When the chips are down and you aren’t moving inventory, it can be incredibly frustrating and confusing. It’s tempting to look at flashy marketing efforts, gimmicks, “growth hacks” or other quick fixes for the answer.
As the founder of a digital marketing agency, serving more than 100 clients in our first year, I have gained the insight to confidently say: “Fear not!”
The reasons most businesses are slacking in online sales are as follows:
You aren’t spending enough on marketing.
Whenever someone tells me they are experiencing slow online sales, I ask them what their monthly marketing budget allocation looks like. More often than not, the number is too low relative to their cost of acquisition, average cart or customer lifetime.
Simply put, if you know it costs in the neighborhood of $100 dollars to acquire a customer and are hoping to add 100 new customers a month, then a penny less than $10,000 per month on marketing is just bad business. You need marketing dollars to grow an online business.
For those who are already spending and growth has plateaued, it’s time to double-down on the most profitable channels. The 70-20-10 rule is a solid starting point: spend 70 percent of budget on proven, relatively consistent channels; 20 percent on opportunities that have yet to be fully fleshed out (and seem likely to bear fruit); and 10 percent on wild ideas in the hopes of hitting a few home runs. New businesses should flip the 70 and 20.
You aren’t adequately capturing site traffic.
In the digital world, it’s easy to treat traffic statistics as just that: statistics. The reality is that even 1,000 monthly uniques are potential customers. This means 1,000 real people with wallets and credit cards living in a consumer-oriented society.
One percent is a generic e-commerce conversion rate that gets tossed around. So, that would mean 10 sales out of 1,000 visits. What about the other 990 people who came to the site and didn’t buy? Frankly, I care way more about the folks who aren’t converting than those who are.
If 1,000 people walked through your brick and mortar store and only 10 bought something, you better know how they got to the checkout counter and what the other 990 people did in your store that didn’t lead to a sale. Dig deep, figure out what people are doing on-site, and remarket to them with a vengeance.
Your advertising is terrible.
This is not an assault on your creative vision or aesthetic — it’s about your strategic roadmap. Good ads aren’t necessarily visually appealing nor do they contain the punchiest copy. Good ads are those that perform well (i.e., high click-through rates and good stickiness on site as a result of a message match). Look at your target groups and how they’re responding to your advertisements.
You’re ignoring existing customers.
I can’t remember where I first heard the idea, but it’s pretty simple: sell new customers proven products and avoid selling new products to new customers (because there are too many variables). Additionally, capitalize on the super-fan, brand evangelist types. Every brand seems to have some. Make sure those people are getting appropriate messaging and opportunities to continue spending and supporting the brand in various ways.
Your product is … just bad.
Simply put, there may not be a fit for your product in the market you’re trying to wedge into right now. If everything else above feels dialed in (e.g., ads are focused on the right audiences, users are coming for a reasonable price and spending adequate time on site), but they are not buying (even after emailing, retargeting, etc.), you have a bad product/market fit.
It’s an unfortunate position to be in, but it’s a competitive world. It may be time to move in a different direction, unless you have a massive war chest and can weather the storms as you train the market about your killer new product. Of course, this isn’t a decision you make after a few thousand dollars and a couple weeks of effort.
After a sustained and intelligently thought-out push, though, if the numbers just aren’t working out, table the idea for a few months and work on something else. Keep that retargeting program going so you have a user pool for direct response messaging. But also take a hard look at what is happening and make a business decision about whether to move forward or not.
After taking away the emotional connection and focusing on the data, it’s very simple to be a good marketer. It’s just not easy, in the same way that it’s simple to eat well and exercise regularly, but not actually easy to do. However, with a few basic changes, you can make things a bit easier for yourself and your company.
This article has been edited and condensed.
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