative and save me from abandoning my cart. They suggested I call the “real” Customer Service during regular M-F business hours. So my guess is that the live chat is being outsourced, which is fine, but if they aren’t empowered to save sales, they’re probably not giving good ROI.

Now stepping up to the plate, Technology

3. I came back the next day with the intention of calling the retailer and trying to get them to extend the promo code or give me the equivalent deal. So, I returned to the site and clicked “My Cart” to review what I’d put in there, and have it on-screen when I called.

How They’re Losing Sales: They didn’t save my cart! So many sites are saving cart items via cookie that I assumed my items would be there the following day or week. So now I’m definitely not going to re-build my cart AND call them to try and negotiate the promo code. I’m going to just repress the whole memory…maybe I’ll even forget the retailer’s brand in the process!

These 3 blunders may seem unconnected from a business perspective, but from a buyer perspective, they were all part of a persuasion scenario that broke down and turned a VERY motivated shopper into a lost sale.

I do like the site, and hope they can address these issues and stay in business. But they and others will have a very painful holiday sales season if they don’t treat the disparate parts as a unified buying experience that must be nearly flawless to be profitable.

[A version of this post was originally published August 11th, 2009 on, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

Turning Web Analytics into Nonprofit Success

Non-profit web analytics success?!? I know, I know. You think I’ve gone crazy with the heat. But today, I’m talking about how web analytics can set you up for success, even if your tax status is a bit different.

Sarah from Seattle tweeted the other week, asking for advice on how to use web analytics, and specifically “goals tracking” to help her with a nonprofit website supporting the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. I thought it would be good topic to explore a bit, so I’ll start with the basics.

Even the most “nonprofit” website still has digital goals, and let’s face it, they’re still “business” goals. Keeping that in mind, I’m going to try to label some different types of business goals one could track in web analytics, and more importantly, how to measure success.

  1. Memberships & Donations – I won’t spend much time on this one because it’s pretty obvious. Most nonprofits’ main digital goal is to solicit memberships or donations. And tracking them using web analytics is no different than ‘for profit’ sites. The only caveat is that (unfortunately) human nature seems to dictate a longer consideration cycle for donations than, say, buying a fancy new smartphone. Knowing this, it’s wise to track the content and micro-conversions that might lead to a donation (micro-conversions). Think about downloading brochures and visiting particular pages about the mission statement, leadership, whether donations are tax-deductible, etc.
  2. Logistics – For physical spaces like galleries, museums, and parks, there are goals related to logistics that indicate a strong likelihood of a visit. These should be tracked as goals, and optimized on an ongoing basis. Some examples here are downloading a map, visiting a page that lists directions and hours of operation, or even interacting with content related to “events.” For maps, it would be great to track that a visitor had mapped from their location to the nonprofit’s location, as that indicates strong intent to actually visit. For events, some sort of “add to calendar” micro-conversion would indicate strong intent. Another great goal to track regarding events is getting prospects to sign up for time-sensitive reminders via email or SMS.
  3. Opting In to Content Pushes – That’s an odd phrase, but it’s my way of saying that nonprofits should be tracking goals where prospects allow you into their lives a bit. Anytime a prospect opts to become more than an anonymous site lurker you achieve a portion of your business goal! The Burke Museum has lots of great options already, so it would just be a matter of tracking goals related to: subscribing to their blog, signing up for their email newsletter, taking action to follow them on Twitter, and taking action to friend them on Facebook. If you can’t track with 100% certainty that a conversion has occurred, track the action taken (e.g. clicking a Facebook icon) that shows strong intent.

Note that most web analytics programs won’t necessarily allow you to track all of these things as goals “out of the box,” but with some technical knowledge (especially JavaScript), perseverance, and creativity, they’re all quite achievable.

Calling all NPOs! What else are you tracking (or wishing you could track) as goals in your web analytics?

[A version of this post was originally published July 29th, 2009 on, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

4 Steps To Optimization Success

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about why certain organizations succeed with Optimization, and why others succeed “less.” To use the exercise regimen metaphor, many people start exercise programs with goals of losing weight or a better physique, but not everyone sticks with it and achieves their goals.

I thought I’d share some insights so that if you’re thinking about an optimization program, you can avoid the pitfalls and reap the rewards.

