When looking for ways build a successful business, it’s likely that you’ll be thinking of how to sell more products. After all, increasing product sales ensures that you can cover your business costs and start to turn a profit.
In fact, there are many different elements that can boost your business growth. Thinking about your business as a whole enables you to reduce costs, increase staff productivity and expand your business – all of which can increase the likelihood of more sales. It’s a win-win.
That’s why we quizzed a variety of eCommerce industry experts for their best business growth tips for the upcoming year.
From ways to improve your business growth strategy to increasing customer loyalty, this article will give you plenty of new business ideas for the year ahead.
“Every business needs a set of clearly defined goals. Having a strategic plan in place for growth, one that acts as a roadmap to success is crucial. It’s not always easy to draw up but it’s the best way to keep everyone on track and pulling in the direction,” recommends Aoife from xSellco.
So, how do you set effective business goals? Aoife suggests making your objectives as quantifiable as possible.
"Let’s say you want to win new customers. Be specific – how many and in what timeframe? Setting a goal of 50 new clients by the end of the year is a very clear goal. Its success is measurable, and you can chart your progression in a straightforward way,” she adds.
Aoife also recommends that business owners should regularly ask themselves two specific questions:
1. What is my end goal?
2. Is what I’m doing now going to take me there?
“Keep optimizing and re-evaluating your progress to make sure you’re on the right path. Never be afraid to go back to the drawing board and reconsider your business growth strategy if things aren’t working,” she says.
Your customers are the backbone to your business. Everything that you do in your business needs to support your customers and address their needs in some way. This holds true for businesses that are large or small.
Aoife says: “As you start to scale up, it’s easy to lose touch with your core values. The stock you once placed in individual customers starts to lessen as the numbers increase”.
“If your business is focused on the customer, you need to make sure that you keep their experience at the forefront of your mind. If you make the happiness of your clients your main objective, then you’ll see results”.
But how exactly can you keep your business in check? Aoife suggests one way is to actively engage with your customer feedback – good or bad.
She adds: “This is an important source of information as a customer’s review or comment will give you a key understanding of recurring problems and point the way to a solution. Customers are unlikely to return to a company after bad experiences and you can’t grow if you don’t retain what you have”.
When a business starts to scale, it can run into some challenges along the way. One of these is maintaining a good level of customer support. As your business gets bigger, it gets harder to ensure that everything is above the board and every employee feels prepared.
Aoife says: “Any business that provides a service lives and dies with their support agents. Make sure that equipping them both mentally and physically (with suitable software) is a part of your strategy. Once you reach a tipping point, where your support team is suddenly handling more tickets than it can manage, then it is already too late”.
How can you prepare your customer service team for the busy times ahead?
“Have the structure in place to deal with the increase in queries, otherwise it could all be for nothing,” Aoife suggests.
“Customer support is an extension of a company’s marketing and sales operation. Support agents handle the customer relationship for the longest period of the customer journey, so they should have the technology and know-how needed to manage it effectively”.
“In order to grow, you will require resources. If you are selling on multiple channels, or even just one, manually processing all the data can be time consuming and increase the frequency of mistakes owing to human error,” Aoife points out.
What sort of software should you consider investing in first?
Aoife says: “There are some fantastic software packages out there, tools that pull in customer information instantly, simplify support history or even track orders. Ideally, you’d invest in one piece of software that does all of that”.
“As a start-up or growing company, it can be tempting to cut corners and fool yourself into thinking you can manage everything the same way you did on day one. That simply isn’t feasible. The biggest companies continually put resources back into business”.
For example, one investment you'll need to make if you sell on multiple platforms and marketplaces is inventory management software. Why?
As your business expands, the system makes it easy to manage all your orders in one place, automates many tasks and synchronizes your stock levels across your selling channels so that you avoid overselling and never experience a stock out.
Social media is a powerful tool that connects you to your customers. For online sellers, this can be a real lifeline to develop lasting relationships with your customers and create an army of online brand advocates.
Aoife says: “It’s important to choose the social media platforms that best suit your business. If you sell a wide range of physical products, then Instagram could be the perfect place to show them off. For a company selling a service, Twitter or Facebook may be better”.
