Optimize customer interactions in a downturn

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It's pretty bleak out there, and some are predicting that the economy will get worse before it gets better. In this sort of environment, e-commerce marketers need to take a look at the ROI of their outbound marketing, and how effective their Web site is at converting customers coming to the site. Traffic generation spend is wasted if that traffic does not convert, and average conversion rates hovering at 3% or so seem to indicate that the selling conversation that we are having with our customers leaves something to be desired.

We know all of the demographic information about a particular customer. We know their purchase history. We know what other sites they browse and what interests and hobbies they have. We know what site referred them to us and how to position the right product in front of the customer. The tools and technology out there today provide a wealth of information to help us market, merchandise and target. They just don't help us to sell. To use an old angling analogy, it's the difference between fishing and catching.

One of the things that is missing is the ability for marketers to align the way that the website “speaks” to the customer.  We've all been to Web sites where we feel that the Web site is “cluttered” or “confusing” or “uncomfortable.” We've had to struggle and compromise through the buying process because there are procedures and data entries that are counterintuitive to us. That feeling is an emotive response to a communication misalignment. The Web site satisfies someone else's expectations of how the buying experience should progress. In a brick-and-mortar environment, it's the equivalent of being in an unfamiliar store without signs that are filled with aggressive salespeople offering us products we don't want, suggestions we don't need and irrelevant reviews and comparisons.

Alignment of communication is important in closing a sale, and what marketers have lacked is an understanding of the customer's decision making process, their motivation and their communications preferences.  But that is starting to change. New behavioral analytics tools analyze shopper click patterns and language used in searches to give marketers insight into the psychology of their customers – or the “how” and “why” of the customer buying experience. They help marketers understand what types of customers are closing or abandoning on their site, and the critical conditions that must be met for them to make purchases.  For instance, some customers want to avoid problems and risk, while others need affirmation from industry experts. Some want only a search bar vs. product reviews, recommendations, or user testimonials. Some are highly process oriented and prefer to be walked through a shopping experience in a step-by-step manner.

This new insight into customer expectations and buying behaviors allows a radically different approach to behavioral targeting. Targeting communication, language and behavior - the buying experience - to the customer can result in large percentage point gains in conversion rates.

While your company can't be all things to all people, it's extremely beneficial to understand the psychology of the groups of customers that are closing -- and those that aren't -- so you can determine what's working and what's lacking. Knowing customers' wants and needs can help you attract more of those types that are closing as a result of campaigns targeted for those shoppers. By simply altering language in a Google ad, you can increase visitor rates of these customer segments. Making minor adjustments in language, content and layout for your Web site can help turn those customer types that aren't closing into buyers.

Tough times call for new ways of thinking, and implementing new psychology-based approaches could pay significant dividends.

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