The Internet offers great potential for sales. Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers surrounding the actual possibilities of that arena. If we learn how to sell using the Internet, we may have tapped into the "mother lode" of marketing tools. This column offers a perspective on using this valuable mechanism to sell products and services pertinent to the records- management and self-storage industries.
The Nature of the Internet
I have been using the Internet since before Al Gore invented it, since even before Netscape offered a better way to navigate it with a graphical user interface. The Internet has been around for several years, developed by the government and academia for the primary purpose of sharing information and research. Businesses and the general public have finally tapped into it and are using it with a vengeance.
Since the beginning, the Internet has been essentially informational in nature. Computers and file servers all over the world hold content on every subject imaginable. If you want information on any topic, you can find more than you need on the World Wide Web. As a matter of fact, that is one of its biggest drawbacks: There is a plethora of information out there and much of it is inaccurate. How do we find our way through this maze of "stuff"? There is no question that information abounds, and it represents the first "wave," or function, of the Internet.
The Second Wave
If information typifies the first wave, then data collection represents the second wave. Website owners want information from you. Data-collection websites range from those of airlines that use the Internet for ticketing and reservations, to the local zoo collecting new-membership information. Privacy has become crucial in this wave, with security and other ethical questions at the heart of the issue.
If someone gives you information over the Internet, he wants two things from you: 1) assurance that only you will use the information and only for the purpose he gave it to you for; and 2) something of value in return. In the case of an airline reservation, a user logs on to a private and secured website, and the airline assures that his information is only for its use. What he gets in return is an immediate confirmation of his flight, lower fares and increased frequent-flyer points. Each individual has to determine the "value" of providing his information in this manner. In this example, the lower fares and double frequent-flyer points make it worthwhile. But each person has to determine if the payoff is of sufficient value for him to disclose private information.
The key question for you, as a business owner, is, "How do I get people to give me the information I need in order to sell them something?"
Remember that "value" may be perceived differently by each individual. What you believe to be of value may be worthless to someone else. In sales, "value" refers to what is important to the prospect or customer. If I want information from the customer, I must learn what is valuable to him, what will entice him to give me the information I need.
So, the second wave in the development and usage of the Internet is data collection. Why is this important to those of us who sell products and services? In selling records-management, for example, we must determine if the "suspect" is indeed a prospect. We do this by estimating his need for our services. Once we know he has a need, the sale is easy.
The Third Wave
The third wave of Internet development is referred to as e-commerce. This implies that we transact business over the Internet. We sell something and the customer buys it. So we have migrated from information, to data collection to e-commerce over a very short period of time--in fact, just a few years. The future belongs to those who can figure out how to sell economically over the Internet.
An Internet Marketing Model
1. Select several hundred "suspects." This can be done entirely by using the Internet. If you visit a site called Prospecting for Data (www.tmisnet.com/ ~strads/search/), you'll find numerous search engines that give you free information about suspects, for example, all corporate lawyers by zip code. You can get the name, address, phone number, fax number, e-mail address, website and other key information for members of this population simply by selecting the right search engine. Some search engines will give only e-mail addresses or websites, while others can perform reverse search logic (phone-number look-up, etc.).
2. Copy the selected suspects into a Microsoft Word, Excel or Access file. I will not go into detail about this method since it is purely a Windows function and uses relatively simple "drag-and-drop" and "cut-and-paste" technology.
3. Fax the suspects an introduction message. Why fax? Fax gets more attention than either e-mail or direct mail. Only overnight mail gets more attention. Invite them to log on to your website for their "free gift." Remember the question is always, "What is valuable to this group of suspects?" The gift could be as simple as a coffee mug, or something like a free car wash or a ticket to the symphony or zoo. Our premise assumes you must give something of value to get information in return.
4. When they log on to your website, it should be secured and contain a form to gather the data.
5. Collected data is then automatically dropped into the database by the system.
6. The data then generates three results: a) a proposal letter outlining the suspect's savings delivered via fax and e-mail; b) a free gift letter to the suspect; and c) an e-mail to you to follow-up the proposal.
All of these steps can be done automatically using a combination of technologies: fax, e-mail, the Internet, snail-mail and telephone. What do you need to do this?
- A computer equipped with a modem
- Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer programs
- Internet connectivity through an Internet service provider
- An e-mail address
- A secure website
- A data-collection tool (form)
- A modicum of training and education.
Regular columnist Cary F. McGovern is a certified records manager and the principal of File Managers Inc., a records-management consulting firm specializing implementation assistance and training for new, commercial records-center start-ups, as well as marketing support for existing records centers. For more information, visit www.fileman.com.
FileMan Records Management is developing a model for selling records-management services on the Internet. The company will soon be piloting several versions of its method. If you are interested in becoming a FileMan Pilot participant, e-mail email@example.com or call toll-free: (877) FILE-MAN.