The year is 1996. The World Wide Web has everyone's attention. Marketers start to explore how the Internet can reshape how they go to market. Models are explored, sales channels analyzed and the first implementations make their way to the Web.
National brands that sell/deliver products through distributed sales organizations (dealers, franchisees, branches) develop dealer locators to help connect their sales outlets to potential customers. Then they provide dealers with options to link to these locators with either a template driven or customized Web site that has some ties to the brand.
Then, very little happens. What's missing?
While consumers were beginning to leverage the Web to research product/service options, they still used the same traditional media vehicles (newspapers, yellow pages, direct mail) to find the local purchase source and transact with the local business.
Fast forward to today. Brands are looking at how to leverage the Web in support of their local marketing initiatives.
What's different now? Consumers have adopted search, and more specifically local search, to identify the "where to buy it" information they need. That generates leads -- lots of leads.
National Brands Think Local
In past columns, we've concentrated on how to find and capture local sales leads. Let's take a step backward and review how national brands can empower their local sales outlets. Doing so will yield more business by providing increased access to locally generated sales leads.
Simply providing a dealer locator is not a comprehensive local search strategy. Instead, the smart national brands engage and educate your local sales channel on how to leverage the local search channel and maximize lead generation and sales conversion.
What's Old is New Again
It all starts with the local merchant landing page and lead capture facility. These landing pages, or micro sites, allow each location to provide visitors with personalized information: address, phone number, name, etc. Make sure the information truly reflects the core selling differences of that location.
Business hours, location, directions (if a consumer travels to a retail location) are a start. Better yet, encourage -- or require -- the local outlet to provide specific local content. A good source to draw from? Traditional print yellow pages ads. Years in business, specialties, promotions, and unique local selling propositions are all great content to include.
Don't let the information grow stale; create a timed program (every quarter at a minimum) to refresh content. One tactic: create a catalog of promotional offers that can be integrated into dealers' local Web sites. Additional tactics to keep content fresh include newsletters, community events calendars, feature product content, etc.
Lead Management and Distribution
OK, now you've customized each location's Web presence, what's next? How the local leads are handled. That's vital to the success of your local sales effort. Coach your local sales channel to understand how they need to respond to online leads.
Dealer Tips: How to Leverage Online Local Search Programs
Timeliness. The Web is 24/7 on-demand -- and that's what consumers expect when they request information from an online source. The faster you respond to an online lead, the higher the success rate. Leads that sit for more than a few hours typically do not generate sales. Why? Because online consumers are looking for immediate information and response -- they are ready to buy now. A good rule is to always try and respond within two hours or sooner, if possible.
Product education. Unique Selling Proposition: consumers more than ever are better educated to their purchase options. You must assume they have already viewed several other informational or competitor brand sites. Understanding the lead may have already conducted some research can make converting them easier. Ask the lead what options they have researched and help them to understand the unique differences of our product/service in comparison to the options they have viewed.
Follow-up. When speaking with the lead, make sure your capture their contact information and e-mail address and/or phone number. Follow up with a quick e-mail with some additional information (such as a link to the online product information).
Keep score. It is vital to track all forms of ad response, both online and offline. Without these measures, you cannot clearly understand the ROI (define) of local search campaign placements. Always ask the lead how they found your business and keep track of which sources they are using to find you.
The best local search programs leverage the local sales channel and their market advantages to sell more of the national brands product/services. Educate your local sales channel on how to market online. You'll increase sales conversions through better handling of online leads.
You may even win the loyalty of your local sales channel.