Buy or Good-Bye!

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When did all the e-commerce sites start acting like rabid day traders? We've all heard the knocks on the day traders. They're the guys with no patience, the folks who buy a stock, wait 10 minutes for it to go up, and then sell it.

Well, an entire crop of online merchants is starting to treat potential customers the same way. They run ads that scream at users and then drive them to a Web site where there are only two choices: buy something right now or go away.

Imagine a sales rep who comes back to his boss and says, "Hey boss, I really tried, but no sales today. I walked into 20 businesses with no appointment and tried to close the sale. I used every closing technique I know, but I didn't even get close to making a sale."

Well, that's no surprise. Every great salesperson knows that to make a sale, you've got to understand the needs of your prospects. You need to pitch them benefits, not features. And it helps if you've got an appointment in a quiet room, as opposed to having to yell at someone in a crowded hallway.

So why aren't more people acting this way online? What happened to the power of maybe? That's right, the power of maybe. On the Internet, once you have permission, frequency is free. So it's OK for a prospect to say, "Maybe I'm interested. Get back to me later." And, it's OK for a merchant to ask the prospect some questions, without worrying so much about whether you're going to sell something today.

Achieving ROI from online ads doesn't come from an interrupt-and-sell-now approach. It comes from slowly moving someone from stranger to friend and from friend to customer.

Here are my three top recommendations for doing this:

• Build a different site for first-time visitors (easy to do if you use cookies). Make that first site focused on building your image and your brand, explaining what you do, and most of all, getting permission to have a future interaction.

Instead of trying to turn every visitor into a dollar sign, focus on turning every visitor into someone willing to be seduced into returning.

• Figure out what sort of loss leaders can be used to get someone into a buying mode with you. One site I worked with gave away a CD to everyone who joined their site. The CD cost them only a few dollars, and by offering it with no strings attached, they got over the hump and discovered how much easier it was to interact with customers once they had a head start.

• Make sure you integrate your banners and other online media with the landing page you'll be sending people to. A banner with great click-through is useless if the people who show up leave disappointed. And, a great offer is invisible if you don't tell people what you've got.

The best sites are like serial monogamists, crazy about dating, and working hard to romance each consumer as if he was the only one they had. Is yours one of them?

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