So you're lost in the online sales channel landscape? Understandable. It's hard to navigate.
At this point, I'm assuming you have a product and you need to get eyes on it so you can connect it with consumers and sell it. Great. You should be excited. But be careful because marketing your products and services on the correct digital sales channel(s) will make or break you.
Before we dive into online sales channels, let's make sure the rest of your marketing strategy, brand architecture, and website infrastructure is in the right spot and ready for traffic. After all, we don’t want to start driving potential leads to an unfinished website or through a confusing buyer journey.
If you're ready to begin selling on an online sales channel, you should be able to check these important steps off. If you can't, you should probably start with a full marketing analysis.
you should already have these steps complete:
- A website built
- At least one full page written about the brand
- Know your Competitors
- Really know who you're selling to
- A logical path for your web traffic to find their end goal
- A program to organize your contacts (CRM)
- Workflows and automated Emails
- A social presence
- All the SEO best practices checked off, and then some.
And now you're ready...
Know Your Online Sales Channel Options
First, know that you’ve got a lot of options to choose from. Also know that I’m positive one of them will work for your business. The trick is to find which one works best, and by “works best” I mean which channel has the lowest CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) for your product at this time. Here's a high-level roadmap of the entire process:
Step 1: Test Channels
Step 2: Determine CPAs
Step 3: Test Creative Options
Step 4: Exploit the Winning Channel
Step 5: Continually Optimize
How Many Online Sales Channels Are There?
New sales channels invariably arise and media opportunities constantly evolve -- this is a given. The good news, however, is that the current landscape has settled a bit after the big online shakeup a few years ago, so it really isn’t too chaotic anymore. Together, I'm sure we can paint a pretty clear picture.
According to Gabriel Weinberg, the author of Traction, there are 19 sales channels. You don’t need to know all of these because some aren’t digital and some are a little dated. But it’s good to know that when you ask, “How many online sales channels are there?” the answer isn’t “A bajlllion.” Weinberg thinks there are 19. I think there are roughly 8. This is what my channel landscape pretty much looks like:
Digital Sales Channels
- PPC (Pay Per Click)
- Display Ads
- Online Directories
- (Many more...)
- Sponsored Content
- Community Forums
- Inbound Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Content Offers
- Marketing Automation
- Web Chat
Yes, of course there are exceptions -- the Internet is a big place. And I can just hear someone out there saying, “But, but...what about Snapchat?” Yes, Snapchat could be used to drive traffic, convert leads, and boost sales, but a single medium like Snapchat is really more of a tactic than a channel. Mobile is a channel, but it meshes deeply with online sales channels, so we won't be discussing it in specifics. But yes, Snapchat is a cool one and we could work it into your marketing plan. Who knows, it might just be the perfect media to fit your product and industry?
Other exceptions include plenty of individual websites that you could advertise on. There’s also contact mining and email spamming, but we’re going to steer clear of that stuff today.
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so where's my big blue ocean of opportunity?
Industry matters. Products and services matter. Goals matter. We can't truly identify your big blue ocean of opportunity in this blog because we'd need to deep dive into your competitive landscape and your unique brand position in the market, but here are some generalizations:
Great if you really know what you’re doing and there isn’t a TON of competition in your space. This all comes down to using the right keywords (so be sure to have an extensive keyword strategy). The more competitors are challenging you for these keywords, the more expensive each ad will be. One bright spot, however, is that “Pay Per Click” means, you guessed it, you only pay for each click, so there are potentially media impressions you could get without spending a dime. It’s also very easy to scale your PPC efforts, so if you have a winning strategy, you can really exploit this channel.
Perhaps the most overrated channel these days, the ad industry believes banner ads and display ads have become wallpaper for consumers -- web surfers simply don’t see them anymore. They blur them out. But there are always exceptions, and for the right target audience on the right site with the right design, they can still prove highly effective. It's worth noting, they tend to work best with retargeting.
