Over the past few years, there has been much said and written about in-bound marketing strategies and tactics, and how they can be used to generate sales leads for companies that operate in the B2B space. One such in-bound tactic is by-lined articles, where a company writes an article of interest, use, relevance and value for the targeted audience, and then has it placed in a targeted publication (on- or off-line) for the prospect to find, read and/or interact with and, hopefully, act upon, by way of contacting the company and proceeding further along the path to purchase. Not a very difficult proposition, but the key to remember is that the by-lined article’s content needs to offer true meaning and value to the prospect, because without this the exercise is almost useless.
With the above in mind, I wanted to share an article that I came across on Furniture Today, a B2B website for the furniture industry. This article, I believe, shows what not to do or how not to prepare content, because the author of the article fails to deliver any real value by way of the article. Take a look. My comments are in bold throughout.
David vs. Goliath
by Pat Cory
The latest buzzword in the industry, of course, is e-commerce accompanied by omni-channel selling through varied shopping conduits. Doing business this way sounds trendy and exciting, but there are many pitfalls accompanying it, from loss of personal contact to shipping product to the consumer and more.
MoM: One of the components of an omni-channel sales strategy is the use of the web to transact business and to supply information to a consumer, so I’m not sure what’s meant by the phrase “accompanied by.” Also, I’m not sure I agree with the thought that “loss of personal contact to shipping product to the consumer” can be considered pitfalls of omni-channel (i.e., e-commerce) sales. Yes, the face-to-face interaction may be lost , but conducting sales on the web can still be a personal experience. And, with respect to shipping product, why should this be any more difficult than shipping product from a physical store? The merchandise still has to be stored in one location and moved to another.
The truth is that small retailers who try to compete in this market have an advantage over the big boys primarily because of their physical presence with a storefront, a point of contact, and customer service.
MoM: I have no idea what is trying to be conveyed in this paragraph. Are we being led to believe that a small furniture retailer like Mom & Pop Furniture is supposed to have an advantage over a “big boy” company like Crate & Barrel? How? Crate & Barrel has physical store locations, they have an omni-channel sales presence in the market and they have a robust customer service infrastructure. Where is the small retailer advantage? What am I missing? The only advantage I see with a small time retailer might be the uniqueness of the products being offered.
Most studies have proven that consumers will shop in the store before making their final purchase of furniture online, a fact rendering the retailer with the storefront at an advantage over those only engaged in Internet sales. Additionally, they show you must allow consumers to complete the sale on their time frame, not yours. They must have the ability to select, purchase and complete the order online of what it is they saw in your store.
MoM: In this paragraph, I believe the author is trying to say a few things at the same time, and it gets a bit confusing. Yes, studies have shown that consumers would rather see, feel and test a piece of furniture in a physical store first and then, if they can find the same piece of furniture on-line at a better price than what was offered in the store, they will buy it on-line… this is showrooming. And, this is where a company practicing omni-channel sales has an advantage over an e-commerce-only company. The omni-channel company has the ability to show product live in the physical store and it is up to them to set and control their on-line prices, so that the consumer will remain loyal to the brand, as opposed to purchasing the same product elsewhere on-line. With respect to the author’s last sentence, it goes without saying that in virtually any situation a company wants to make the purchase process as simple and as efficient for the consumer to be, and to ensure that the entire brand interaction/experience from first point of contact to the last is as engaging and meaningful to the consumer as possible.
The next step for brick and mortars wanting to move into e-commerce is to be willing to sell over the Internet and deliver home furnishing products within their local trading area. Once they figure out how to do this locally, they can grow their e-commerce business outside of their local area, providing they have the right partners.
MoM: Besides stating the obvious (i.e., it’s assumed that if you want an e-commerce business you need to be willing to sell over the Internet and delivering product within a local area), the author gives us a glimpse of what this article is really all about. In the last sentence, he says, “providing they have the right partners” where partners is referring to a company like his. If you click on the author’s name you’ll find that he has his own delivery services company. But getting back to the usefulness and value of the article, there is nothing of value in this paragraph.
Retailers getting started in e-commerce need to prepare by analyzing search engines, marketing heavily through social media, and having a very robust 24-hour customer service presence. Selling, shipping and servicing via e-commerce require a completely different business model and expertise.
MoM: Yes, selling via an e-commerce channel is different from selling out of a physical store, but before focusing on search engines and social media, etc., what’s critical is figuring out and developing the website itself and how the user experience will be realized. How will merchandise be displayed and laid out on the site, what product information will be provided, what will the check out experience be like, what will the on-line purchase return/exchange policy be like, etc., etc. Concurrent with figuring all of this out, work needs to be done to determine customer service, marketing, branding, advertising, site maintenance, shipping, etc. Again, not a whole lot of valuable information being supplied by the author.
Preparation and partnering with the right delivery partner can all work together to ensure the best of both worlds.
MoM: Okay, now the cat is out of the bag…the author comes clean and tells the reader that with the right delivery partner, the company now wanting to make use of an omni-channel business model can succeed. Mr. Cory, with all due respect, it takes a lot more than having the “right” delivery partner to succeed in omni-channel marketing and sales.
In summary, I believe Mr. Cory’s article does little to provide valuable and meaningful information to a prospective client. I’d be surprised to learn that a great many sales leads were generated from this article. It would have been more interesting, and probably more valuable to the reader’s of Furniture Today, if Mr. Cory focused on home furniture delivery, his area of specialty, and how, if structured and marketed correctly, it could be turned into a unique selling proposition for a furniture brand. Great idea to write an article to generate sales leads, but the execution needs to be there as well. Think value, meaning, relevance and timeliness for the reader, not for you, and this in-bound marketing technique should pay off.