The four major tasks that companies can accomplish with their websites are (1) brand development, (2) revenue generation, (3) cost savings, and (4) customer support.
1. Brand Development
You seek to communicate an image about your company: One that will register in the minds of your customers. This is brand development.
Your brand is the image of your business in the minds of customers. Everything about your site: the quality of the design, the tone of your wording, the sense of interest and excitement, the colour scheme, and much more - contributes to your image.
Your goal is that when someone leaves your site they'll remember your brand. And that the next time they come, they'll make a purchase or pick up the phone. Your brand image is also the trust the customer has in you.
There are no real shortcuts here. Major corporations spend a lot of money to develop their brand image and keep it fresh in the minds of consumers. Is there any way a small business can compete?
Yes, your site can look every bit as good on the Web as a major corporation's, and without spending the sums they do. Even though the Web is no longer a level playing field, small businesses can still compete. But you will need a professional web designer.
To compete today you either need to have graphics training and an artistic sense yourself, or you need to hire it. Website design includes the colour scheme and graphics, but also structure of the site, the navigation system, the size and quality of the photos and illustrations. All these affect your brand image.
Brand development is all about image. It is a precondition for sales since it relates directly to customer trust. Fail at this and you will fail at the core purposes of your site.
2. Revenue Generation
The second major goal is revenue generation. There are two basic ways to generate revenue on the Internet: (1) lead generation and (2) online sales transactions.
You can use your website to generate leads and provide information to support the sale. Then you close the sale by phone, e-mail, or face-to-face. Many small businesses, especially service businesses, use this successfully.
If yours is the kind of business where people take a while to come to a decision, or need customized information before they purchase that can only be supplied by a real human being, then prospect generation is probably your main revenue model. This is especially true of products that have a higher price tag or need customization. You can do a great deal to support the sale process by providing a wealth of information on your website.
Actual sales can be transaction over the Internet. This is referred to as e-commerce or eShop. E-commerce allows you to extend your company's reach beyond your present market area. If you can sell products or services on the Web that can be delivered outside your geographical area, then the world is your marketplace.
3. Cost Savings
Many businesses are able to lower costs significantly by moving certain business processes to the Internet. Here are some of the ways that the Internet can save costs:
1. Reduction in Staffing. Simply stated, the Internet saves time. It is significantly less expensive, and more accurate, to have a customer enter an order over the Internet than it is to take it by phone or rekey it into your computer system after the sale. In online stores, customers usually wait on themselves, so you don't need as many sales clerks.
2. Distribution of sales materials. Those firms that need to send sales materials know how much money and energy is invested in printing and postage. Your website is a fantastic way to distribute unlimited amounts of information inexpensively. Most companies put all their sales materials on their site.
3. Advertising costs. For some businesses, especially those in neatly-defined niches, advertising costs are lower. People must have a reason to come to your site. If they don't find you by search engines, then you'll need to drive them there by a combination of paid online and traditional promotion.
4. Customer Support
Pre-sales support can be categorized under revenue generation, but post-sales support to your customers is another matter. Fortunately, your website can provide the very best in customer service support.
Your customer support system may be as simple as an Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) or troubleshooting decision tree. What a great way to help your customers. The more material you have, the more valuable a searchable database becomes.
Providing customer support on the Web is not only efficient for the customer, it is also a boon to company customer support departments, who can refer callers to their website for detailed and complete information, substantially shortening phone calls.