There are many nuances of course, but I’d boil it all down to 4 basic steps.

Step 1 – Get Help

Those who get a personal trainer are more likely to accomplish their fitness goals. In the world of online marketing, those who get expert help are far more likely to achieve their business goals than those who try to “DIY.” The help you need is cross-disciplinary: you need expert eyes looking at aesthetics, usability, copywriting, marketing strategy, A/B split testing, personas, pay per click, search engine optimization, and more.

Step 2 – Get Out of Project Mentality

There is a tendency to think about improving a website, or any marketing, as a one-time project with a beginning and end. I believe this is the wrong approach to optimization. You may think you can join a gym for 3 months, lose some weight, then cancel your gym membership and still maintain your improvements. But only a true lifestyle change can help you accomplish fitness goals. Same goes for Optimization, also known as Continuous Improvement. The shift out of project mentality needs to be addressed within your organization (culture), with your vendors, and especially with those who are going to “own” the implementation of your continuous improvements.

Step 3 – Budget For It

Closely related to Step 2, Step 3 is to budget for a process of ongoing optimization. Since it’s not a project that ever should “end,” it should always be in the budget, right? If you join a gym and see improvements (you drop a few pounds, keep them off, and feel better in general), why wouldn’t you budget that gym membership for at least the next couple years? Also keep in mind that “budget” doesn’t just mean a line item in a spreadsheet. Budgeting your internal resources’ time is important, too.

Step 4 – Celebrate the Wins, Learn From the Losses

I’ve already written about celebrating the wins, even if they’re small. Part of the celebration process is stepping back from the day-to-day process of Optimization and acknowledging that the process as a whole is effective. And publicizing wins is probably the most effective way to make sure Optimization costs stay in the budget no matter what! As far as losses go, I define a “loss” as a tested optimization change that decreased a KPI. One of the great things about digital changes is that if they don’t work, un-doing them is pretty quick and painless. But, too many clients back away from testing, changing, and optimizing because of a loss or two. Again using the weight loss analogy, weight fluctuates, and just because you gain back a pound that you lost, doesn’t mean you quit exercising. The key is to learn from the failed change, and inform your next round of optimization. That way, it just feeds back into your cycle of continuous improvement.

Hope this is helpful, and would like to hear your thoughts in the comments on if you think there are other Steps to Optimization that deserve a future post.

[Originally published May 27th, 2009 on, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]


For Every Optimization, There’s a Hierarchy, So Get Started

I sometimes wonder why more companies aren’t busy optimizing their websites and digital marketing. Or why those who are “on board” with the concept don’t always commit the right amount of resources towards the effort.

I’m not a mind-reader, but I think it’s due in part to an all-or-nothing mentality where nothing short of a full optimization ‘project’ is worth putting effort into. Most companies are more interested in redesigning their websites all at once instead of incrementally, even though incremental optimization is far less expensive, less risky, and more accountable!

Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time.”

Sometimes, I tell clients to redesign and optimize a small design element of their site; their call to action buttons, for example. And they seem tentative and slow to implement the recommendation. Why? Maybe because they think it has to be 100% optimized right away, or they want some sort of guarantee that it will be perfect in order to devote resources to the task.

A useful model to get past this mode of thinking is to use the Hierarchy of Optimization. It’s a great mental framework to think about a roadmap of how businesses should be optimizing their digital assets, and with what priority. I learned a ton of great concepts from working with Bryan Eisenberg, but the Hierarchy of Optimization might be my favorite.

Take a quick look at Bryan’s hierarchy video linked above, and then I’ll apply the model to real-life design elements that most sites should be taking a look at. Note that the Hierarchy has 5 levels:

  • the Persuasive
  • the Intuitive
  • the Usable
  • the Accessible
  • the Functional

While you can apply the 5 levels at a “macro” level on your entire site, you can also apply them at the “micro” level on a single landing page or even small design elements.

