The Black Art of Selling in the Web 2.0 World

If you have been living in a soundproof box for the past few months you may not be aware of this, but Web 2.0 is coming faster than anyone could ever have imagined, and it is going to affect just about every business. Put simply Web 2.0 is the extension of the internet. It brings a whole range of tools and interfaces which not only make it easier to communicate, but actively encourage collaboration between internet users on a scale previously only imagined by science fiction writers.

On its own that is interesting but there are two parallel tracks which make this an agenda item for every Board room. Firstly there are some alarming facts coming out from the Direct Marketing Association. Under the Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2004, businesses are able to register their telephone number to allow them to opt out of receiving telephone marketing calls. There are already a little over 1.2 million business lines registered and 14.6 million private lines (which includes partnerships and sole traders).

In case you you think this is toothless legislation, think again. The law allows for a fine of 5000 pounds PER offence. That means that if you have a telesales person making calls at say 80 per day and even 25% are registered, you could amass an unbelievable 100,000 Pounds of fines in a single day. Let me make this clear, this is not proposed legislation. It is not being considered or even debated. It is the law now. Today.

Now you have to be pretty unlucky to fall foul of the regulators and extremely obstinate at not following the enforcement notices if they are served on you. But that is only how things stand at the moment. If the authorities decide to use their powers; at the very least you are going to be seeing an awful lot of your lawyers; never mind about fines and damage to your reputation.

Both these numbers are growing at a staggering 30% per year. You do not have to be a genius to see what this means. Not only is there now a risk in using a phone to contact a customer, the available market is shrinking dramatically. It will take a couple of years but within a relatively short time it will become economically unviable to use tele marketing as a primary new business tool.

There are some things that businesses can and should do to limit the risk including cleaning data against the DMA opt out lists but for the time being the question of new business development needs to be on the strategic agenda.

On its own, that is, or should be a cause for concern. The second parallel track is the impact of Web 2.0. Alexa is a web information site that categorizes websites by traffic volume. It has some great tools and provides really useful free information. If you take a look at their ranking site you will find EVERY one of the 21 top ranked sites is built around user generated content and includes Wikipedia, Facebook, Myspace, You Tube and Google. The first commercial site is Autotrader which is ranked at 22. The way the internet works, search engines rank sites by number of visits and back links.

Lets just take a moment out here to explain why this is so important. There are basically two ways to be found on the internet. Either you pay to be found using pay per click advertising – or you persuade Search Engines to find you because they think that your site provides good content for their users. The algorithms that search engines use are highly secret and constantly changing. There is a massive industry out there trying to second guess the search engines and work out how they decide who is going to be at the top of any natural search.

The Search Engine Optimization or SEO industry is the 21st century equivalent of necromancy. Do not believe a word of it, you could be no 1 today and 385,000 tomorrow because the algorithms change all the time. You may hear a lot of noise about key words, back links, landing pages and meta tags but in the end, the only sustainable way of winning and maintaining a high position is by having content that is highly regarded and sought after.

Unless you want to pay for every visit to your site, you need to be convincing search engines that you have worthwhile content; and whilst there is no certainty about this, it is logical to conclude that they use a number of indicators to see if you are worth visiting. Firstly they want to see how many real people think your site is cool. So they count how many people link to it and mention it in social media sites and blogs.

Secondly they look to see how many people tag it on sites like DIGG and Delicious and finally they look at the quality of the content and compare it with other sites to see if the density of keywords on your site is better or worse than other sites that seem to deal with the same kind of issue. There are a ton of other variables and it is beyond the scope of this article to look at all of them now, but the bottom line is that if you are not working on creating content that the search engines think will be helpful to their users you will be on page 59 of any given search and you will NEVER be found.

Here is where the two tidal waves meet. If you can not approach you customers directly anymore because the telemarketing restrictions make it too difficult, you are going to have to change tactics and rely on you customers finding you. This presents a number of problems. In the old days you could call up a customer and say ‘hey you have got a problem and I can help’. But if you cannot call him he may not know that he has a problem and may not care. So the first task in this new world is to find out what he ‘Googles’ when the wheels come off.

In our recent survey, 82% of you told us that you have a browser open all the time or nearly all the time. And an astonishing 89% said that you used the internet as you primary research tool. Just think what that means. A problem occurs; the customer Googles the problem using a set of words that means something to him, he finds three relevant entries on the first page of the search engine and he sends them an email. Unless you were there; the deal is done before you took your second gulp of coffee in the morning.

You can try to stem this flow by commissioning a SEO wizard to optimize your site, but by now you should have realized that this is going to be a never ending story. Even if he gets it right today, it is going to be wrong tomorrow. The only way you are going to be able to combat this monster is to restructure so that you are consistently and systematically producing high quality content that is highly rated by the visitors and can be easily found.

This is a really big topic and businesses need to think very carefully about how they realign themselves to cope with, and stay ahead of the Web 2.0 phenomenon.

Perry Burns specializes in using tools & exercises to improve performance.

A former director at Ernst & Young he now provides soft skills training, resources and strategic advice
Copyright 2008: Sales 101 Ltd.
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