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The Whiteboard: When advertising on the web, brace for the follow-up

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Marketing via the internet is all the rage today. For many businesses it is definitely the best way to reach a wide audience of potential customers. But a growth strategy based solely on internet marketing can have a fatal flaw if you aren't careful.

There are a number of possible strategies for increasing sales. They include developing new products or services, entering new geographic markets, expanding sales with existing customers and growing by acquisition. Increasing sales by reaching more potential customers through marketing campaigns has always been a popular, and often effective, strategy.

As the internet has become ubiquitous, it has been natural that it should become a preferred marketing platform. Marketing campaigns can include the use of social media, email and paid advertising on both social media and search engines.

Just as ubiquitous as the internet are the many businesses that promise to help you increase sales rapidly by marketing over the internet. I receive emails promising miraculous growth daily, and I’m sure most of our readers do, too. Some of the companies in that space do a great job. Colleagues of mine have well-earned reputations for helping businesses drive up sales via the internet. When it is done well, it really works.

So what could be wrong with a growth strategy based on high-quality internet marketing? If that is the entirety of the strategy, what could go wrong is that it might work.

It is very easy for business leaders to get fixated on growth, especially those who haven’t really experienced more than incremental growth. When a marketing strategy produces a sudden upsurge of prospective customer contacts, the business can be like the dog that catches the car. Then what?

A statement of strategy which says, “We will increase sales dramatically via internet marketing,” is incomplete. The complete strategy would add, “while maintaining a high level of customer service and profitability.” That is the possible flaw I referenced.

That added part of the strategy statement is important because it forces management to address the “Then what?” questions.

Richard Randall
Richard Randall - ()

If your business has great responsiveness to customer inquiries, will a spike in inquiries degrade service for both new and existing customers? If the answer is yes, then plans should be in place to ensure the resources needed to handle the spike are budgeted and ready to go when it happens.

Perhaps the strategy doesn’t depend on humans in customer service. Perhaps it depends on driving more prospects to purchase products on your website. Are your website and its hosting adequate to handle a spike in users? We all remember what happened with droves of people trying to access healthcare.gov. You don’t want to create a mini-version of that fiasco on your company website, so part of the strategy must be ensuring that it is adequate.

Of course, if your business gets more inquiries and more orders, it must be able to deliver. Manufacturers must plan for the additional sales and, if they are to be profitable, make sure that the uptick in demand doesn’t throw the factory into scheduling chaos. Resellers or distributors must ensure that an adequate supply chain is in place to respond to increased demand without sacrificing customer service.

The good news about internet marketing is that you can reach an unprecedented number of potential customers. That is also that bad news, because the more successful the campaign, the more stress on the organization to maintain high levels of customer service and efficiency.

Make no mistake. I think internet marketing is terrific. Just make sure you nail those “Then what?” answers.

Richard Randall is founder and president of management-consulting firm New Level Advisors in Springettsbury Township, York County. Email him at info@newleveladvisors.com.

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