Example 1 – Call to Action Buttons

  • Persuasive – Do all the layers of the pyramid work together as a cohesive whole? Are you actively testing your buttons? Do all your calls to action pair an imperative verb with an implied benefit? Do they answer WIIFM?
  • Intuitive – Do your buttons look like buttons? Do they look “clickable”? Do they feature 3-d effects, shading, or rich surfaces?
  • Usable – Are your calls to action always located in a consistent position on pages? Do they follow the prospect’s eye path as it travels down the page? On your forms, do the buttons line up with the “scan line“?
  • Accessible – Is there alt text behind your calls to action? If you use graphics, do they load and render in all your supported OS/Browser combinations?
  • Functional – Do all your pages even have a primary call to action button? Are any of them broken? Is anyone responsible for occasionally testing them?

Example 2 – Testimonials

  • Persuasive – Are your testimonials architected to answer questions and overcome objections throughout the prospect’s buying process? Are your testimonials as ‘real’ as possible, using pictures of the customer? How about video testimonials? Are you constantly testing to find the right testimonial content/format for your business?
  • Intuitive – Do your testimonials follow common design patterns for displaying quotes? Are relevant testimonials placed on key pages to answer your prospects’ unanswered questions? Do you attribute quotes with name, location, and other relevant information?
  • Usable – Are your testimonials readable? Are they an appropriate font size and contrast? Do prospects have to go hunting for them, or are they spread throughout the site?
  • Accessible – In this case, Accessible and Usable can be thought of as essentially the same layer of the pyramid. See Usable.
  • Functional – Do you have testimonials? Are they legitimate? Do you have permission to attribute the author with at least a first name and last initial?

Besides what I hope are useful questions to ask yourself, the point of all this is to encourage everyone to start today on optimization, take baby steps, and work your way up the Hierarchy. As the old saying goes: You can’t eat an elephant in just one bite!

[Originally published June 29th, 2009 on, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

The Shopping Cart: Are You Answering These 5 Silent Questions?

The ecommerce shopping cart is a great place to run tests because simple changes (layout, copy, color, etc.) often yield fantastic results. But once you’ve hit a point of diminishing returns with “easy” A/B tests, you’ve got to dig in deeper and find out if you’re answering customers’ silent questions. I call them “silent questions” because customers don’t ask them of site owners directly. They simply buy from you if their questions are answered, and buy from your competitor if they go unanswered!

There are unanswered questions in the minds of our customers that we think are obviously answered on the page, but guess what? We’re blind to the truth that our customers miss things that we put in front of them. We’re too close to our own designs and user experiences to be objective. (If you’ve ever witnessed a usability test, you know the pain I’m referring to).

If you’re not sure about what those unanswered questions are, specific to your business, you can back up a few steps and use personas or user testing to uncover them. Personas help you empathize target customers (not you) and imagine their specific shopping questions. User (usability) tests can be designed to uncover customer questions by assigning a shopping task and asking the subject(s) open ended questions and encouraging them to “think out loud.”

For example, here are 5 key, unanswered questions (beyond shipping costs) of the shopping cart:

  1. Do you offer alternate forms of payment (aside from credit card)?
  2. Are you safe and secure?
  3. Why are you asking for this information?
  4. Do I have to set up an account to buy?
  5. Do I get to review my order before we transact?

I recently bought a Father’s Day present online from a gift retailer, and their overall shopping cart process was “OK.” I would give it a “B-” grade; it was good enough to get me through the purchase without bailing, but not nearly good enough to earn brand loyalty. But, they did a good job of clearly answering the 5 Questions, and it was enough to help them “Get The Cash.”

Are you adequately answering the 5 unanswered questions? You won’t know unless you’re doing customer research and experimentation. Whether your confidence level is low, high, or somewhere in between, I know you could run some interesting tests to validate your assumptions about how well you’re doing, and you might increase your funnel conversion rate in the process! Want help? Let me know.

[Originally published June 22nd, 2009 on, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

6 Stages of Developing an Optimization Culture

One of the things that makes being a Digital Marketing Optimization expert/consultant fun is watching clients » partners » friends grow as professionals within their organizations. Many start off skeptical about the process of site optimization, or unrealistic about what can be gained in a given time frame. But after working through some of the challenges, it’s great to see them thinking about their marketing and their businesses in completely different (read: better) ways, and subscribing to a culture of continuous improvement.

