Taking the online plunge

Taking the online plunge

If you need to raise your business profile and add new sales and marketing potential, you might consider going into e-business. E-business or e-commerce is setting up a company Web site with interactive capability for sales or obtaining information. Nearly everyone seems to be creating a Web presence these days; in the computer and data communications industries it is expected and will soon be essential.

There are a lot of options in developing a Web site, and it pays to find an experienced designer. We spoke with Julian Carver, the director of Promethean Web Design in New Zealand. He has designed over 40 sites for both commercial and non-profit organisations, and his experience runs the gamut from simple "brochure" style Web presences to complex interactive sites.

"E-Commerce Web sites serve different pur-poses," said Carver. "Some are simply online marketing brochures. Others are used to provide information to an existing client base or to a dealer network. Then there are interactive online shopping systems. They all have different design considerations, meet different objectives, and have differing costs. It is important to match the site to the business."

Setting up a site involves considerable planning and must be focused upon specific objectives. Careful advance planning is the best assurance that the result will be successful. Among the key considerations Promethean discusses with clients are:

Site purpose

Target audience (national or international, and demographics)Content and structureDesign aspects, including animation and linkagesMarketing and promotion of the site"A detailed requirements analysis is essential," said Carver. "The Web lets you sell on a demographic rather than geographic basis, and an e-commerce site needs to be focused. Niche market items and tourism tend to do extremely well, for example."

One reason for careful planning is to control expense. You can waste a lot of money on a Web presence if you focus upon the technology rather than the purpose.

"It costs from $NZ2000 to $NZ3000 to have a small to medium site developed, and up to $NZ10,000 and more for a complex, interactive effort," said Carver. "In addition to the development cost, you will have a monthly hosting fee of between $NZ60 and $NZ100 - with some cheaper options in hosting overseas. You can have additional hosting charges for more complex sites that require special servers or programs on the host."

Promethean has developed a number of successful online sales sites, particularly in the tourist industry. Carver believes current network tools and security are quite adequate for establishing a credit card payment scheme. He also believes the security issue has been overblown, especially compared with security in most other retail transactions.

"Despite the hype there have been few, if any, reported cases of credit card fraud over the Internet. And many sites have been successfully using credit card payments for a number of years now, even before security measures were in place."

Of course, this also depends upon the type and size of the transaction. In most instances, outside of pure financial transactions, current security levels are at least adequate.

A well-designed Web presence is often expected in business these days, and it contributes to a "high-tech" image. For anyone selling computer- related products and services, there is an additional reason for going online - this is where your customers are.

It is a simple matter of Web demographics.

"Any residential consumer accessing the Web is, by definition, involved with computer systems," said Carver. "International sites that have done particularly well include software and computer equipment sites. Dell Computers, for example, has one of the most successful sites on the Net."

A Web site is a necessity

Corporate purchasers and purchasing agents are also increasingly scouring Web-based sources, and a Web presence can be used to create profitable relationships. At the very least, it can reduce the amount of time needed to make a sale by providing product information up front, on demand, to the customer.

Once you have decided to develop a Web presence, you need to carefully consider how far you want to go. That depends upon your purpose, which depends upon your market and how the site can enhance your current sales program. In some areas of the industry, providing information is a great deal more important than online sales, while other sectors are served by shareware software versions and online purchasing options. That's where it helps to call in the experts.

Promethean's Web page is located at www. If you're in the Web site design business, of course, a good site is an absolute necessity.

Press releases: how to make them work for youby Phil Parent (new Zealand Reseller News)Press releases are an extremely cost-effective method of getting your message out to the world - if they are handled correctly. Otherwise they are a waste of everyone's time as well as a 40 cent stamp. A good press release does a couple of things. Firstly, it alerts local journalists and editors that you exist and that you are doing something noteworthy. Secondly, it gives you a good excuse to make personal contact with the target journo and provide any necessary follow-up. And lastly, if everything works out, you might even get some publicity in the local press.

