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Commentary Train to Gain

Published by FirstyNews

Train to Gain

Selling direct to consumers has been one of the most significant shifts in publishers’ activities of the last few years. But are we all doing enough to understand those consumers and maximise our sales?

A show of hands at the IPG’s recent Digital and Marketing Quarterly event suggested that a third of all publishers are now selling direct, and many more will be thinking about doing so. This has been a massive cultural change for publishers who until recently had no retail experience, and we have been delighted to help some of them rise to the challenge.

The work isn’t done yet, though. Now publishers must turn themselves into true retail experts, able to maximise the return on the investments they have made. Anyone who goes to the trouble and expense of building an eCommerce website owes it to themselves and their customers to make the most of it.

Of course, it is not surprising that many publishers are still getting to grips with this job. Few came into publishing to be a bookseller—but D2C opens up superb new sales opportunities and is something that should be positively embraced.

The good news is that direct selling and marketing is not rocket science. With some thought and strategic planning everyone can do it well, and it all starts with good analytics. There has been a lot of talk about big data in publishing lately, and this can appear a daunting subject—but all it really means is generating simple but robust analysis of the numbers publishers already have at their fingertips.

Sharpening up D2C skills doesn’t have to be expensive either. A relatively small investment in time and training can really pay off in sales. At Firsty we’ll be doing our bit to help out by offering a mix of training workshops tailored to your needs in the shape of both webinars and classes.  Our programme of hands-on workshops will start in November and December.  We hope these sessions will equip industry professionals with the know-how to be great booksellers as well as publishers.

We would suggest that all improvement starts with asking questions. Here are ten that all publishers might usefully ask themselves about their D2C offers.

1 What am I trying to achieve? Think about the type D2C experience you want your customers to have and what success looks like; For example: Is the primary objective sales growth, community building or something else?  Be specific: set out your precise targets, timelines and Key Performance Indicators.

2 What should I be looking for in my analytics? The golden rules are to keep it simple and focus on the outcomes. Boil your data down to a few insights; at least 90% of it will probably be irrelevant. Always look for insights that will help you meet the aims you have set yourself.

3 What analytics should I be using? Review all the options, and talk to Firsty and your fellow publishers about the best tools to use. There are many analytics packages out there, but Google Analytics is the best place to start for most publishers. Your sales data, web logs and CRM data are essential too, of course, and from the start you should ensure your website is setup to deliver the data you need in the way you want it.

4 How are my users behaving? Look for peaks and troughs/anomalies in your sales data and user behaviours. How and when do people tend to visit your website? What are they doing when they get there and for how long?  If your site experiences a usage spike on Fridays, for instance, that might be a good time to push out a promotional offer. If the data shows that no-one is reading a blog you spend hours writing, it might be time to reconsider it!

5 Where are my customers coming from? Learning this can make a big difference to your sales. Are your website visitors regulars, or have they stumbled across you? How many are coming from social media channels? What referrals from other sites do you have?

6 What are my users’ experiences like? Try using your ecommerce site from the point of view of a customer. From browsing to checkout and beyond, is it smooth? Try it from mobile devices as well as desktop ones. How does your customer service appear? Do your FAQs cover all areas and eventualities? Do you have a helpline for customer enquiries?

7 How is my CMS? Publishers should invest in proven and intuitive CMS systems that are readily scalable; we prefer open source WordPress and Magento because they are reliable and have longevity: proprietary software can also be expensive to maintain and leave you high and dry should you decide to change your preferred web development/support partner. The leading open source platforms can also be configured to help you achieve your goals. Magento and WordPress have endless extension modules that will supe up the user experience, promotional and marketing power of your website, and publishers need to work out which ones will help their retail activities.

8 What is my search footprint like? Discoverability is everything in ecommerce, so publishers need to be right on top of their search engine optimisation. As Chris McVeigh puts it on his excellent 4Fifty1 Words blog: “If you don’t get your search footprint sorted out first you’re wasting your time with everything else that comes after.”

9 Who is accountable? Be clear about who in your company is responsible for ecommerce delivery, workflows, performance management and data analytics—and when are they accountable. Set timetables for analysing your data, whether that be daily, weekly or monthly.

10 What skills do I need?

The basics of Excel are essential, but what is most important is an inquisitive mind. Look around your company for in-house skills that you could use, and find the right partners to work with, especially on your hosting and technical support. Firsty will be pleased to offer advice on this and more.

Selling to customers doesn’t come naturally to many publishers, and after decades spent leaving it to the retailers, there is no reason why it should. But help is at hand—and if publishers are serious about growing their D2C business, now is the time to start learning.

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