Building an online business is quite different from building an offline, ground based business. In many aspects – and that could be talked about a lot. The topic that is crucial for most companies, however, is sales. And this is what I would like to focus on at this point.
Selling in online business looks completely different than in the case of land-based business. And it is better to say this straight out. Building an Internet business involves organizing the sales department in a different way than in the case of a traditional business. Not only that, a seller operating in an online business should be a different seller, have different knowledge and competences than an offline seller.
But let’s get down to business.
Building an online business – B2B vs B2C business
The first and most important issue is the distinction between two types of business that we can run on the Internet. On the one hand, we have a B2C business in which, to put it simply, we direct our products and / or services to a wide range of non-business customers. On the other hand, we have a B2B business, where our services and products are targeted at business customers.
And now, depending on whether we are this or that type of business – the way we sell and organize the sales department should be different.
I will start with the similarities, then I will move to the differences.
What do B2B and B2C have in common?
It can be said with full conviction that the sales process in the B2B business is very similar to the sales process in the B2C business.
In the case of internet business, as well as in the case of a company operating in the traditional model, in order for sales to go forward, it needs marketing. Something must arouse the customer’s purchasing need, something must tell him about the existence of our products or services, something must build an appropriate image of these products or services. In short: we attract the client to the company through marketing or, more specifically, with a certain part of marketing, which is broadly understood promotion.
The only difference in marketing in the context of online business versus offline business is that in the case of online business, such promotion requires more financial outlays, continuous activities and promotion; and in the case of land-based business, such marketing may be reduced to an absolute minimum (e.g. printing an advertising sign or business cards).
Offline business sales
In the case of ground-based business, B2B or B2C, however, marketing plays a secondary role. Sales play a primary role.
Because once this customer is brought to a physical facility (at B2C), it should be sold. Or, when a customer becomes interested in specific services or products (for B2B), you should sign a contract with him and sell them these services, or simply sell the products.
In short: marketing helps to build a customer’s purchasing need, but it is up to the seller whether the sale will be successful or not.
Sales in online business
In a physical facility (most often) the customer is served by a seller, as in B2B, a human being talks or negotiates with the customer.
The most important difference between the sales process in online business and land-based business is obvious: on the Internet the seller is optional, this physical salesperson is not needed for happiness. Technology plays its role.
Both in the case of B2C and B2B companies, we need marketing to make sales move forward. And that’s a lot of marketing. These activities must be thoughtful, coherent and, above all, continuous.
But what about selling? What about sellers? This is where it gets interesting.
In the case of B2C online business, the seller is not only optional, but also (usually) unnecessary. Its role is played by technology or an employee of the support department.
For a B2B online business, the seller is simply optional. It may or may not occur. It can play a secondary role in relation to the role of marketing, but it can also play a role on a par with marketing and also be more important than marketing.
Now, I will discuss B2B internet business a little further.
B2B online business – what does the sale look like?
Building a B2B online business is a much more interesting thing, however. There are many “it depends” factors here, at least some of which are worth discussing here.
Let’s sum up to make it easier.
We have B2B online companies where:
- there is marketing itself, there are no physical sellers
- there is marketing and sellers, but marketing is greater than that of sellers
- there is marketing and sellers plus marketing is on par with sellers
- there are marketing and sellers, but sellers play a key role in the sales process
The first model is very often found in companies focused on small customers, micro and small entrepreneurs; often focused on mass-oriented companies (large number of customers, low average value of the basket / purchases); often also in startups, where there is no money to build two teams. The sales plan in such companies is quite simple: load the promotion as much money as possible and devote as much time as possible to our website, so that customers will visit our website, register there, choose what they want to buy and make payments on this website. The customer does not have any physical contact with the seller. The role of the salesperson is taken over by technology.
The second model is a rather rare and in my experience it can be seen mainly where the management does not know yet which sales model in the company to choose or when it is in the process of transforming from a model without sellers to a model with sellers. I do not recommend maintaining such a model for too long, as it is too expensive and does not bring measurable benefits.
The third model is very often used in SaaS businesses. I also used this model, for example, in PayLane. In short: we use marketing to build the company’s image and sell to smaller customers (building mass), and we use sellers to sell to larger or more demanding customers (building a sculpture). Personally, I really like this model in the context of B2B online businesses, because, like in the first model, it allows you to nicely spread the risk and diversify the sources of income, and at the same time allows you to build scale faster, thanks to large shots, in the form of larger clients.
