Perceived ValueWhile most marketing principles of days gone by are just as valid for online businesses, there are a few that have taken on an increased importance in this Internet Age. Signs, flyers and billboards were intended to attract attention and inspire interest – not to actually sell.

In old school marketing, consumers were enticed to take a closer look at a product, but it wasn’t always the case that a customer would walk into a brick & mortar with cash in hand, their decision already firm. They wanted to see, to feel, to touch the product – they had to feel that they could trust the product to meet their expectations. And they wanted to get a feel for the person selling them that product – to decide whether they could trust them to live up to their promises.

When they found someone they trusted to deliver real value for their dollar, they returned. They recommended them to their friends. They were loyal.

When you think about it, it’s really rather amazing that consumers have so readily adapted to buying products without seeing them first. Judging quality and overall value by an image and a product description, after all, isn’t as certain as actually holding it in your hand.

Perhaps more importantly, the lack of face-to-face contact with a sales person removes a critical element from the decision process. The ability to “read” the credibility and sincerity of the seller, for many, was the deciding factor. With the advent of online buying, that ability was removed.

Or was it?

True ValueBuilding Value

There are many ways that a business can build trust with consumers, even without the warm smile and firm handshake that Dale Carnegie rightfully touted as so critical. People are still affected by the same signals of reliability and honesty as always… those are just now coming via a website, rather than from a flesh-and-blood salesman.

Think about it… what traits make a positive impression on you when you’re talking face-to-face with a salesperson? Here’s a few common ones, to start with:

  • Knowledge – the representative must possess the necessary knowledge of the product and its use to be able to address all your questions and concerns. They have to be able to effectively allay your fears regarding safety, ease of use, warranty issues, cost comparison, durability, etc. – in other words, they can show you the value.
  • Service – they must be able to make you feel as though it is your satisfaction that is most important to them, both at that moment and after the sale… and that they are able and willing to do what it takes to ensure that satisfaction.
  • Credibility/Sincerity – the perception of sincerity is built through friendliness, eye contact, openness in sharing both pros & cons, and a perception that their driving interest is to provide you with the product that will best satisfy your needs, not whatever will help fulfill a sales quota.

Obviously, that’s not a comprehensive list… but it covers the most important traits that make most of us comfortable with a person we’re about to hand our money to.

So… how do you convey those characteristics when you’re essentially invisible? Surprisingly, it’s not as difficult as you might think. Here are a few tips:

Knowledge – Make all the necessary information to answer any probable questions available and easily located. Cost comparisons are useful – including not only the purchase cost, but also costs of operation, supplies and service, if applicable. Safety considerations should be made clear prior to purchase, as should warranty and exchange terms. A set of clear instructions on the product’s use can sometimes be of value in helping prospective buyers make a decision. Product specifications, weight, dimensions, power requirements… these can all answer concerns that might be making a buyer hesitate. The days of peddling a Mystery package are long gone.

Transparency is the key here… if you’re not sharing the information that a particular visitor is looking for, you may lose them to a competitor that does. People that can’t find information that they feel is important may wonder why it’s not being shared. Never let customers wonder if you’re hiding something from them.

Service – This can be somewhat subjective, to be honest. Some buyers like being led by the hand through the entire process and others just want to be left alone and shown the bottom line. What I like to do is to provide them that bottom line, with the high points, then a <more info> link. Too much information for users that don’t need/want it often clouds their real issues, making it harder for them to click that BUY NOW button.

Giving the impression to each user that they are your most important customer is an age-old marketing skill, and it’s just as valid in the online world. You can accomplish this via your copywriting, near-instant response to emails or contact form and an exemplary live chat experience. Effective customer service begins at first contact and will often be the most lasting impression a business can make. Make certain it’s the right one.

Credibility-likeability-idealCredibility/Sincerity – This is probably the most difficult, since online, we’re not able to use a warm smile, firm handshake and direct eye contact to instill trust. But there are ways to convey those e-traits. My favorite is to not try to sell to the customer. That’s right! NOT sell. I let the product and its benefits do the selling, but gently. Putting the right information in front of the customer and letting him convince himself has seemed to me to be the most effective technique, overall. Many people immediately put up a wall of resistance to any effort to sell them something – adding to that resistance probably shouldn’t be a part of your strategy.

Everyone, of course, may not prefer such a low-pressure technique, but regardless of your style, be honest and straightforward, answer questions clearly, if your business has made a mistake, own up to it and immediately ask what you can do to make things right and finally, be consistent. Those are probably the most important behaviors I would recommend to convey credibility and sincerity.

Focusing on the above three elements can help you achieve the trust of your prospects and turn them into customers. How you treat them after their money is in your hand will determine whether they’ll return to buy from you again and whether they’ll send others to you.

Regardless of the product you’re offering or even its price, these three aspects of your online style will improve your customers’ perception of your value. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Yeah, they’re a little more expensive, but their [insert “quality”, “service” or “warranty” here] is great!”

Of course, the flip side of that can be, “Yeah, their widget is cheap and it works, but their [insert “quality”, “service” or “warranty” here] sucks!”

And none of us want to be on the flip side, right?