Feb 10 | Stew Jensen Subtitle : How to squeeze the most from your Website investment, or ... How to convince that sniveling myopic CFO tightwad to open the pocket book (I keed, I keed).

At Propeller Media Works, we strive to meet with all our active clients on at the very least an annual basis (or more often, depending on the need and category). The purpose of the meetings is to listen to what changes have evolved with the business or organization since we last met (product offerings, competition, challenges) and how are those new needs being met by the website. We also like to offer our observations on trends related to the medium itself, technology, and new specific opportunities for the client to advance the web marketing approach. 

Of course, like lots of other folks facing uncertainty, our fiscal calendar year planning clients have been delaying budget decisions for 2009. As a result, meetings and plans we would normally have in October and November are dragging into the new year.  Lately, a few common themes have emerged from these meetings that will not come as a surprise.... Clients and prospects both ask, " How do we do more with less and how can I document for the CXOs the money I spend on online marketing will yield a return?".

My guidance to answer these questions is typically broken down into the following series of three questions. The answers are heavily influenced by a number of factors, but I will give examples of some general ideas that we have implemented for our clients.

1) How can we use your online presence (including website) to help retain your best customers? 2) How can we help reduce operating costs by leveraging your website to create efficiencies? 3) How can we create new business and more sales? 

I will tackle one question a week starting with.... you guessed it! Number 1. 1) How can we use your online presence (including website) to help retain your best customers?

Become Extroverted: Many site owners, especially those in the B2B space, haven't really embraced the culture of 24/7 access and support that could help differentiate them from competitors and make it difficult to replace them as the vendor of choice for the products and services they offer. Simple solutions such as a password protected client extranet to compile important resources for the customers, as well as a place to communicate and collaborate can offer great relationship strengthening benefits. More elaborate solutions that include integration with other key systems such as financial (online billing and reporting options), returns (ability to track RA items as they proceed through the internal process) , shipping options (allow buyer to maximize freight loads when ordering), or a communication and collaboration solution to replace email. Of course, many other extranet uses specific to the type of business are recommended when the discovery process takes place.

Start Chatting: Both B2B and B2C clients are thrilled to learn that instant chat solutions for sales and user support are very flexible to use, easy to implement, and incredibly inexpensive. Did you know that a typical CSR can manage 3 consecutive support chats in the same time that they can only handle a single phone call?

Get Feedback: Getting information from your customers to help you improve your products and customer support (not to mention your website) has never been easier or more cost effective. Consider gathering feedback on new advertising, product concepts, even the usability of the site itself by using the web as an inexpensive focus group. Using surveys and actively encouraging feedback will make sure that you have an open channel with you customers to help you identify trouble - before you lose the client. 

Be Pushy: Of course, selling more to existing clients is far more cost effective than acquiring new clients (not that new business isn't important - see #3). Use email marketing to intelligently remarket to your customers by pushing complimentary products or services, or incentivize them to increase reorders with volume discounts. Move that overstock or closeout inventory without delay. 

Smarty Pants: Another good idea is to use your email lists to start a newsletter to pass on best practice tips, the latest industry advancements, industry news, your own accomplishments, or anything else that reinforces your thought leadership in your space with your clients. If clients think you are invaluable as a knowledgeable partner, your value add goes way beyond price. As a bonus, this same search engine rich content can be repurposed for new client development when leveraged across Blogs, the website itself, or other syndication options. 

OK, about that ROI part... obviously remarketing to customers for additional sales has pretty clear metrics. However, the retention calculations are a little trickier. Say you could reduce yearly client churn by 4%? If you have 250 clients who spend on average $300,000 gross with a 10% margin... you can claim $300,000 in ROI for that 4% retention improvement. Not too shabby but the cause and effect is a little hard to directly prove as a multitude of external factors might be at play, for or against you. Of course if you do annual customer satisfaction surveys a ratio might be possible as well as direct questions about the website. Either way, having happy clients is also a great way to get word of mouth referrals while also keeping that revenue safe and out of your competitors camp.

While it is self serving, I have to adopt the well known advice that those who are aggressive in marketing during a downturn are often the ones who gain market share (due to the value of a much larger share of voice) and are poised to accelerate rapidly as the market turns up. Conversely,  dormant brands will start spending on marketing just as the herd all starts spending and will have to work harder and spend more dollars to make noise above the rising din. Worse yet, need to play catch up to upgrade websites and will have a lag period while they wait for the neglected marketing materials to be updated.

Next Week: 2) How can we help reduce operating costs by leveraging your website to create efficiencies?