Distance doesn’t matter

Josh Stailey

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

A decade ago – when business journalists were “discovering” the Web - one of the most-hyped headlines was that every company could now sell world-wide. Like most over-heated rhetoric, the concept that distance no longer matters came and went with some notice and little real change. Most companies discovered that – while selling over great distances was indeed easier than before – fulfilling and servicing was hard enough to make it unprofitable.

It took the Great Recession for many organizations to revisit the concept of expanding their sales territory to anyone in the digital world. Here’s one example, with the lessons learned since the beginning of the era we often call Dot-Com.

A small, Midwest-based firm that repairs crystal found itself struggling to survive the Geat Recession. The company had enough clientele in their metro area to maintain a profitable flow of work, but that work began to dry up in 2008. Thanks to help from a Web-savvy marketing professional in the family, the owner revamped his website and embarked on a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) project with no territorial boundaries.

His business picked up within a couple of months, and almost al of the new work came from beyond his original “service area.” Today, the company is the busiest it has ever been, with customers sending crystal from North America, Europe and Asia.

If you have a niche business, that does not require customers to visit you (not a gas station, for example), you are a prime candidate to reset your service are to a continental (or even global) scope. Here are some hints for getting started:

Put everything you need a buyer to know on your website. Long-distance clients need to know much more than “we can do it,” they need to have confidence in your abilities. So show what you do, and include lots of customer comments. The crystal repair site does before-and-after photos of every job, and posts them on the site. If they can get customer comments on the job, they get posted as well.

But don’t stop there. Post your prices, or – if you have a complex pricing scheme – a calculator, configurator or other way for potential customers to estimate their cost. And create educational documents and tools… anything that can help remote customers decide to buy from you. Above all, do not default to a “call us for_____” statement; too many prospects will decide it’s too hard to do business with you.

Do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to help customers find you. Prospects find you on the Web through search results. SEO helps move your website closer to the top of the results…the ultimate goal is to get near the top of the first page of results. It’s far easier to get near the top when search terms are very specific. SEO tactics are varied and complex, including URL names, html coding, and key work research and selection. So either get some professional help, or – if you have some technical skills - spend time learning what works and how to do it. One of your better resources is a company called Hubspot (www.hubspot.com ), which supports do-it-yourself SEO with a wide range of support tools, and a relatively low monthly cost.

Show off on YouTube. It’s the biggest video search engine on the internet, with 24 hours of video uploaded every minute and two billion (with a “b”) views every day. Other companies market there: 94 of the top 100 advertisers have run campaigns on YouTube…why not you. Most company videos are shot with a home video camcorder and edited with free software; in fact, the smartest producers deliberately downscale their videos to avoid looking “slick.” You can embed YouTube video on your site…millions of business sites already do.

Build relationships over the distance. Once you have a customer, stay in touch. Say “thank-you” after a job is complete. Remind them once in a while that you’re still there…just in case someone they know faces the same problem. Referrals could be one of your best and least expensive tools for new business development. If you have an opportunity, “friend” them on Facebook, follow them of Twitter and link up in Linked-In. Social media is a perfect was to stay in touch without the potential pushiness of e-mail.

Yes, it will take some work to go national ( or international), But it’s far easier today than when journalists were gaga over the potential for every company to have a global market. If competition is making your current market too small, it’s time to redefine your service territory. Some of that new competition may be from others in your industry who have already gone global. Your window of opportunity is still there, but it will close fast.

About Josh Stailey

Our friend and contributor Josh Stailey passed away unexpectedly on September 10, 2011. We have valued his expertise and willingness to share his insights with us. We discussed the appropriateness of sharing content he provided before his death with his business partners at The Pursuit Group and they agreed sharing his expertise was a fitting tribute to Josh.

Josh Stailey was a 40-year veteran of the marketing and sales wars, a journalism-trained professional who understood the role of information and technology in today’s business world. A consultant and writer, he was a founding partner of The Pursuit Group, which specializes in designing and implementing demand-generation systems for small- and medium-sized businesses. He has also consulted with Fortune 500 companies on customer experience management and content system design.