The fourth model works great primarily in businesses with enterprise-class clients; among the businesses with customers who are not very comfortable with technology; or in businesses where you need to spend a lot of time persuading someone to invest money in what we sell. The case with enterprise clients is probably quite clear. Or, for example, if I had to persuade people from poorly digitized industries to cooperate (let’s say hairdressers, beauticians, doctors, teachers) or if I were building an innovative technology that has not yet been tested in combat (if I were to build a rocket to send people to Mars, I would probably have to persuade my target group to take such a trip and convince them that it is possible at all, safe etc.).
I know companies that are very successful in various of the models discussed above and they work very well in their case. So it cannot be said that either of them is better or worse. There is no golden mean, nor one recipe for building an internet business. It is case by case. It depends.
Transforming your business from offline to online business
A very interesting aspect that is worth discussing is the transformation of the company from an offline company model to a hybrid company (offline + online) or from an offline business to online.
Especially in the context of sales and sellers. Suddenly it turns out that these sellers are unnecessary in the Internet business or need completely different skills and competences than in the case of offline ones.
I recently mentioned one such case, when faced with the coronavirus, sellers at my friend’s company decided to quickly switch from selling ground-based services to selling online services. I also mentioned there that if these sellers operate online as they used to do offline, they are doomed to fail.
I will tell you more about it.
Salespersons – the necessary competences and knowledge
It is impossible to list all the competences needed by an online sales representative. They often depend on a specific case, industry or even a specific company.
However, below I present the most universal and always needed ones.
- The ability to search for potential customers, profile them and evaluate them in terms of their online potential. Not every online business is suitable. Or to put it differently: not every business model is suitable for the Internet. Of course, a local greengrocer in my district can also be a sensation on the Internet and earn a lot of money. But probably not in the traditional model of an online vegetable store.
- The ability not to force customers who does not have service potential. Rather, it is a universal skill that is needed in any type of business and in any industry. But too often I see it in practice, not to mention it here. If the customer has no idea how to sell online, there is no point in forcing him to go online. The salesperson will only lose time and the customer will lose money. And anyway, none of this will happen in the long run (apart from losing this client’s trust, of course).
- Ability to build a personal brand. It is said that if someone is not on Google / Facebook / LinkedIn / Twitter / Instagram (delete as appropriate), it does not exist. And just as in the real world this saying has little to do with truth, on the Internet it is very true. Never in my life, I would buy any online service from someone I can’t find on the Internet. Never in my life, I would buy any online service from someone who, for example, trolls what / whomever they can on the Internet. And by building a personal brand, I don’t mean building a brand one way or the other; expert or less expert – not everyone has to be an expert in a given field. But showing that you exist as a “normal” person who can navigate the Internet and spend some time in it is very important.
- Ability to communicate through various communication channels. Offline sellers think that sales are made through meetings. The smarter ones precede these meetings with telephones. These internet sweepers will use the email again. Well, that’s not how it works in the world of internet business. Clients are in different places and it is in these places that you should communicate with them. Sometimes the phone works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes e-mail works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you need to communicate on LinkedIn, sometimes on Facebook, sometimes on Instagram. And sometimes leaving a comment on a blog, speaking on Snapchat, sending a message on Twitter, or using another medium available on the modern Internet works better.
- Ability to study customer preferences and adapt to them. Each client is different and everyone has their own preferences. The same for contact, method of communication, form of this communication, etc. Nay! A large proportion of clients do not want to meet at all. Because, what for? There are e-mails, there are videoconferences, there are teleconferences. Online is online. In it, business / sales are also done online, remotely.
- Not calling a several times within five minutes from the first call. The most annoying feature of most offline sellers. I especially hate that. If I haven’t answered the phone now, it means I can’t or won’t talk. If someone calls me in a minute, two, three or four, not only will I not answer the call, but will often lead to the exact opposite result – that I will not want them to call me back when I can do it. What is also a very important feature of people doing internet business? That a large proportion of them focus on their own productivity and use some or other methods to optimize it. What is a ringing phone? That it requires me to devote time to the caller at the exact moment that that person is calling me, and that he or she has time for it. And it knocks me out of what I’m focusing on at the moment, what I’m working on at the moment. Therefore, for example, in my case, I switch my phone to the do not disturb mode after 2 p.m. or do not answer emails more than once or twice a day. Many online business people have their own ways / methods to stay productive. Calling them fifteen times in five minutes may, at best, be counterproductive.
