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Are Websites More than a Sales tool?

by  David Dwyer on  05/09/2013    2513 Reads

The business case for websites as a sales & business driver.

 
Every now and then I get asked, usually by owners of very small businesses, why they need a website. They’ll point to their glossy new brochure, illustrating their goods and services in fabulous, unchanging detail, and ask how one of our websites would do the job any better.
 
In the early days of the web, I could answer them by explaining that a website (like a printed brochure) could help them raise their business profile and make sales, but the truth is, today’s websites do much more than that.  
 
Having a website that tells potential customers about your products or services and convinces them to hand over their hard-earned cash is still pretty essential, don’t get me wrong. But it’s also important to think of today’s websites both as an effective way of getting much more detailed information across to different types of customers – as well as a way of getting information from them. 
 
A good example of how today’s websites work much harder than yesterday’s brochures is the Blackhills Specialist Dental Referral Clinic site. As a dental clinic the site isn’t actively selling anything – certainly not in the ‘add to basket’ sense we usually think of when we think of e-commerce. 
 
What the Blackhills site does do is give lots of useful information to two different audiences: dentists choosing to refer to their patients to the clinic for further work, and patients who’ve been referred to them for treatment. There’s no ‘shopping cart’ in sight, but BlackhillsClinic.com is still an essential part of the clinic’s business model. 
 
Rather than overtly selling anything, Blackhillsclinic.com explains the treatments their dentists offer in ways that patients can understand. It uses non-technical language, computer-generated illustrations and videos – nothing too gruesome, thankfully – and links to a range of information leaflets to illustrate their procedures. Patients can also access testimonials, maps and staff qualifications to help put them at ease before their first visit.
 
For its practitioner audience, the site incorporates an easy-to-use ‘referral’ form, to which x-rays and other clinical information can be sent attached and sent to Blackhills staff. The easier it is for dentists to refer their patients to Blackhills, so the theory goes, the more of them will choose to do so, driving the business forward.
 
This brings us to another important way that today’s websites are about more than just selling. They allow you to gather information about your customers. Adding callback forms, live chat or asking visitors to register for news and offers can help you learn more about your customers and make more targeted sales. Add in social media like Facebook and Twitter and your customers are kept constantly up to date with developments in your business – and you’re kept in the loop about what they want and think of your products.  
 
No leaflets I’ve seen can do any of that.
 
And then of course, there’s the whole range of websites that don’t relate to any ‘bricks and mortar’ operation, and frankly wouldn’t be possible without the Internet: I’m thinking here of sites based on databases (like restaurant reviews, dating sites and property searches) that are free for the consumer to use, but are monetized through advertising. 
 
Fifteen years ago we all thought of websites as not much more than another shop window. Now, they’re an important window into the lives and habits of your customers too. They’ve also made possible business models that didn't even exist five, much less ten years ago, when the glossy brochure was still king.
 
David Dwyer is Managing Director of Inspire Web Development. He has years of experience in a range of web and IT roles plus seven years in sales and marketing in a blue-chip FMCG company. David’s academic and professional qualifications include a BA (Hons) in Business Economics (Personnel) from the University of Paisley, an MSc in Information Technology (Systems) from Heriot-Watt University and PRINCE2 Practitioner-level certification. He is also an active member of the British Computer Society.
 
Inspire Web Development, The Evolving Web
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