On the technical side, a press release should be short, concise and factually correct. It should contain the name and contact details of someone who can answer questions and it should have a date. A typical press release should be no more than 400 to 500 words. If someone wants to run a feature article, they will contact you for further details. A press release should also contain a little background profile on your company, products and services - usually a couple of paragraphs at the end.

What should you talk about in a press release?

New products, new product lines, personnel changes, new showrooms, major sales - almost anything which might be of interest to the medium you are addressing. A very important point to remember is the purpose of a press release is not just to get a few words about yourself in the local press, it is about building a personal relationship with the journalists. One of the most important things you can do is make a follow-up phone call, and ask if they have any questions. If you come across as a well-informed, helpful and good resource, you can become a valuable source of information to the reporter.

Who should you send them to?

Find the publications most appropriate to your target market. Send your press release to the editor, or better yet, a reporter who covers a particular "beat". Don't leave out the local mainstream press. For resellers in smaller areas, the local newspaper can be an invaluable asset. In larger areas, it is harder to get to know the IT reporters, but it doesn't hurt to try.

And don't forget the vertical markets if you have a strong presence in a particular field like agriculture or forestry. Editors are more than happy to hear from technology vendors because their readers are always looking for bits on new technology and solutions.

What should you avoid?

Try to stay away from making grandiose statements like "revolutionary new product". Journos tend to dismiss those claims immediately. Don't trash the competition. You can compare the products, but avoid stating your strong points to others' weak points. And, of course, don't lie. Credibility takes years to build up and can be destroyed in a minute.

Actually writing the press release isn't that hard. Just straightforward prose. Avoid gratuitous jargon, but don't shy away from getting technical.

Again, the main purpose of a press release is to get your products and services known to the press. If you are consistent and remember to follow up, eventually you will start to get mentioned in the medium of your choice. If you can make yourself a resource, then the publicity will follow. A well-written press release can be a great marketing vehicle, but make sure you follow the rules.

Target marketing and building customer loyaltyby Phil Parent (new Zealand Reseller News)Target marketing is no more than understanding your potential client base. For retailers, it is knowing where your customers live, what they typically require, and how to attract more customers just like them. For resellers and systems integrators, it is knowing who the potential clients are, what types of systems they are using, and what they are spending on IT. In short, it is knowing your marketplace and planning a strategy to expand your client base.

Target marketing is more than just advertising; it is making sure that your message gets to the right people at the lowest cost.

For instance, if you are a retailer selling PCs, it might make more sense to do a letter-box drop to the areas within your sales territory that reflect the socio-economic status of your clientele than run ads in the local newspaper. The emphasis is on letting the people who are the most likely to buy your products and services know about them.

The key to target marketing is knowing who your current customers are. At the retail level, this can be done via a simple survey form, a contest (making sure the provisions of the Privacy Act are followed), or some other method of keeping track of who is buying what. Once you have a list of your customers, make sure you keep them informed of what you are doing. A newsletter or regular fliers can do wonders for customer loyalty. Building customer loyalty is a common concept in retailing and there is no reason to think that it shouldn't be applied to the computer retailer.

For resellers who provide goods and services to the corporate marketplace, customer loyalty is even more important as the number of clients is usually smaller and the average spent is typically higher. One tactic is to make sure you always know when they are in the market for a new kit. One of the best sales reps I ever worked with would visit every client at least once a month, ask a bunch of questions, and dutifully record the answers as well as any concerns. He never missed out on a sale because he always knew what the client needed. Plus the clients felt as if they were being well looked after.

Building customer loyalty also means providing the most appropriate solution, even if it is perhaps not the most profitable for you. Saving the client money in the short term almost always gives you a larger market share in the long run.

Finding new customers and selling them something is a lot harder than selling to existing customers, but it has to be done to keep the potential client base expanding. Target marketing can help you identify potential clients and understand more about their probable requirements.

Building customer loyalty, selling into those client sites, and constantly looking out for new customers are fundamental exercises to compete successfully in the competitive market. Target marketing is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

Providing first class customer support is the best way to get customers to come back again and again. And that is the best way to stay in business.

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