Question: If a customer tells you that maybe they will buy, is that such a bad thing?

Understandably, ebusiness owners continually preach the importance of conversions, or simply put, more yes’s, in its company’s online marketing campaigns; more importantly, CEOs focus specifically on the velocity of conversions and constantly pressure marketing heads to push for more sales in less time.

Although sales velocity is extremely important and shouldn’t be subordinated to the company’s ultimate goal, CEOs should take into to consideration the value of” Maybe” in online Marketing.  In order to fully understand the value of Maybe Marketing, we first need to look at the inherent differences between online and offline marketing.

To find the chief difference between these two marketing strategies, one should look no further than the “conversion element”.  This culmination of any marketing campaign is generally defined by the time and cost it takes to convert marketing into sales.  In offline marketing (i.e., direct mail, TV, radio, newspaper), the conversion factor is heavily burdened by the inefficiencies of time and cost.  Short of a direct response TV ad on, say, HSN, traditional media advertising takes real time to create, deploy, develop and ultimately to generate sales.   

Therefore, the requirement of efficiently getting more “yes’s” from offline marketing campaigns, not to mention, the pressure of being effectively “dialed in” on your marketing message can mean the difference between the campaign’s overall success or failure.   The company’s marketing message must not only be finely tuned to hit the proverbial winner but time and cost factors for offline marketing requires the product or service’s focus to be further along in the buying process paradigm.

The buying process describes where the consumer mindset is before, during and after the decision to take action; more specifically an investment of some type.  That action can be to purchase a product or service or can simply be registering for a free newsletter or online seminar.  This article is not so much about the buying process (that will come later), but more so to illustrate the incredible value internet marketing represents when considering  a campaign that focuses solely on the formative stages of the buying process.

The buying process consists of these five distinct stages: Problem Recognition, Information Search, Evaluation of Alternatives, Purchase Decision and Post Purchase Decision.  The consumer must first recognize the problem or they need something.  From there, the consumer begins to seek out and evaluate alternatives.  Once the consumer has narrowed down their choice to a few specific options, a decision to invest time or money is made.  The post purchase decision really has more to do with how your company does during the purchase decision phase and whether your new customer will continue to engage, re-purchase and even evangelize the company’s products or services.

The challenge with offline marketing is that intense time and cost factors mandate the marketing effort target consumers further along in the buying process.  In fact, offline literally feeds off the immediacy of the conversion event to the degree that offline speculating is reserved only for the select few giant companies who can afford to engage consumers at the first two stages of the buying process.  For most, offline marketing goals are required to be as close to the Purchase Decision as possible.

This is not necessarily the case with online marketing.  Yes, it’s still important to get the ultimate sale but internet marketing can be much less expensive and considerably more efficient than traditional offline marketing.  In fact, internet marketing allows you the luxury of focusing on the “maybe” crowd even more. 

Because online marketing provides companies a low cost ability to test multiple strategies simultaneously, web based marketing delivers faster reactions and, more often, higher quality Returns on Advertising Spends (ROAS).  These facts create a great environment to cost effectively engage customers early on in the buying process. 

Let’s take an example to illustrate this point.  You’re the CEO of ABC company and you sell blue widgets on your website.  You also include an opt-in component on your home page that allows visitors to subscribe to your monthly newsletter geared towards consumers who are interested in the blue widget industry.  Other than the sale of a blue widget, what other conversion event creates value for your company?  Someone who signs up for your newsletter, of course!  If a visitor requests your monthly newsletter, what are they saying to you?  If you ask me, a pretty strong indication of interest which translates into a “maybe” and a new customer prospect!  Maybe not today, but quite possibly part of the 1% of your future conversions.

If you then apply what I call the “Persistence Factor” or steady persistence in the form of continually developing and deploying new consumer touch points that include highly persuasive marketing messages you’ll not only be in a position to warm them to the idea of buying your blue widget but you may also earn their trust over time.  Furthermore, your new prospect may feel somewhat obligated to purchase your blue widget because you’ve given them so much value along the way!

You’re probably thinking, well, that’s all fine and good but what is my cost to provide them all this free stuff?  Good question Mr. (or Ms.) CEO.  The beauty of the internet is that your freebies can all be virtual.  Company newsletters, industry whitepapers, consumer reports and product comparison charts are just a few things that can be provided for free and the only investment is what is required to build up your inventory of available material.   As long as you continue to provide the freebies, you not only stay connected to consumers but have the opportunity to convert these warm leads into paying customers. 

Think about it.  You’ve already paid for the lead (even if you didn’t buy the lead outright, they all cost something) you might as well continue to guide them along the buying process.  The key is to continue to get them to warm up to your product where one day they finally say, “hey, I like this company and also what they have to say…”

That’s the dramatic difference between the online and offline world.  Like the warm up to the headline comedian, Companies have the luxury of being able to “work the room” to build momentum and energy.  Then, once the timing is right, marketing departments can convert those maybes into well deserved sales!