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Driving Online Sales Growth – Winning in the Wild World

By Steve Wells and Rohit Talwar
How might businesses drive a step change in online sales performance in the coming years?

Many businesses no longer need convincing that online sales are becoming ever-more important. They see the potential to reach bigger audiences and generate massive uplifts in sales—if we get it right. Even those who have been selling online for some time are beginning to understand the true scale of the opportunity and acknowledge the potential to drive exponential sales growth.

But it all seems so complex: How can we succeed online when it appears to be changing by the day? What do we need to do tomorrow? How much should we be spending? What if we get it wrong? Everyone wants answers to the same questions. Here we explore practical tactics for those that sense the opportunity and are willing to invest some time and money in pursuit of the prize.

Some have pursued relatively modest goals and been pleasantly surprised at how much a good online presence can impact their revenues. The most spectacular winners to date in the online world have embraced the opportunity and developed a “digital mindset” which they continue to evolve in line with new thinking about how to use the internet as a sales channel. As a result, they are delivering exponential growth in online performance.

Others are being more ambitious still, and starting with the goal of developing businesses that can create a billion or more customers using the power of the mobile internet. So, whatever our ambition, how do we get started or take the next few steps? Below we have outlined four elements to focus on in your next steps plan.

1. Learning What Works

You can’t delegate your own mindset change. You have to invest time reading and networking to learn about what others are doing online. Don’t be afraid to ask basic questions—they can provide very powerful insights. Our top three areas to focus on when talking to others would be:

  • Results – Establish that there’s value to be gained. What proportion of revenues comes from online sales? How has that changed since they started selling online? How long did it take to generate meaningful online sales? How much comes from mobile? How does profitability compare to other sales approaches? What have they spent on creating and running their online offering? What are their online targets going forward?
  • Actions – Understand how they got here. How did they start? What are they doing today? What tactics worked and which were abandoned? What external support did they use? How did/do they raise awareness and drive people to their site? What does their “conversion process” look like to take site visitors from interest to purchase? What would they do differently if starting again? What do the plan to do next?
  • Management – How do they manage online sales? Who’s in charge? What resources do they have involved? How do they deal with conflicts between the online and physical sales teams? How’s that changed over time? What’s next?
2.  Think Mobile

People’s interactions with the online world are increasingly happening via their mobiles and the trend is likely to continue. Whether they are using apps or accessing the internet, they will be doing it on their mobile devices and the functionality will get ever smarter. If you know where things are likely to be going, you can bear that in mind when developing your online offering. So, many now start by designing their website and app to work on mobile devices first and then adapt it for the bigger screen.

We can expect connectivity speeds to get faster, meaning we can share more video information about our products and services. Devices and apps are also likely to get more intelligent—smart software will increasingly block unwanted ads and calls and screen incoming callers on behalf of the user. What are the critical messages that you want to convey to get you past these electronic guardians?

3. From Research to Action

The key to success is willingness to experiment and try what’s worked for others. This means putting people on the web team that like learning, testing, and refining ideas and who don’t mind dumping stuff that isn’t delivering. If step change is your goal, then make sure you’ve researched companies who’ve done that. Then create a plan of actions that you want to try—from promotions and banner exchanges, to social media campaigns, and low-cost sponsorships. Have a 3 to 6 month schedule of what you want to try each week or month, monitor it, measure it, learn from it, and refine the strategy. Be willing to adapt plans in the face of evidence from the actions you are taking.

Keep looking out for new ideas and encourage the whole business to do the same and generate their own ideas. The key here is being honest about what you are worried about in relation to your online presence, e.g. damaging your reputation, irritating customers who see a lower price than the one they paid, or giving too much away to your competition. The more you share of these concerns, the more your team can think about how to address them when seeking out and generating ideas.

4. Finding Customers – Look for What’s Hiding in Plain Sight

Look for opportunities to present yourself where potential customers are already. Airports, train stations, shopping centers, sporting events, festivals, markets, and other live events all have ready-made audiences. Taking pop-up stalls in these venues gives you an opportunity to try out a different way of meeting and engaging with potential customers and then encouraging them to provide you with their details so you can continue the relationship. I may love the locally made chocolates that I tasted from a pop-up stall in Cambridge station; connecting online means I can keep buying the goodies even if I never see the stall again.

There are now countless examples of players who have gone from nothing to exponential growth by capturing customer interest in the online world. There are also many who’ve evolved from a physical presence to a purely online operation because of the efficiencies it can bring. Others have failed spectacularly to crack the online opportunity.

The keys to success lie in learning continuously, asking the right questions, recognizing how the technology is evolving, planning carefully, experimenting constantly, and involving the right people. Success also requires us to be clear on our goals and concerns, and then adopting an iterative, experimental, and constantly evolving approach to what we actually do online and to how we go about attracting potential customers.


  • What are the key priorities for the next evolution of your online presence?
  • What tactics are you adopting in both the physical and online environment to drive people to your site?
  • How are you involving staff in the process of generating ideas for the evolution of your site?


This article is excerpted from The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business. You can order the book here.


A version of this article was originally published in Sales Initiative.

image: by geralt


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