It’s also vital to go where your customers are. If you have awesome-looking products that photograph well but your target audience doesn’t use the platform you choose, then you need to find where they are. It’s a two-way street.
“Adding these channels to your website will allow for greater interaction with your customers. A solid, creative content marketing strategy can engage your audience, but it must communicate value,” adds Aoife.
As Aoife says, it’s not just about being active on social media, but the content you create. It’s social media that connects you to your customers, but it is your content that communicates the value and turns the online relationship into online advocacy.
Not sure where to start?
Aoife suggests: “Start a blog or a webinar series and spread information about your product or services among customers and engage prospective clients. Remember to share your posts and videos on your social media platforms in order to increase brand awareness”.
The courier service that you use to ship and deliver your items can plays a key role in successful business growth. This is because your customers relate the shipping experience to your business – not your shipping provider.
eBusiness Guru’s multichannel consultant, Mark, suggests asking yourself the following questions:
He adds: “2p a parcel doesn’t sound like much until you’re shipping 2,500 parcels a month”.
“Just as with your home utility bills, it’s worth shopping around for the best deal to make savings where you can. It may even be worth using more than courier”.
During meetings, calls and shows, one issue that eBusiness Guru hears time and again from online sellers looking to grow their business is that they simply can’t afford to buy stock in.
So, what solution do the multi-channel selling experts recommend?
“Can't afford to buy stock in? We recommend talking to your suppliers about opportunities for dropshipping, even if only for non-core lines,” says Mark.
“This gives you a way to reduce the upfront cost of experimenting with different products and you may even identify new best sellers with minimum outlay, and less dead stock!”
“Relationships are important, and the most important one is the relationship between you and your customers. Are you forming a relationship with your customers, or are you just selling to them?” questions Mark from eBusiness Guru.
Looking after your customers should be a top priority if you’re looking to run a successful business. After all, they form the backbone to your business and keep it going. But, how exactly do you about engaging and building relationships with your customers?
Mark recommends:“Consider how you are interacting with your customers, from social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter to email or SMS notifications of dispatch and even the packages they receive from you”.
“For example, you can investigate customized packaging for your business, think about the presentation of your items, make use of inserts with offers to different types of customers”.
The more you can do to create customer loyalty within your business, the better. A positive customer experience is paramount to business growth and success as it generally leads to repeat business and an increase in your sales.
As Mark concludes:“Customer loyalty can offset the cost of promotion and repeat customers are also more likely to recommend you to others”. It’s a win-win.
When it comes to reviewing your stock, it can be easy to ignore the stock that’s not selling or attracting much attention whatsoever. But, as Mark from eBusiness Guru points out, you can still make money from these products.
“When did you last look around your warehouse and review your stock? How many lines have you got that haven’t sold in weeks, or months? How much money is tied up in them?”
“Consider sales events or coupon codes to encourage people to make their first purchase from you, or even to bring back older customers you haven’t heard from in a while”.
On top of this, if you can create and segment customer groups through your online selling platform, then you are able to make these offers much more targeted and effective in shifting the products that would otherwise be taking up space in your warehouse.
Most online marketplaces and selling platforms are evolving at a rapid rate, which can make it challenging to keep up with these changes to help grow your business, if not impossible. So, why should you take the time to keep up to date with all of these changes?
“If you and your team are taking a little time every day to read about them, then you can identify opportunities for your business and be more agile than your competition in taking advantage” recommends Mark from eBusiness Guru.
He adds: “Make this sort of research and education part of your team routine to ensure you’re right on the bleeding edge of eCommerce and grabbing opportunities when they come!”
Mark also suggests thinking about the current process you’re implementing to enhance your team’s knowledge, so that you are able to get the very best out of them. It can do wonders for boosting morale in the workplace and can make employees feel more valued.
Whether it’s allocating half a day for research every fortnight or 15 minutes a day reading industry-relevant blogs, the more knowledge you have about your current sales platforms the better equipped you are to grow your online business.
Great customer service is the secret to creating a successful business, and this is especially the case when you’re expanding overseas and selling internationally. But why is this so?
While customers in different countries have different expectations from businesses, the vast majority will agree that responsive, helpful and honest customer support can boost loyalty and satisfaction, which can increase the likelihood of repeat custom.
