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Easy To Buy

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Ten years after my first entrepreneurial failure, I had to force myself to learn sales, at which I seemed to have to work harder than everyone else. It was hard in a simple way. Like playing a musical instrument, it took a lot of practice. The sales cycle begins and ends with prospecting. The routine is seeing new people and following up on them. The difference between success and failure is the dogged tracking of everything and constant measuring of minutia. But, the thing that finally got my attention was easy to understand and embrace. To quote the psalmist Jimmy Buffett, “it was so simple like the jitterbug it plumb evaded me.”

Make it easy for the customer to buy.

today's online customer with a credit cardExceeding customer expectations, human connection, and relationship building are key components of making it easy. So, how about hardware gadgets and software applications? Does technology make it easier? My answer is a definite “maybe.” Let me make it easy for you to buy this essay on whether or not social media accomplishes my axiom. Remembering that hindsight is 20/20, let’s look at the innovation milestones that founded our present situation.

Consider an analogue Internet connecting people by a web of railroad tracks and postal routes that allows for two-way communication utilizing printed multi-page websites. Welcome to the dawn of the 20th Century.

President Abraham Lincoln signed a law called the Homestead Act of 1862 on May 20th of that year. Applicants who were over 21 and who had not born arms against the United States got a “homestead” or grant of 160 acres of undeveloped federal land west of the Mississippi River. They had to live on it for five years and improve [farm] it in return for a deed. Eleven states had left the Union at the time and there would be political and regional issues as a result, but aren’t there always when a government gives people anything? The point here is that the Act expanded western settlement which followed the growth of the railroads.

The postal system implemented Rural Free Delivery (RFD) in 1896. Since the country was literally wireless, telephone wireless, two-way communication was by post. RFD also made the mail order business possible. By permitting the classification of mail order publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge, it entitled those catalogs a one cent per pound postage rate. That made the rural distribution of catalogues quite economical while the railroads provided distribution to delivery points.

The Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog called itself the “Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone,” and the “Cheapest Supply House on Earth,” claiming thatSears, Roebuck and Co. Catalogue “Our trade reaches around the World.” At the apex for mail order merchandise, you have the model website for its time that included testimonials from satisfied customers. The catalogue made every effort to assure the reader that Sears had the lowest prices and best values. The 1903 catalog included the commitment, “Your money back if you are not satisfied.”

The point is that it is not just one thing that makes a milestone, but a combination of things that is transformative. The combination of catalogue, RFD, and the rail system made it easy for customers to buy.

Talk about making it easy, here are some more combinations for consideration. The increasing use of the credit card from 1958 is a significant development for consumers and culture. Add that to the introduction of the American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) 800 toll-free service in 1967, so that subscribers like Sears could allow their customers to reach them without toll charges, and you have a milestone.

The next milestone occurred when the development of an Internet from 1957 is coupled with the relative affordability of the personal computer from about 1986. Add to that combination the growth privately owned shipping services with incredible logistics like UPS and FedEx and by 1994 the Dotcom bubble is on with the founding of Amazon. The next year brought Craigslist, Yahoo and eBay. That being noted, the milestone is that consumers could look at an online catalogue, call a customer service agent, process and pay for an order and have it delivered the next day.

Just for the record, Sears decided to quit producing its “Wish Book” catalogue in 1993 in favor of making it easy for customers to buy online.

We arrive, finally, at the business use of social media. I will argue that the first socialbulletin board: analogue social medium medium is analogue – a bulletin board in a common area that uses paper and thumb tacks. I will further argue that Twitter and Facebook form the electronic generation of the same. How important are they?

According to Demandbase CEO Chris Golec, “Despite its increasing influence, it’s important to keep in mind that no business sale is made without the buyer going to the corporate website first.” In fact research shows that such sites are seven times as effective at generating sales leads as social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. 25% of survey respondents admitted the most sales leads came from their website, followed by 14% who selected email marketing campaigns. Online advertising followed that. Social media accounted for 3% of respondents’ recommendations. What’s on your website?

I am not suggesting that social media should be ignored. Neither am I suggesting that business has to have a Facebook page and a blog because everybody else does, although that is tempting. Instead I will argue that businesses need to think about implementing social media as part of its message mix, if for no other reason than to accomplish three things: engage their customers and exceed expectations, make a stronger human connection, and build better relationships. If those can be done strategically, by which I mean being able to measure the results, perhaps another milestone will occur.

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About Tommy Mack

Tommy Mack began his career in broadcasting and is a US Army graduate of the Defense Information School. He worked in Army Public and Command Information and earned a BS in Liberal Studies from the State University of New York, Albany. A marketing communications executive, Tommy became a business management consultant for a major international consulting company and its affiliates before establishing Tommy Mack Organization, a business consulting practice specializing in organization and communications management. A professional writer and blogger, he writes about politics, business, and culture.
  • William Waite

    Ah Tommy, you’ve done it again. As I’ve shared with you on previous occasions, I so enjoy how you frequently manage to weave a little pertinent history into whatever point you’re trying to make. Equally important, you can never go too wrong quoting the psalmist Jimmy Buffet.

    Speaking of the Parrothead leader, here’s another snippet that is apropos for your discussion of social media:

    “Relationships! We all got ‘em; we all want ‘em. What do we do with ‘em?”

    Despite the maddening exhortation from enterprises large and small to “Like us on FaceBook”, the simple fact is that this does not a relationship make. As with our websites, blogs and even our snail-mail marketing pieces, content is king. If we fail to engage that customer or client with something that is meaningful to them, we are only deluding ourselves. That reality, coupled with recent revelations that Mr. Zuckerberg and his crew have routinely continued to track and store (and perhaps even market or further disseminate details of) the online travels of FaceBook patrons long after they’ve ceased to even have pages makes me extremely reticent to have anything to do with FaceBook.

    Twitter on the other hand may ultimately have more value because it is inherently more interactive. As has been shown in recent months, it can be used to rally large numbers of people with common interests. Properly used, Twitter can effectively reach customers and clients and they in turn can respond quickly to not only the sender but also to everyone in their particular realm of the Twitosphere.

    Therein lies a relationship, my friend. Best regards.

  • Bob Snyder

    Tom, I enjoyed your article.Customer service Based on Trust Sells.A wise woman once told me to go where your Celebrated not just Tolerated.In memory of the Cheers Tv Show,(A Place Where Every One Knows Your Name).Multiple service, and products are multiple reasons to buy, But People sell People.

  • Bob Snyder

    Tom, I enjoyed your article.Customer service Based on Trust Sells.A wise woman once told me to go where your Celebrated not just Tolerated.In memory of the Cheers Tv Show,(A Place Where Every One Knows Your Name).Multiple service, and products are multiple reasons to buy, But People sell People.

  • Great article. The writer challanges what has become a society of stale efforts to build real people connections!