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Web Relationships: The Little Things Matter
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By Karen Breen Vogel

One of the most serious decisions in the dating world is knowing when it’s time to have your significant other meet the parents. As the movie by that name showed, it can be a real make-or-break for the relationship. Since dating normally has a long “sales cycle” before moving into engagement and then marriage, trying to get to the meet-the-parents stage too early often leads to losing the “prospect” completely. And a pint or two of Haagen-Daz.

The world of online marketing for considered purchase items is very similar. It, too, generally has a very long sales cycle. And if you try to rush it with the marketing equivalent of meeting the parents before it’s time (i.e. seeking more of a commitment or investment of time than the Web visitor is willing to make), you very well may send the prospect running for the hills as well. That may cost you more than a bit of premium ice cream.

There is one significant difference, however. In the dating world, you have to rely on experience, signals, and gut instinct alone to determine when it’s time to move into the next stage. And that’s not always reliable, as evidenced by the popularity of Greg Behrendt’s and Liz Tuccillos’ “He’s Just Not That Into You” series of books. For considered purchase Web sites, there are all kinds of analytics that create data points that purport to help you make informed decisions – providing you know how to read them and turn the complex data points into actionable information.

That’s where many marketers fail. They tend to use Web analytics to measure the beginning and the end of the sale, as though they are selling iPods through an online store rather than through a more costly, complex, considered purchase buying cycle. They measure how many page views were generated on the site, and how many sales were made. But page views don’t buy products.

Yet marketers leave out all the little steps in between, and therefore leave some of the most important information on the digital table – what specifically is driving the buying behavior. This is the wealth of information that resides within the individual clicks and paths taken that will tell them how to move prospects through the sales cycle more efficiently. Studying a buyer’s actions before and after each stage helps the marketer construct a profile of how to sell to potential customers.

While it would seem that the solution is installing one of the popular Web analytics tools, which alone is not enough. Currently, many businesses that have made investments in Web analytics software drown in a sea of general traffic and page view stats, leading them not to bother at all with the information. Or, they go the route of measuring campaign-specific initial responses (clicks) and potentially some final conversion events.

This level of data and insight, while generally directional, does not give the business the visibility necessary to know who and what their Web site visitors really want and care about, and what financial value their qualifying actions have for the Web site owner. Assuming, of course, that the visitors are representative of the target market prospects they crave. The balance of power continues to shift to the buyer, who has more and more relevant and contextual information to support buying decisions than ever before. Marketers need to respect this, provide a web context for them to show their behaviors, and measure this in order to more specifically target offers to them.

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Karen Breen Vogel is the President and CEO of ClearGauge.
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