Here’s my breakdown of 6 stages in developing an optimization culture:

  1. Acceptance – this is the stage where a business realizes that Optimization has value, and in order to reap the rewards, the status quo isn’t going to work. Something additional has to be done, which calls for some combination of the following:
    • shift in focus
    • additional resources
    • new tools
    • working with outside experts
  2. Testing the Waters – this is the stage where the business starts testing and optimizing, and often gets some big wins just by making minor changes to their site, or removing basic conversion roadblocks.
  3. Infatuation – after getting some wins from “low hanging fruit,” clients sometimes become fixated on testing and optimization. They check their test dashboards multiple times a day, they cheer when they see green in their testing tool’s dashboard, and they wring their hands when they see any yellow or red indicators. The less-disciplined business will often lose focus at this point and miss out on all the fun (and profit.)
  4. Thinking About Resources – after things have settled down, there have been a few wins, and a few inconclusive tests (inconclusive changes still give you incredibly valuable data and piece of mind), the business starts to think about how to support an optimization process long-term. They realize that this process isn’t free; it takes hard work and resources to create, administrate, and analyze tests. It takes even more work to take action on the findings of all those tests. They evaluate their current teams and whether they can properly support a culture of continuous improvement. This is a magnificent stage to witness, and once an organization knows their resources, it’s much easier to stay on target.
  5. Getting Analytical – once in the habit of optimization, I start to see clients question their assumptions, their vendors’ assumptions, and generally why the data is the way it is. This is when things get fun! Often, clients write me with test ideas or analysis of their very own, and I know that the “training wheels” have officially come off. 🙂
  6. The New Way of Doing Business – this stage shows clients becoming calm and nonchalant when a site change gives them double or triple-digit improvements. More impressive is that they are equally happy when a test has a negative or inconclusive impact, because it’s all part of the continuous improvement process. They realize that even single-digit increases achieved on a regular basis will have incredible effects on their bottom line, kind of like compounding interest in a financial investment!

I hope this proves helpful in developing an optimization culture within your organization. These stages are ones that I’ve observed occurring naturally. You could of course try to “encourage” a different course of development if you’re up for more formal organizational change management. How are things developing for you?

[Originally published March 19th, 2009 on, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

B2B Warning: One Persuasive Video May Not Be Enough

I was reviewing a usability test of a B2B site recently, and I heard two very different reactions to the same video. I’ll paraphrase:

  1. That video was a waste of time. They could’ve conveyed the same information in way less time. My questions aren’t answered.
  2. That video was awesome! I feel much more educated about their service now, and it was very professional-looking.

Scary, right? The video was professionally shot, edited, and produced. It conveyed good information, but it did so in a style that started to persuade one test subject, and didn’t remotely persuade the other test subject.

It got me thinking about how important video can be for persuading B2B site visitors, but also about how different types of videos are persuasive to different types of visitors. Video is just another type of content, so the rules of content (different content persuades different prospects) still apply!

I think a lot of B2B and SaaS lead generation sites go out and get themselves a video to stick on the homepage and think that they’re “done,” and that their conversion rate will start doubling every week or so. But, I propose that one video may not be enough, because you’re trying to persuade people in very different personality profiles. Further, I think the truly optimized B2B site can benefit from multiple videos, in multiple styles, in multiple sections of the site, from multiple video-production vendors!

I’m sure I’m not making any friends with budget-constrained site owners, but hear me out. The real budget-waster is investing in one video that tries to be “all things to all people.” You’ll end up with a disjointed video that’s too long for anyone to tolerate.

Let’s take a minute to review some common types of videos featured on B2B sites:

  1. The “Get to know us” Video – these videos are great for showing the people behind the website/business. Humanistic customers will love them. Methodicals will probably hate them.
  2. The “Make the complicated more simple” Video – these videos help explain complicated concepts in ways that web copy and static visuals can’t do as well. The Competitive and Spontaneous will appreciate this kind of high-level content.
  3. The “Product Demonstration” Video – perhaps the most common video on B2B sites, this one takes visitors through the benefits and features of a digital product using voice overs, animation, and screen recording. Depending on how detailed they are, these videos might resonate with Spontaneous or Methodical customers.
  4. The “Testimonial” Video – these videos add a human touch to the standard, text-based testimonial. These again will be attractive to Humanistics, but the added layer of “realness” can help move the skeptical Competitive decision-maker. They can be testimonials about the working with the company, or about a particular service.