“Think about prioritizing your customer service with native-speaking customer service representatives to avoid misunderstandings and cultural barriers” suggests Jia, eCommerce marketing specialist from InterCultural Elements.
Putting your customers first can really do wonders for your business. Think how you would feel in their shoes. How would you feel if you struggled to communicate or resolve a business problem due to language barriers? Pretty frustrated, right?
In fact, poor customer service is often a key reason why so many businesses or customers cut ties with a particular company and leave negative reviews online, which can lead to a decrease in your sales opportunities with other customers.
When expanding internationally, the last thing you want to do is create cultural barriers or misunderstandings. Native-speaking customer service representatives can help you create strong relationships with international customers and allow you scale your business further.
If you’re looking to scale overseas successfully, then you need to think about your international customers as you would with those located in the country that you operate.
Jia tells us that it’s really important to strengthen the customer experience with convenient delivery times and local return addresses.
Just as these factors are preferred in the United Kingdom, the same goes for the majority of customers across the globe. If you can make the shipping experience efficient and as hassle free as you can, then you’re far more likely to create loyal international customers.
By creating a positive international shipping and returns experience, you are more likely to stand out from your competitors and receive positive online reviews.
You could even go one step further and send out offers or coupons or discounts to international customers in exchange for leaving feedback online to help encourage even more sales from overseas.
One of the best things you can do to support international expansion within your business is to really think about your marketing campaigns and how you can tailor these from country to country to resonate with your international customers.
Jia from InterCultural Elements recommends that you “optimize your online presence with customized marketing campaigns, such as Amazon Sponsored Products, eBay Promoted Listings and Google Ads”.
This can be a good way to test the effectiveness of the keywords you use and whether you need to think about adapting your product titles or descriptions to better resonate with your international audience.
Pay close attention to what you can glean from your analytics and tweak your international marketing campaigns accordingly.
When expanding overseas and selling on international marketplaces, translating product listings is often something that online sellers struggle with. This can especially be the case when you’re selling products on multiple marketplaces in multiple countries.
Jia recommends looking at the culture you’re selling to and try to get feedback from native speakers from that country to translate your international listings more effectively.
She adds:“Is there actually a demand for the product there? What would the demand be? It could be that a product you’re selling might have an entirely different use in Japan to Germany”.
The human touch is key to finding the right words and phrases to sell more products overseas. If you need an efficient way of translating your international product listings, then look for eCommerce native translation services, such as InterCultural Elements.
Finally, Jia recommends international online sellers (or those with plans to sell overseas) to “identify countries and marketplaces with the best return on investment for your items”.
Your best-selling items in one country may be the least effective in another, and vice versa. It’s important to do your research, work out what could be most effective in a particular country and then test and analyse its success – or failure.
You can also use keyword tools to assess the popularity of phrases in different countries. Although this won’t establish the countries with the best return on investment for your items, it can provide insight into what types of products may sell better in certain countries.
The online shopping experience and the delivery options you’re able to offer can play a key role in how likely customers are to buy from you.
Group Marketing Director of GFS (Global Freight Solutions - provider of global delivery solutions), Bobbie Ttooulis, advises: “Give your customers maximum choice of delivery options at online checkout to minimize cart abandonment and lost sales”.
The idea behind this is that the more options you can provide your customers, the less likely they are to abandon their shopping carts and go to one of your competitors to seek out better delivery choices.
Shopping cart abandonment is a really common problem that many online sellers are continuously trying to reduce and improve upon. Offering a number of delivery options can be crucial in turning site visitors into customers.
Plenty of online business owners have a do-it-yourself attitude when it comes to figuring things out. This is mainly in order to keep business costs down when and where possible.
Although this is a great mentality to have when starting out, it will only get you so far. When you’re ready to expand into new markets, you need to think about your business as a whole – not just selling products, but the delivery of your items too.
Bobbie suggests:“Seek out professional advice to ensure your delivery strategy is fit for purpose to open up new markets and grow international sales, and not be a barrier”.
A poor delivery experience may result in customers leaving negative online reviews to deter others from buying from your business and can contribute to a decline in sales.
“Find a smart labeling solution to make multi-channel selling easier by connecting your sales channels and orders into a single labeling platform with minimal IT cost,” recommends Bobbie.
