Your Website Salesperson
by Ian Doescher
At Pivot, we often say that a good website is a 24/7 salesperson for your company or brand. In today’s blog article, let’s have some fun and take that aphorism to the extreme. Here are a few different types of salesperson that your website might, in fact, be. In advance, let me apologize for the stereotypes in this article—I recognize that the types of salespeople I describe here aren’t real, they’re just caricatures. And now, without further ado…
1. The used car salesman. You just can’t trust this guy, because you know he only has one thing on his mind: how is he going to make you buy what he has to sell—and what tricks will he use to do it? Every time you turn the corner, he’s there with his ingratiating smile to make sure you don’t leave his lot. He has a classic line, “What do I have to do to make you drive away with a car today?” The used car salesman is desperate to make a sale, and like any desperate animal he will misbehave to get what he wants. Websites do this by constantly flashing sales messages at a visitor—multiple messages on every page of the site. “BUY OUR PRODUCT NOW!” the website screams, with loud and obnoxious ads in every bit of free space. The website will hound you and keep screaming at you until you leave. In fact, the most egregious of these sites won’t even let you leave—after you close the browser window they will open up two or three additional windows to try to keep your interest. The salesperson has left the lot, and is now chasing you down the street still trying to get your business. These websites see you in terms of dollar bills and send the message, “You are useless to me unless you are willing to pay.”
2. The used book saleswoman. She has everything you could possibly want—fiction, nonfiction, mystery, romance, religion, travel, reference, horror, history, kids’ books, books on babies, toddlers, teenagers, marriage, divorce, aging and dying. Unfortunately, she has been in the business a long time—and it’s a hard business. Every time new books come in she has to find a place for them, stuffing the new stock in any nook, cranny or corner. So the place is a mess, as cluttered as a 13-year-old’s room. She’s happy to let you browse on your own, but the store is so busy and untidy that you’re overwhelmed just trying to figure out what everything is. We’ve been on these websites, right? They are like patchwork quilts—not in the warm and comforting kind of way, but because they represent a lot of disparate elements brought together to make a cohesive whole. Patchwork equals cohesive with quilts, but not with websites. These are the websites where a welcome message was on the middle of the home page, then a picture of the founder was added just to the left. The founder’s bio was then put below the picture, and off to the right a scrolling timeline of the company’s history in red text was added. Below all of it, a cool gadget that plays songs from an online radio was added, because the CEO thought that was neat. But then the company realized the mission statement wasn’t there, so they added it to the top of the page (different font, different font size, different font color, of course—it needed to stand out). Yikes! What was once a beautiful and well-organized design is lost under alterations, additions, and a failure to maintain the site well. You come to these websites and your stress level shoots through the roof, because you are overwhelmed by all the information, all the clutter, all the mess. You can’t wait to leave these sites. When you walk out of the chaotic used bookstore, you thank your lucky stars you made it out alive. These websites send the message, “We think every single thing we could tell you is important and we don’t trust you to navigate around the site by yourself, so we put everything on the home page for you.”
3. The VHS salesman. Oh man, you feel bad for this guy. Although he is still selling new releases, he only carries them in VHS format. He was great at what he did back in 1992, he was the king of it. His shop was state-of-the-art. Occasionally somebody still comes to his shop to buy something—he makes enough to survive, barely—but his glory days are long past. You walk into the shop, and the first thing that hits you is the dinginess—this place is old. It looks like no one has been in here for years and years. You look around and wonder, “How are we ever going to recycle all this plastic?” These are the websites that were designed in 2007, or 2004, or 1998, and haven’t been updated in months, if not years, if not since they launched. You look in the “Recent Newsletters” section, and the last newsletter post is from February 2010. These websites used to be neat websites—for the time they were created, they were pretty darn good—and the companies who have these websites tried to keep them up for a while. But the website got old, it became too much work to maintain (or the employee who knew how to update it left, or the company that designed it went out of business). Now it just looks old and stale, and is as unappealing to visitors as a shop full of VHS tapes would be to most of us. (Except without the nostalgia.) The companies behind these sites are often on top of the latest trends and technologies. Unfortunately, their sites send the message, “We’ve given up on our web presence because we don’t have time for it, even though that’s how most of our customers find us the first time.”
4. The Apple store employee. (Okay, if it helps you, you may think of the Microsoft store employee.) She is attentive to your needs without being overbearing. The store is immaculate, classy, stylish. The employee helps you when you need help, and leaves you alone to check things out when you want to browse. The salesperson, the store, the whole atmosphere exudes personality, professionalism, and careful thought. Everything seems tailor-made for you, designed for you to have the best experience possible. Items are clearly marked, the sections of the store are well arranged, and you can find what you need easily. Nothing seems cluttered, busy or out of place. No one harangues you, and everything the salesperson brings you is relevant to your needs. You leave the store feeling better about yourself than when you walked in, whether or not you bought something. You want to come back to the store, just to see the cool parts of it you didn’t the first time. These are the websites with clear design (even some white space!), simple navigation and just the right mix of information, interest and sales. The design and programming are meant to provide the best experience possible, and nothing is done just for show. The sites are lean in content—only what is necessary, but everything that is needed. These are (do I need to say it?) the websites Pivot loves designing. You leave the store thinking the salesperson is your new best friend, because she really seemed to understand you and get you. These websites send the message, “Welcome, we’re glad you are here. We’re here to provide you the best experience possible.”
What kind of salesperson is your website? We’ll say it again: a good website is a 24/7 salesperson for your company or brand. Is your website doing its job?