The Infinite Funnel Of Search To Sale
“And there is no such thing as a no sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way a sale is made, the only question is who is gonna close? You or him? Now be relentless, that’s it, I’m done.”
– Ben Affleck as Jim Young, Boiler Room
You don’t have to be a penny stock promoter to appreciate a good rallying speech about sales (you don’t have to sell real estate, either). But this one hits close to home. No matter what your site does, every page closes a sale:
- It convinces someone to keep clicking on to the next page, or
- It convinces them to leave, but not before they follow your Twitter feed or subscribe to your newsletter, so they can come back when they’re ready, or
- It convinces them to make a purchase, make a donation, or do whatever it is that the site exists to make them do, or
- It convinces them that the most interesting feature on the page they’re looking at is “Close tab.”
Top To Bottom
People tend to read pages from top to bottom until they get distracted by something.
Internet sales letter aficionados recognize that law of online physics: they produce a long, sometimes boring letter, punctuated with exciting pull quotes, engrossing videos (with compelling thumbnails) and, of course, calls-to-action with all the tact and elegance of a drunken carnival barker.
One easy trick for adapting pages to this paradigm is to escalate your calls-to-action: ask them to follow you on social media first (i.e. to add a little noise to the noiseist information they voluntarily consume), then ask them to sign up for your newsletter, then ask them to tweet/share the page, and only then ask for the sale.
Of course, in between each ask, there should be lots of giving—giving them useful information about whatever it is you’re convincing them to do, where “useful” correlates very well with whatever is true, relevant, and keeps them reading.
This scheme has some interesting advantages rooted in the way people make decisions: thanks to signalling, the availability heuristic, and the endowment effect, people tend to be more likely to do something once they’ve publicly stated that they think it’s a good idea.
It’s a nice way to “bootstrap” your way to a sale: if someone likes your product enough to “like” it on Facebook, the fact that they’ve “liked” it may convince them that they like it enough to buy it.
From Search, Then Side To Side
But what about that first conversion—convincing someone to click forward to the next page on your site? The value of this “conversion” really depends on what kind of site you’re running.
For media sites, this is the name of the game: clicks multiplied by CPMs pay most of their bills.
For e-commerce sites, the question is a little trickier: is someone who browses ten different product pages trying to narrow down their options, or trying to find the one product that calls to them? Or are they “just looking,” and unlikely to actually complete a purchase?
It’s hard to say. But it’s pretty easy to argue that incremental pageviews don’t cost a site sales: what costs them sales is that the most compelling next click doesn’t take someone to a product page. What’s the best fix?
- UI: give them “soft” purchasing options, like “Sign up to our newsletter to hear about discounts on this product”—depending on your margins, it might make sense to automatically send a short-term, small-scale discount on just that product to people who sign up for product-specific discounts. It’s an extremely cheap form of price discrimination.
- Offsite: a single session’s browsing history is a rich vein for retargeting: one ad per product viewed can produce an amazing click-through and conversion rate.
Closing The Loop
If you’ve sold someone on following your Twitter feed or newsletter, you’ve more than halfway sold them on an end purchase. Someone who jumps from a product page to a newsletter signup is say “Please, give me a reason to take out my credit card.
That’s true in a mostly negative way: the vast majority of corporate blogs and Twitter feeds are either boring and misguided or irritating. So the only good reason to sign up for this kind of thing is financial: either you’re waiting for a discount or you’re hitting the snooze button on a purchase.
Closing the loop is the most idiosyncratic part of the sales process. Conversion rates on follow-ups vary massively at different verticals and price points.
Some B2B products have a high return-visitor conversion rate because of how people purchase products for a business (realize it’s obviously useful, convince the boss, return to the site). On the consumer side, it’s trickier.
But each tweet and email newsletter post is yet another sales opportunity. And fortunately, “Ignore this and wait for the next one” is an easier sale than “Unsubscribe.”
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