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How to sell your Web site to a reluctant boss

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Fuzzy Rationale shows how an enterprise can save soft dollars while waiting for the marketplace to allow that firm to earn hard dollars. Two years into the Internet revolution, there's still a challenging pattern in large companies when it comes to planning a Web site: The "early adopters" inside these companies see the advantages before the rest of their colleagues and seniors.

They're often frustrated because no one on the inside shares their enthusiasm and vision. In fact, that enthusiasm is often met with resistance. And even if there is agreement, it can be grudging and attached to caveats that demand a justification for the site's investment.

Fuzzy Rationale

The challenge for those early adopters is to convince their managers to approve a reasonable budget for their Web site, by employing what I call Fuzzy Rationale.

It's a perfectly reasonable thing for an upper-level manager to ask subordinates to cost-justify a Web site. The midlevel manager might misinterpret this to mean how the site can generate enough income to offset its costs.

But what if that midlevel manager approaches the challenge by showing how the site can reduce costs in other areas? In fact, that manager can actually make a much stronger case for quantifying savings on costs already known, rather than counting on flimsy projections of sales, ad revenue or, worse yet, subscriptions.

Fuzzy Rationale shows how an enterprise can save soft dollars while waiting for the marketplace to allow that firm to earn hard dollars.

For example: Every time a prospect looks at an online catalog the company saves $3 (for the sake of argument). But it's actually much more than that since the prospect is presumably looking at the catalog while in or near his buying cycle.

Save on mailing

But you can't assume every time a prospect receives your print catalog in the mail he's ready to buy. Quite the contrary. You're apt to send out a number of catalogs and supplements before he buys, and of course, many never will. So you're not just saving the cost of a single catalog to a single buyer, but rather many catalogs to many people over time.

Figure out the ratio of how many catalogs it takes to make a sale and you'll have some pretty impressive numbers, no matter what line of business you're in. Who cares if anyone actually buys online?

A key will be tracking buyers that come from the Web pages as opposed to the printed catalog. If they order by phone, you should give them some trackable code that indicates where they came from. Have them ask for Operator 24 or something similar.

Additional incentives

You can also try to attract onliners to buy on the site by tempting them with additional incentives. American Airlines offers an additional 1,000 frequent flier miles if a purchase is made online.

Here's another example of Fuzzy Rationale: How a Web site can reduce costs in the human resources area. Using your site and some strategically placed ads, you can bring down the cost of recruitment since you can reach sizable talent pools directly on the Net.

With over 60,000 discussion lists, 50,000 usenet groups and countless Web sites devoted to all aspects of professional and personal interests, you can have a field day harvesting people of all disciplines.

The trick here is to identify what the existing talent pools are first, and then design the recruitment campaign around those groups that are most strongly represented on the Net. So if you find there are sixteen different sites, lists and groups catering to insurance brokers, you know you have a pretty good shot at attracting some well-qualified candidates for very little money.

Reduce cost of research

Reducing the cost of research is the final example of Fuzzy Rationale. Taking a quickie straw poll of the people who use your products or services is a fast way to take the pulse of your market niche. Companies like Digital Equipment Corp. ask the users of their Alpha servers for feedback and ways to improve the product in the next upgrade.

This is much less expensive than holding a focus group and has the effect of incorporating your customers into the design process of your product, thus building a firmer company-customer bond.

Increase speed to market

This practice can also dramatically increase your speed to market of a product since you can query a target group online much faster than printing and distributing a survey or bringing people in for focus groups in real time.

The three examples given here only scratch the surface of how Fuzzy Rationale can be employed in a given circumstance. There are hidden savings unique to each company and industry. The goal is to look at your own situation and do some out-of-the-box (and out-of-the-department) thinking.

Larry Chase is president of Chase Online Marketing Strategies. He can be reached at larry@chaseonline.com.

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