Lessons Learned:  Online Sales and Marketing 

The fourth part of an ongoing series of blog posts on lessons learned from Covid 19. This week we focus on how the pandemic created new opportunities for small businesses to expand their customer base and increase sales.

E-commerce has been steadily increasing for years, but when the pandemic hit in 2020 this trend went into overdrive.  When it comes to online sales, we are years ahead of schedule and customers across all age groups and demographics are buying online.  

The pandemic also underscored the value that small businesses bring to the social fabric of their communities. Customers went out of their way to shop locally and the “buy local” movement was suddenly on trend. 

Together, these changes offer small businesses the chance to expand their customer base and increase sales.  It also means that most customers expect to find and purchase from your small business online. Check out the tips below to jumpstart your digital marketing strategy.

Know Your Competition

Not sure where to start when it comes to a digital marketing strategy?  Then check out your competition! Do they have a blog?  What social media platforms are they on?  Do they pay for advertising on those platforms?  Do they post a lot of video? How often do they post? Do they have email campaigns? What is the customer purchase process like?  

You can learn a lot from what other successful businesses are doing in your industry.

Know Your Customer

Understanding who your customer is, what problem you are solving for them, and why they chose you, is your foundation for a solid inbound or outbound marketing strategy.  Knowing the journey your customer took to arrive at your doorstep is more important than ever.  

Through targeted surveys and everyday conversations you can get the data you need to develop a solid digital marketing plan. Ask questions like: How did you find us?  Why did you choose us? What were you searching for that led you to us? What problem do we solve for you? 

Use google and social media analytics to understand the demographics and geography of people who go to your website or follow you online. Be sure to read your own reviews and the reviews of your competitors to know what’s important to customers.  Follow relevant online discussions on reddit, Linked In or in Facebook groups to know what people are talking about as it relates to your industry.

Find Your Customer

As a small business owner you have limited time and money.  Don’t waste it trying to be everywhere. Create engaging content aimed directly at your target customer and post it in the places they hang out online.  For example, if your target customer is teenage boys, then focus on creating Tik Tok videos, not Facebook.  If you offer services to businesses then be sure you’re on Linked In.  If you’re a restaurant, check out your Google maps listing. You may need to consider paid advertising on social media platforms and on other websites or apps used by your target customer.

Help Your Customer

These days it’s often said that helping is the new selling.  Customers don’t randomly find you and they don’t normally purchase right after seeing your ad.  

Customers search, they investigate, they consider and then they buy. You need to be with them every step of the way.

A customer’s journey begins when they need to solve a problem or are facing a challenge.  This might be something like finding a gift, addressing a health issue, planning a trip, or making a repair. 

Blogs, video demonstrations, tip sheets, infographics, resource guides and other content offer you the chance to show a potential customer that you’re the expert in solving their problem. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and talk to them like they’ve come to you for help. Be sure to use wording that will resonate with your target customer and is search engine optimized.

For example, if you own a hardware store and notice that people are asking about screen repair, then write a blog post: “5 easy steps to repair a screen.” The more you help people solve a problem and are seen as the expert, the more they’ll trust you and choose you.  

Be There For Your Customer

The next stage of the journey is when the customer has done their research and is considering their options.  They’ll make their purchasing decision based on reviews, trust, pricing, purchasing experience, quality, location, social values and other considerations.  

Be sure you’re available to answer online questions quickly and are encouraging reviews on Google and other industry platforms. Don’t forget the basics, like making sure your hours, address, phone number, email, and web site are easy to find online.

Make It Easy For Your Customer

There’s nothing more frustrating to a customer than wanting to purchase from you and not being able to.  Make sure your website is easy to navigate and customers can easily take the next step when they’re ready to buy.   If you sell products, consider an e-commerce store; if you’re a restaurant offer online reservations or ordering; if you provide a service offer an online scheduling option; and be sure to accept a variety of payments and gift cards.   If you don’t make it easy customers will go to your closest competitor.

Communicate With Your Customer

The customer journey does not end with a purchase.  Keeping a customer is much easier and less costly than finding a new one.

If your customer gives you permission to email them then do it!  They’ve told you they want to hear from you.  Send them newsletters with helpful content, ask them to review you, remind them to re-order, ask them for their opinion, and thank them.  Some customers are also open to text messaging.  Be sure to use this judiciously to let them know about insider info, like a special on your menu.

Next Steps

Developing an effective digital marketing strategy is built over time.  If you need help along the way, the Maine SBDC is here to help. You can request advising online and you’ll hear back from us quickly. We also offer consultation services with local marketing professionals who will review your digital marketing strategy and offer you tips and feedback.  Or take a look at our video library for webinars like “Getting Started with E-commerce”  and  “Build your Online Social Media Presence” or “Audit Your Website: 15 Things you should be doing”.