Ten thousand. That's a number I heard on the radio as the unofficial record for the most text messages sent by one person in a month's time. I heard the number, arched my brow, and grabbed a calculator. With 16 waking hours a day, that's three text messages a minute. Sounds like we're talking serious button-pushing thumb fatigue.
Anyone who knows a teenager or 20-something like my two sons understands how quickly texting gets out of control. It's actually more than texting; it's maintaining constant communication along with networking and socializing. We also know, as with other forms of virtual communication — e-mail, voice mail, the Web — it's an important way to keep connections alive. It's also a way to connect sellers with buyers, making virtual communication essential in today's business dynamic.
When it comes to your marine business, you may not be a titanic "texter," but at the very least you should be managing your way to becoming a virtual virtuoso. This means part of managing your market and driving sales through the checkout lane is to make your business extremely accessible through your virtual front door. In short, use all the power the Web has to offer. Does your business have a Web site? If the answer is yes, then well done. But hold on. Having a Web site is really just the minimum, a starting point. You'll need additional conduits to your business to have virtual vitality in the marketplace.
Knock, knock. Let's take a look at the way you manage your virtual front door to your customers - the Web and the many opportunities it provides today's marine business manager.
Your Web presence now: When you think of your marine business - whether you're a dealer, manufacturer or supplier - managing your Web presence is something you must deliberately do on a regular basis. Keeping your site fresh is a great way to attract customers, handle baseline product and service inquiries, and encourage visits to your business. As a manager, you should be looking at site updates at a rate matching or exceeding how often you refresh your store's appearance and product offerings. This often translates to updates every one to two weeks; for others this may mean updating once a month. Anything less, and your Web site may be getting stale.
Web site appearance should always be active and interesting, with product and content refreshes that get rid of outdated material such as old promotions, dated winterizing reminders when summer is fast approaching, and the like. Make site maintenance happen with a required, regular appointment with your webmaster. At the very least, change the home page with new text and a fresh picture or two. While you're at it, make sure pictures have links taking viewers to details (such as product information) on whatever the pictures represent. Keep your site viable by refreshing regularly.
Your site vs. the competition: As you manage and freshen your Web site, you need to keep content relevant and engaging. Make sure you're staying competitive in the real world by being competitive in the virtual world at the same time. How do you do this? For starters, check out the competition's Web site. If you were a boat-buying customer, whose site would draw you in and provide easier access to information - yours or the dealer's across town? Consider all of these factors when designing and implementing updates to your site. Make sure you find out what your customers want online by asking them. Have your Web site URL on everything tied to your business, including cash register receipts, invoices, service orders, shopping bags, logoed materials and freebies, postcards, even the pens customers use at the front desk to sign credit card slips.
Encourage customers to visit your site for additional information and special promotions that will bring them back in the door. Give them access to weekly boating tips through a blog you will likewise create. Develop a customer e-mail list for your site with a discount coupon they'll receive when signing up for your blog or filling out a survey. Continue developing content using real customer experiences shared in weekly blog updates, particularly during peak boating months. Include details on favorite boating locations to help your customers maximize the return on their watercraft investment and enjoyment.
Your Web goals for the future: While your Web site is probably the most important virtual presence you may have for your business, it's a good time to stretch how you manage your virtual reach. This should be part of your future Web-presence goals. Include links on your site to related boating resources, such as links to information on local lakes, campgrounds, boating safety, etc. Maintain reciprocal links to product details with manufacturers whose products you sell, and ask them to host your link on their sites. Do the same thing with business partners who sell complementary products - such as nearby restaurants with packed picnic lunches for the lake - by hosting each other's links on your respective sites under a "Fun Options and Other Stuff" section.
While you're extending your virtual reach, ask your webmaster to look at your site's search engine optimization. Page titles on your site should be easily searchable and contain keywords that pop up when customers look for you on the Web.
Also, look into creating a presence on YouTube with quick videos about your products and links taking people back to your main Web site. Likewise, generate a presence with your staff on Facebook and Twitter. Twitter is a quick way of sending "tweets" or brief messages (140-character limit) to those signed up as "followers." Tweets answer the question: What are you doing now? For many, especially the next boat-buying generation, tweeting is the latest messaging phenomenon that's coming on strong. You can check out how to start your own Twitter group at www.twittgroups.com.
While you're considering how you'll manage your Web presence going forward, your other goal is to not become overwhelmed. You probably won't grow communication with the marketplace by sending 10,000 text messages a month, just as you won't be able to apply all the above suggestions in the next few days. Instead, pick one or two initial goals for expanding your virtual front door, talk it over with your webmaster to decide where you should start, and build from there.
We have barely scratched the surface as to the many ways you can help customers find you more quickly when they surf the Web. Discovering how your products and services match buyer needs will be much easier once you've enlarged your Web presence and - knock, knock - guaranteed your virtual front door is always open and inviting.
This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue.