Business entrepreneur using phone and taking notes in office
From retraining your sales staff to identifying the best places for selling your products online, there are several steps to take when pivoting your sales strategy. — Getty Images/ Likoper

Whether you’re a retailer or a business-to-business service provider, shifting to online selling expands your market and opens the door to many opportunities. Physical locations and online stores share some similar traits, as both need inventory and cater to customers.

However, when you first transition to online sales, you’ll need to consider several things. The best way to ensure a seamless transition is by forming a plan that covers all the bases. Here are some tips on how to effectively switch from in-person to online sales.

Analyze your target market

In some cases, your existing customers will also be online shoppers. But, you have an opportunity to reach people outside of your region. Start by reviewing current social media and website analytics. Doing so gives you an idea of how people find your website and where they’re located.

Next, take a look at your current customers. Did their behavior change during or after the pandemic? According to Mood Media, “consumers in the U.S. declare that their shopping habits have changed a lot — more than any other country surveyed (34% of U.S. respondents versus 27% of respondents globally).”

If you have a healthy following on Facebook, consider adding a few polls to ask customers about their online shopping preferences. For example, does your target market prefer mobile payment solutions like PayPal or Apple Pay, or will your current credit card processing company suffice?

This is also an excellent time to think about what your customers might want regarding shipping options. Mood Media reports that 38% of American respondents want to continue using click-and-collect, also called buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS). Additionally, 33% of American consumers appreciate curbside pickup.

Set up an online sales platform

Does your current web hosting service have native e-commerce functionality or does it require an e-commerce plug-in? Does it integrate with your existing point-of-sale (POS) system, inventory tools and accounting software? How easy is it to add your shipping and payment providers? And how many products can you add to your digital storefront?

If you’re selling products online that you once sold in person, you’ll want your e-commerce software that integrates with your sales tools, tracks what you have available, processes financial transactions and more. Popular services such as Shopify, BigCommerce, Wix Stores and PinnacleCart all offer these abilities to businesses that sell goods online.

Optimize your e-commerce website

Once you decide how you’ll sell products or services online, it’s time to make sure your site is user-friendly and optimized for search engines. First, your website should be visually appealing and mobile-responsive. Poor user experiences and slow loading times can tank your conversion rate and increase your abandoned shopping cart rate.

A well-organized website offers navigation and search tools, such as product suggestions and auto-complete for search fields. Moreover, it includes product descriptions that entice shoppers while providing crucial information to make a purchase decision.

Today, along with sizing information, people also want to know where the product was manufactured and ships from. Use high-quality images and videos to give people a wonderful online experience and help them overcome any qualms about shopping online.

In addition, optimize your product descriptions for SEO. One of the best ways to do this is by looking for common words used in customer reviews of the product, as natural language is more important than keyword stuffing.

Lastly, spend a fair amount of time and effort on your checkout process. According to Baymard Institute research, the average shopping cart abandonment rate is 69.8%. Common reasons for abandonment include:

  • High costs of shipping, tax or fees.
  • Requirement to create an account in order to make a purchase.
  • Slow delivery times.
  • Long or complicated checkout process.
  • Customer’s lack of trust when handing over credit card information.

Consider online sales logistics

Transitioning to online sales may require operational changes. Some processes, such as shipping and fulfillment, will be new, whereas others like payment options may reflect what’s currently offered at your physical storefront.

Other considerations consist of:

  • Digital payment and data privacy compliance.
  • Types of online payment solutions.
  • Sales tax for other locations.
  • Online shipping and fulfillment partners.
  • Packaging and labels.

Assess current and potential digital tools

Not all POS, inventory, and accounting tools connect to online platforms. This can make it tedious because you must manually enter inventory and sales data, risking errors on your end or disappointing customers by selling something that isn’t in stock.

Figuring out integrations can be time-consuming and may require some technical know-how. While most software vendors provide extensive documentation, you may run into some issues. In some cases, hiring an information technology (IT) consultant can save you time and resources.

Along with optimizing your website for search engine optimization (SEO), it’s vital to develop a marketing strategy that includes content marketing and social media marketing.

Define your digital marketing goals

While there’s a good chance your brand was online before shifting to digital sales, you still want to reassess your digital marketing plan to ensure it meets the needs of your new venture. If you’re keeping your brick-and-mortar location, it’s crucial to coordinate online campaigns with physical promotions, as you’ll likely have many shoppers who live near your store but choose to shop online.

Along with optimizing your website for search engine optimization (SEO), it’s vital to develop a marketing strategy that includes content marketing and social media marketing. One of the best places to start with SEO and content marketing goals is by adding useful content that helps your customers.

For example, start building a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page that you can update as new questions come in. People may have questions about shipping, returns, out-of-stock items and more. An FAQ page is great for SEO while also preventing your customer service team from fielding tons of calls about commonly asked questions.

Don’t forget to update your Google My Business profile, develop a social media marketing plan and leverage email marketing to get the word out. By incorporating giveaways and developing product or promotion-specific landing pages, you can connect to your customers and create long-term value for shoppers.

Retrain sales staff

With many traditional in-person sales tactics out the window because of COVID-19, companies have had to retrain their sales staff for this new online-focused period. Start by teaching your sales team how to use some or all of the tools, including customer relationship management (CRM), e-commerce and communications software. Having your salespeople proficient in sales technology will give them a base from which to work.

While teaching them how to use new tools is a start, you need to focus on training and encouraging salespeople to continue providing a human touch even when doing it online or over video calls. They will be most effective if they can convey emotional intelligence to prospective customers and build honest and personal connections.

Encourage sales teams to talk with prospects over all channels and have them go to whatever online channel the customer is most comfortable with. This can include engaging over social media platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn, or it could mean giving a short video presentation over Zoom.

Evaluate customer support options

In the digital world, everything is 24/7 and instant. Although consumers may understand that you’re a local small business, they aren’t likely to give you much of a break when they want customer service. Decide how you’ll provide customer support, when you’re available, in what time frame you’ll answer messages, and the platforms you’ll use.

Of course, having a contact page on your website is essential. But you may want to consider an automated chatbot to answer FAQs or recommend products, then connect it to a live agent during your regular customer service hours. Speaking of customer service hours, state these online and include a time zone.

You may decide to add a toll-free number to your business phone service solely for your e-commerce website. Doing so helps you know if callers are in-store or online shoppers. It also supports people nationwide. Any mention of customer service should also direct people to your online FAQs, as this is good for customer experience and SEO.

List products in marketplaces

While you will likely want to sell products via your website as you transition to online sales, there’s a good chance it would also benefit you to sell items on popular online marketplaces. These can include major sites such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Etsy and Google Shopping.

You also should consider if a niche marketplace is for you. Using sites like Orchard Mile (luxury apparel), (family-oriented deals), Houzz (interior design), and FullBeauty (plus-size fashion) offers your customers a more focused experience.

While there are many places to potentially list your products, you don’t have to use all of them. Try using a few marketplaces and test which one works best at connecting you to your ideal customers.

The most significant benefit of using these marketplaces is that they will undoubtedly have more reach than selling just on your website. For example, marketplace giants Amazon, eBay and Walmart attract a combined 500 million users to their sites each month. Being at the fingertips of millions of people can help you move a lot more product.

The other major benefit of these marketplaces is that they have a streamlined sales process that makes buying, selling and fulfilling a relative breeze. Each of the top marketplaces allows companies to advertise through their channels as well, which may be worth it if one channel works particularly well for your product.

Consider selling through social channels

Finally, while the most prominent social media channels have billions of users combined, it’s not necessarily easy to sell through social channels. Social media plays a vital role in promoting products and brands, but it has historically been challenging for small businesses to move products through social media.

The only major exception to this is Instagram, which makes it simple to advertise and sell in a matter of taps. A well-shot photo or video of your product on Instagram can encourage customers to immediately visit a page where they will swiftly buy the product. You can also encourage salespeople to talk with customers via Instagram, too, if they engage there.

Start with a plan guided by a long-term vision

By going through each of the steps above and ensuring your systems connect, you can build your online presence and increase sales; however, having a strategy is essential, as is understanding future goals. So make a plan and take action to transition from a brick-and-mortar store to an e-commerce brand.

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