You know those ads that follow you around the Internet? For instance, if you were just on Overstock.com looking for mattresses and now you see Overstock mattress display ads seemingly randomly around every corner of the Internet? That’s retargeting. Retargeting works and is a strong addition to your online marketing campaigns, however, it's also the most obvious form of Big Brother and can give some consumers the creeps.
Fairly self explanatory, online directories are basically review sites -- third party sites that you can pay (sometimes they’re free) to get your business profile on heavily trafficked sites where consumers can compare and read reviews of various industry products or services. Sometimes they work pretty well, but they certainly aren’t for every business or industry.
Everyone knows this one, but few really know how to build a strong social presence, especially one that produces quantifiable results or sales. Engagement is the real benefit here -- the idea is to increase your brand reach and create relationships between your consumers and your business.
Most of the time we find clients who have tried posting to Facebook and Twitter for a few weeks, getting all the way up to 35 followers, and seeing nothing happen, so the momentum falls off. That’s because if you want to do social right, you have to know the tricks and strategies. We know that stuff.
Though social can be free, there's also a very strong paid component that can yield great results. Facebook, for instance, is fantastic for both small and large businesses because ads cost about $1 per click (don’t quote me, things change), and you can get INSANELY targeted, so you know exactly who you’re placing your ad in front of. There are also under-utilized social channels such as Reddit, which is very cheap and highly targeted, but isn’t for every business or product. In order to best understand the channel that works for your unique product, we'll need to research and test. But just know, somewhere out there, a consumer wants your business or product to tap them on the shoulder on social media.
This is the way newspapers and magazines are making their money these days. The standard model is that you pay a writer at their organization to write a soft-selling article about your product that will show up next to their own articles. The drawbacks are that sponsored content articles are surprisingly expensive and are branded with a “Sponsored Content” tag, so customers may not read them as readily as regular, or "real", articles. But, usually the reach is pretty good and they're shareable, so if it’s great content, or you have a highly specialized demographic, it could reap a big reward.
This is a bit rare compared to the others, but is a big deal for some industries, and I have a feeling more and more forums will begin to pop-up as communities find each other and organize. Some industries have strong engagement in their own organically grown communities. One I found recently was for eLearning. There's a forum out there that enables industry professionals to share knowledge, collaborate together, and evolve ideas. If you can identify a community forum in your industry, it's almost always a worthwhile channel to integrate into your marketing plan. Know that it does take time to build contacts this way, but the results can be extremely fruitful. Also understand that it REALLY helps to be an expert in the field before diving into the community.
Hubspot, the online marketing software company, created this term to help sell their software. The term stuck, however, because it works. This is my personal favorite “channel” because really it’s more of an overall strategy than a specific channel. Also, it’s made up of a few separate channels that are weaved together to make the most of a business’s own content, assets, and expertise. No matter what industry or products you may sell, there's a way to enhance your sales with Inbound Marketing.
In short, Inbound Marketing is the tailor-fit method to grow your web traffic and get your website found organically through emails, blogging, helpful content offers, social media, and SEO. Inbound Marketing then builds upon that organic web traffic through email and marketing automation.
The best part of Inbound Marketing? You don’t have to pay for the channel. Sure, you can encourage your Inbound Marketing Strategy with PPC or a a paid Facebook campaign, but the idea is to produce your own content for free and to use the free channels of the Internet to get it found. After all, you're the master of your domain and only you truly know your product.
As an Inbound Marketing outsourcing agency, we help you do that and try to give you the tools you know (and knowledge of the ever-evolving Internet) to do it. It works, and usually it’s the most cost-efficient strategy to grow your business. It’s also a great starting point for any new business.
One more major benefit of Inbound Marketing? Think of the content you create as an investment designed to drive web traffic for years. Unlike a display ad or a paid social campaign, the content you create from Inbound Marketing will live on, populating into search results and driving traffic, conversions, and sales, for eternity.
I'm eager to hop on a call and answer some questions about these online sales channels or Inbound Marketing anytime. Click the button below or reach out in the chat box when you're ready: