Finding Your Way on the Web


The Internet is like steroids for selling. There are multiple ways to use it to increase your sales. Beyond e-mail, you can have a Web site, start a blog, join a chat group, search for potential clients, and meet new customers through online networks. On Jigsaw.com, you can even trade names and information on clients like baseball cards.

I'm not a tech guru, so I like tech books that are written in plain English. There are two new ones about using the Internet to cultivate your business that I recommend -- both filled with stories and examples, which I prefer to abstract theories.

The first is The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online by David Teten and Scott Allen. It's about using online networks, such as LinkedIn, Ecademy, Ryze, and Meetup. I've known Scott for several years, and his knowledge of this topic is impressive.

SEVEN STEPS. Teten and Allen offer seven keys to building a powerful online network: your character, your competence, the relevance of the people in your network, the information you have about those in your network, the strength of your relationships, the number of people in your network, and the diversity of those in your network.

The beauty is that these ideas can be used for either online or offline networks. For starters, rate your network in these seven areas. Then develop one area at a time, maybe one per month. Just think, seven months from now, your network will be larger and stronger.

Let's look deeper at these seven keys. While some of them are more subjective, several of them can actually be measured numerically.

It's interesting that the authors lead the list with the attribute of character. When online, some people mistakenly believe that their spelling and grammar don't matter, or that it's O.K. to blather or gossip. Wrong!

POSITIVE IMAGE. Your online persona reveals so much about you -- your attention to detail, trustworthiness, dependability, honesty, and clarity of thought. When it comes to your character, perception is reality. It doesn't matter how you perceive your character. Rather, it's how others think and feel about your character that counts.

Competence is also a matter of perception. If you have impressive credentials, like you were first in your class, No. 1 sales rep in your region, or have 20 years of experience, let folks know in a modest way. You will be perceived as more competent, and people like to do business with winners.

Relevance can be rated numerically. If you're a widget manufacturer, a network of folks who buy and sell widgets is more valuable than say, a network of unpublished authors. That's not to say that those with lower relevance scores can't help you. They will take longer to lead you to a sale because they can refer you but they can't buy from you directly.

DATABASE STEW. How much information you have about your network can also be rated numerically. For example, in your database, do you just ask for their e-mail addresses or do you want to know 13 pieces of information about them? If you have 50,000 folks in your database and yet don't know anything about them, you really can't connect to anyone in that database stew.

The strength of your relationship can build over time as you get to know the people in your network and they get to know you. Be aware that if you don't deliver what you said you would, you will weaken your relationship.

The diversity of your network can come from your network's industry, ethnicity, gender, location, age, experience, background, hobbies, and more. Think of the plight of those businesses that only sold to Enron or WorldCom, or who had all their clients based in New Orleans. Personally, I seek out diversity in all aspects of my business and life because I want to hear viewpoints and experiences that are different from mine. This allows me to connect with people from a broader scope of backgrounds.

THE BEST CONNECTIONS. After Scott's book arrived, I called him up and asked for one great idea regarding online social networks. He says he only uses LinkedIn for his 75 or so close friends, so that all the connections have high strength. He purposefully doesn't strive to have 500 names linked to him because that would dilute his relationships.

If a stranger asks him to link, Scott asks them to e-mail and chat for a while first. Later, he might add them to LinkedIn. In this way, he demonstrates the value of the connection both to himself and to those select few in his network.

If you're specifically interested in using your Web site to sell more powerfully, I highly recommend The Ultimate Guide to Electronic Marketing for Small Business: Low-Cost/High-Return Tools and Techniques that Really Work by Tom Antion. I also know Tom, and he's the guru of Internet marketing, which is only covered in a small sliver of Scott's book.

EASY TO READ. In small, logical steps, Tom's book teaches you how to build a Web-based business. If you follow the instructions page by page, by the end of the book you'll have the skills of an Internet titan. The book is also full of links to other resources, so it's like a fat tome in a thin body.

I once had a beginner piano book that started with a picture of a piano and the caption, "This is a piano." This book starts just as simply, so anyone can follow it. If you're tech savvy, there's still plenty of meat for you. If you want, you can skim over the first section or two and dive right into search-engine optimization.

As these two books demonstrate, the Internet offers powerful and effective tools to nurture your business. Just don't lose sight of the fact that people still buy from people. Unless you're committed to being the low-cost provider in every situation, build your connections -- both online and offline -- and you'll experience an explosion in connections, introductions -- and sales. Happy selling!

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