The Internet – a vast oasis of commercial opportunity. Why, any kid with too many Pokemon cards or a babysitting service can become an overnight success. Why it’s really only a matter of time before your digital roadside stand becomes a mega-giant of commerce.
But now the bad news. Business is business. Does anyone recall the 1968 science fiction spectacular “2001: A Space Odyssey?” In the opening shots of a human in space early audiences got a kick out of franchise companies, like Pan Am, Bell Telephone and IBM being casually part of the scenery, like “Ho-hum, of course spaceships will have money making opportunities for U.S. corporations. Why would it not?”
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The product placement jokes helped normalize the setting as astronauts sat in phone booths thousands of miles from Earth in order to phone home or checked into a Hilton Hotel that just happened to be part of an orbiting satellite.
Well, the Internet is not outer space, but it is certainly a new frontier for commerce. In theory (just keep building servers) it is as large as outer space, as it can just go on forever. But here’s the bitter irony: The business headaches that come with doing business in digital space are just as old as the commerce itself and perhaps even scarier than the so-called “good old days.”
Some Things Never Change
As Morpheus says in the Matrix films, “some things never change.” Here’s a list of the obvious ones.
Getting Customers to Notice Your Business
Getting customers to notice you and your business might even be harder to day than it was in the pre-Internet era. In those days, you could hold a grand opening and advertise in a local newspaper. Now a business has to fight for attention with a rational, but tiresome struggle for search engine prominence. Being third on a search list is fair enough, but No. 678,452,117 is pretty dismal.
Closing a Sale
Closing a sale has always been the coup de grace for commerce. All the customer traffic in the world will not help if you cannot close the sale.
Before the digital revolution, the main weapon for sale closing was called a salesman. It was a human being with the ability to smile and make small talk and do math in his or her head all at the same time. Sex appeal helped, as did the deal-closing firm handshake.
Closing a sale on the Internet can be handled in a variety of ways. First, there is the idea that 20 million unique visitors to a Web site every year means a lot of sales, even if it just relies on people clicking the sale button by accident.
Secondly, a Web site can be designed to trap a visitor. Every link miraculously transports a visitor to the sales page or once there you can’t escape. One of my pet peeves is the Web site that asks for a credit card number just to allow you permission to look into the product further. This is not so common in real life. You don’t swipe a credit card just to enter a brick and mortar store and browse.
Internet commerce, by necessity if nothing else, has embraced the credit and debit card culture. This virtually eliminates the old headache of customers bouncing checks.
If you have cash flow, you have problems paying suppliers, employees and credit sources. You can’t make your bills.
How is this solved? Sales. No sales, no cash flow. Robust sales, problem solved.
Record Keeping and Networking
Record keeping needs seem to be evolving just as fast as the digital age. That is to say, as soon as a new software program comes along that helps you track how many left handed widgets were sold to co-eds with the middle initial Q and soon it will be a staple of the business to keep that data up to date.
But any Internet headache seems to spawn and a new Internet company with the right solution. Further, the number of new business applications is astounding.
In the good, old days, I recall a stack of invoices teetering on the corner of a desk with the company president so versed in this disastrous system that he could reach into the middle of the stack and pull out the invoice he was looking for every time.
This was a small production company with 150 clients. On the Internet, you might have 150 visits each day or 150,000. If you don’t have a coordinated record keeping system, it will be be impossible to reach into the middle of the stack to find one particular customer.
In business lingo, anything that falls from quote to cash requires streamlined solutions. Keeping track of accounts from the first, curious browsing to the click that completes a sale needs a coordinated record keeping system and one that has been thought though and tested in advance.
Remember the disastrous start to on-line Obamacare? The bungling start cost the new healthcare system a ton of credibility and gave political opponents more ammo than they could imagine in their wildest dreams.
Some Things Do Change
Again a few sage words from the Matrix. Some things do change.
Location, location, location
In the good, old days, at the very least, you had to have a business on a bus route. Adequate parking for customers didn’t hurt, either.
Now, your customers are transported to you with the click of a mouse. Everyone’s address on Main Street on the Internet. As long as you know how to advertise, the customers can find you and get to your store.
Image Source: Couple using credit card to shop on internet