This enables you to quicken your dispatch times, which can lead to a more efficient delivery experience for your customers. This Is likely to lead to increased customer loyalty and repeat business.
Getting the delivery experience right for your customers can be challenging, costly and take up time that could be better spent elsewhere improving your business.
Bobbie says: “Take the cost and complexity out of delivery by outsourcing to a carrier manager so that you can focus internal resources and expertise on increasing your sales”.
The more time and resources you can free yourself from, the more you can hone your focus on selling more products.
You’ll also be able to spend more time researching how to stand out from your competition and spend time engaging and building relationships with your customers, leading to a more successful business overall.
If you have the budget within your business, Bobbie suggests that “adopting an enterprise-wide carrier management approach across the business can reduce operational costs and boost customer sales at the same time.”
This can take away the hassle and effort of managing your carriers and parcels, as well as enable a smoother delivery experience which benefits your business and your customers.
A trap many online sellers can fall into is not setting clear business goals. This is understandable – there are so many factors to consider when running a business. But, when you don’t have clear goals you have no direction to follow and may struggle to grow.
“Adopt the best strategy for your business, set clear goals and learn as you go. It’s not rocket science – think like a buyer and you can’t go wrong,” says Raya, business development specialist over at E-Motive.
What’s the key to setting clear goals?
Raya suggests: “Plan before you jump, rushing may result in regrets. To prevent that, invest in some time analyzing and testing. Focus on your customers, think and act like them”.
One of the most effective ways to set business goals is by applying the principle of SMART. SMART goal setting allows you to give your business a clear focus and helps to keep both you and your team motivated and accountable.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. Combining each of these elements into each business goal is key. This is because we are far more committed to goals that are relevant, important and achievable.
Working together is the key to business growth and success. And we don’t just mean working with your employees or stakeholders. Look beyond the workplace; learn from and support other online businesses.
Raya chimes in:“eCommerce is a jungle and even highly experienced businesses can get a bit lost at times. Asking for assistance to get back on track can be a great move and a lot of companies do this with great success today”.
“Learn from other online businesses, request help from professional eCommerce service providers, and give a hand to help other businesses achieve just as you have achieved”.
She adds: “At the end of the day, the eCommerce industry is big enough for everyone. Empower people in and outside of your company. Ask, help, collaborate and build relationships within this busy environment. Work as a team and share your success”.
As an online seller, it can be scary to adopt new approaches in your business. After all, if you have something that works alright, why change it?
The thing is, unless you take risks, analyse and draw conclusions to build upon, you’re unlikely to see much business growth.
“In this rapidly changing environment, it’s crucial to support your online business with constant test and analysis. Support your customers with all the necessary assets to become a loyal and returning customer – never stop evolving,” says Raya.
“Technology, trends and customer tastes will change, and so must you if you want to succeed in such a variable market”.
Unless you stay up to date with your customers and competitors, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant or out of touch, which can decrease your sales and ultimately decrease the value of your business and all the ground work you put in.
Raya concludes: “Create new opportunities and develop new approaches. Don’t set limits for your online business – experiment. Find the right match for your online vision and embrace it”.
Defining a vision statement for your business helps you to work out what you want to accomplish from the very beginning. Your vision is not what you do on a daily basis, but the final outcome you see your business achieving. It should stand the test of time for years.
Let us be clear here. A vision statement is not a fancy collection of mumbo-jumbo language put on a document and never looked at again. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“If you want to grow and lead a successful company, you’ll need to communicate with your team to ensure you’re all looking in the same direction. The vision set for your online business should be understood and implemented internally first,” recommends Raya.
But how do you set a vision if your business is already up and running?
Raya suggests: “Listen to your people. You hired them for a reason. Give your team the chance to discuss, share and even criticise the business strategy. Don’t assume that everyone is on the same page, check and confirm”.
If you really want to grow your business and stand out from your competition, then you need to think outside the box and try new ideas and implement new business processes.
Raya recommends: “Investigate your industry to find the right place for your business. Be creative, adopt different strategies and analyse the results”.
“Focus on the data you can glean, optimise your strategy and make your business reachable to a wider customer audience. Go where your customers are hanging out online, listen to what they’re saying carefully and read between the lines”.
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