So before you start putting makeup on your CEO and rolling the cameras, I advise that you spend some time thinking about the scenarios your visitors are acting out on your site today, what questions or concerns aren’t being addressed, and if or if not video is the right medium to educate (and begin to persuade) them. You may find that several short, less slick videos that answer your personas’ un-answered questions, placed strategically throughout the site, are more persuasive than that super-slick, Hollywood-style video.

[Originally published April 2nd, 2009 on, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]

Buying Stage Mismatch In Your Customer Experience

Every visitor comes to your site in their own “stage” of their individual buying process. The buying stages are actually a wide spectrum, but I generally break them into Early, Middle, and Late buying stages:

  • Early stage means that the visitor has a problem, and is looking for a solution. They may not know who you are, or that your product/service solves their problem.
  • Middle means that they have an intention to buy a product or service that solves their problem, but not necessarily from you.
  • Late means that they’re persuaded to buy from you, and intend to “close the deal.”

Sometimes, websites seem to be doing everything right, but the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) just aren’t as high as everyone expects. Their sites are functional, accessible, usable, and intuitive. Their look and feel is credible, and their content is high quality. So why do their visitors not behave as we expect? Why do well-planned and well-executed scenarios (e.g. PPC ad → landing page → lead generating form → thank you page) not always convert?

You guessed it: Buying Stage mismatch.

Buying Stage mismatch is when your selling process doesn’t jive with the visitor’s buying process. It’s when your conversion funnel is designed for a buying stage that the visitor isn’t in. Take a look at your site’s conversion funnel…it’s most likely designed for Late Stage buyers, right? Take a look at one of your PPC campaigns…are you showing Early Stage searchers a Middle Stage ad that sends the visitor down a Late Stage funnel? Poor visitor 🙁

The key point is to be aware that multiple buying stages are traversing your designed scenarios. It’s fine if your funnel is fine-tuned to Late Stage buyers, but do you have easy navigation paths to let an Early or Middle stage visitor branch out and get more information? It’s fine if your PPC landing pages are perfect for a Middle Stage searcher, but can an impatient Late Stage searcher “Buy Now”?

How do you identify buying stages to improve your scenarios?

A few ways, using basic analytics tools and skills, are:

  • Look at your keyword lists (in-site search, organic keywords, and paid keywords) and start segmenting by buying stage. Guessing is OK.
  • Look at click paths and navigation (which pages would be attractive/informative to the various stages?)
  • Look for those who bail out of conversion funnels (it could be that they’re not ready to buy)
  • Look at entrance sources (organic vs. PPC vs. referrals vs. direct visits)

[Originally published February 18th, 2009 on, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]


Offline Reps Need to Care About the Online Experience

I finally tracked down that hard to find item online. It was the right size, the right shape, the right finish, and a tolerable price…and free shipping!

I clicked the nice, big, obvious “Add to Cart” button to dive headlong into the conversion funnel. ERROR. Some jargon written by a software developer. No phone number. I did what anyone in the mood to buy would do – I clicked the back button and tried again. ERROR. I clicked back again, and luckily for this eTailer, the toll free number was prominently displayed in the active window, AND I didn’t have any of their competitor sites top-of-mind.

Rep: Welcome to [store with error-ridden], how can I help you?

Me: Well, I’m trying to buy [Item X] on your website, but I can’t, so can you start by checking whether it’s in stock?

Rep: OK, I can help you buy [Item X] no problem.

Now, let’s imagine that conversation as it should have been…

Rep: Welcome to [store with error-ridden], how can I help you?

Me: Well, I’m trying to buy [Item X] on your website, but I can’t, so can you start by checking whether it’s in stock.

Rep: Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that! What happened? Can you describe what you were doing when our website failed you? Did you get an error message? What browser were you using?

Note the difference? A little empathy would’ve been effective and memorable…maybe even blog-worthy. Don’t sound matter-of-fact that your website blew up, or I’ll never use your online channel again, and your brand has been damaged.

And I’m sure the technical team behind that website would’ve LOVED to get their hands on the error code that I’d written down and done some tinkering. And they should’ve, because that website was bleeding money yesterday.

[Originally published September 18th, 2008 on, an award-winning, but now defunct, Marketing Optimization blog.]