- Ability to follow up through various channels. Most good sellers know that nothing is more important than a regular follow up. However, when it comes to online sales, this follow up can occur in many different ways, and often should be. Another email will not necessarily help if someone receives several hundred emails a day. Another call will not necessarily help if someone does not answer a call from an unknown number. But maybe a comment on that person’s blog post? Maybe a private message on Facebook? Maybe a retweet with your own Twitter comment? Or maybe something else? Again: the ability to communicate through different channels is extremely important.
- Reverse engineering. My favorite form of sale, which I try to use always and in every case when I talk to my partner or client. There is no stronger sales argument than finding and presenting a specific application for our product or service in the business / product / service of our client.
- Ability to educate others, especially clients. Here we come to a place worth paying more attention to. Especially when we are dealing with the transformation of an offline business into a hybrid or online business. Building an internet business involves something more. I’m looking at it closer below.
Educating clients about online business
The ability to educate their customers should be an absolutely essential feature of any online salesperson. This is especially important when we are talking about offline business, which we transform in one form or another into online. Especially when it comes to sellers who are going from offline sales to online sales. Especially when we are talking about customers who have been operating offline so far, and the salesperson wants to persuade them to move their business online or open another branch of their business – the digitized branch.
Why is it so important? Because the vast majority of customers who have not dealt with online business so far have no idea how to do such a business. And the role of a salesperson is not so much to persuade him to try the Internet, but most of all to teach him how to do this business on the Internet.
And I’m not talking about learning how to operate such a business operationally, how to promote yourself, who to talk, how to go viral, where to appear and why. I am talking about the absolute basics that will make sense of introducing such offline business to the Internet and will give it more than 0% chance of, even minimal, success.
So what should such a client be taught?
- That it’s really hard to find an industry that is not suitable for the Internet, but it is not always that simple. You should take care of the right business model. Let’s take the aforementioned local greengrocer. Does anyone really think that if I persuade Mrs. Jones to open an online store with the same assortment that Mrs. Jones has in her offline shop and I do not teach her how to promote this store, Mrs. Jones will achieve some success with this online store? It is not only Mrs. Jones who will lose a lot of money, but also me, as a salesperson, I will lose her trust because I gave her something “that doesn’t work”. No. When a salesperson persuades someone to sell online, that someone should also find out from him that this is a completely different type of business, it is run differently, sell it differently. They should also find out what is worth and what not to do to increase the chance of success and where to look for additional information and knowledge on this topic.
- That not every industry can be transferred to the Internet just like that. This is an Internet, remote, distance business. It has its own rights, has its own regulatory exclusions / limitations, sometimes it has its own rules or good practices. Another good example are industries that have an unregulated situation in the context of distance selling. Just as there will probably be no problem with selling socks over the Internet, there will probably be problems with a store with alcohol, drugs, weapons or gambling services (although, for example, someone already has the appropriate concessions or licenses that allow him to sell such services).
- That different industries, businesses and business models on the Internet are treated more or less cautiously. It’s hard to find an industry that cannot be put into the Internet. However, there are those that, for various reasons, are treated, for example, more cautiously and must be associated with some or other limitations that result from this increased risk. For example tourism or MLM, or what is called sharing economy.
- That placing a store / website on the Internet is not the same as doing business on the Internet. And here we come to the most important point, and the most common one among businesses that are trying to transform and go online. Building an internet business doesn’t mean that you have to create a website for your stationary business. Internet business is different from land-based business. The online store is run differently than a stationary store. Do you know what such businesses have in common? Assortment. And nothing more. It is not enough to set up an online store with the same goods as available in a stationary store. You also have to make someone come to this store and make purchases there. And you have to work on this constantly, from the first to the last day of running such an online business.
Do you need more information?
I think that you will also be interested in remote work and doing business remotely. After all, building an online business and transforming an offline business to the internet has a lot in common.
Do you need more information? Let me know.