Communicating Online - How To Approach New Customer First Time

Contacting new customer first time is a challenge. Doing so online is even bigger challenge. Any business where buyer and seller can not see each other, have never known each other and interacting for first time - communication assumes an extremely important role. Add to that anonymity of Internet inducing higher insecurity and uncertainty. The seller must be careful not to say or do anything that might hurt buyer's sentiment. If online business is so tough, how come so many are doing fabulous business through online ? What could be the secret sauce for successful online business communication ? We discuss here few Do's and Don't s and in next issue practical examples of how to style a business communication. 

Infobanc.com is one of the first B2B portals in India, launched way back in 1997. Over the years, I have come across many success stories in online business - and few sob stories. While there may or may not be any universal law for achieving success in online business - I have observed few common traits among successful online entrepreneurs. Based on that, here's a few do's and don't s for those involved or planning to be in online business.

 1. Communication is Your Greatest Ally in Online Business

In the absence of physical contact or face to face meeting - communication becomes your representative - your face to the world. It should not only be able to articulate the values you propose but also instill confidence in buyer's mind. Remember, trust is the bedrock of any business - if your communication fails to command trust - no matter how competitive your price is or how favorable business terms are - negotiation may not proceed your expected way. But, how does one instill trust in very first interaction ? 

2. First Step In Building Trust - Remove Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a major source of insecurity and consequently lack of trust. In business negotiation, the seller must establish business credentials first to make sure buyer takes him/her seriously. In their eagerness to sell - many business people make the mistake of advancing price, credit or other business terms in their first communication to make an impression, overlooking the fact that buyer hardly knows his/her company. Will you buy an unknown product from a stranger ? Disclosure is the sunlight that removes darkness of uncertainty.

So, how does a business discloses its identity ? Fortunately, there are many options - a credible website, testimonials of satisfied customers, institutional accreditation such as ISO certification, year of establishment (if old enough), photographs of plant, office, self etc.

An introductory mail - short, bullet-pointed with ample links to website - should do the trick. Always use email signature containing mailing address, website link, tel numbers, Facebook page (if any), Twitter (if any) etc. Please Google for examples of aesthetically designed signature blocks.

 3. Second Step In Trust Building - Relationship

Relationship is the glue that builds trust. Relationship grows with interactions, exchange of information, helpful information, regular mails etc. B2B transactions are typically repeated in nature - one successful transaction leads to more. So, offer flexibility, favorable terms, competitive price etc. to close first deal. After successful completion, do not forget to get a good testimony from buyer.

 4. Do's and Don't s

 a) Telephone Call Could Be Fatal For First Interaction

Resist the urge to start your overseas business connect with a telephone call. This is a fatal mistake, a death trap. Never make unsolicited call to a completely unknown person. B2B transactions do not happen over first time telephone conversation between two persons completely unknown to each other. There are barriers of language, accent, social behavior, telephone ethics and even time difference to overcome during telephone call. Besides, such unsolicited calls are treated as 'spam' and anyone perceived to be engaged in spam calling may not be taken seriously. Why compound an already difficult task with more complexities ? Start your interaction with trusted email

Telephone calls could be very useful once relationship has been established - e.g. quick information exchange, reminder, final negotiation etc. - where both parties are expecting the call.

I know of Indian exporters calling US counterpart during our day-time (and their night) only to receive a mouthful. Still others who did call at decent time but did not understand US accent and made complete fool of themselves.

 b) Your First Communication Should Raise Curiosity 

Your first communication should be an introductory email establishing your company. This mail is crucial for your future relationship - do not get into hardcore sales pitch. Sole purpose of introductory mail should be to raise curiosity about your product/company. If buyer responds - your purpose is fulfilled, get into a conversation.

So, what raises buyer's curiosity ? Any information that concerns buyer's business significantly. Does your product add value to buyer's business ? Will the buyer be able to make more money by doing business with you ? Will your business help in future growth of buyer's company ? There's only one way of finding right solution - research buyer carefully, visit his/her website, examine the requirement carefully and then draft a brief email that establishes your company as a credible supplier and offers ample hints as to how your business could be a valuable partner for buyer.

 5. Build Relationship Through Sustained Communication

Keep sending mails on buyer's interest regularly. Please make sure each mail is customized to buyer's concern, avoid general purpose promotion mails. If you have to send promotional mail or newsletter - at least, make sure the subject line has buyer's name and company. The purpose should be to remain in buyer's mind so that if a need arises, buyer turns to you.

 6. Conclusion

Process ensures quality and reliability. Develop a process for new buyers and follow it assiduously. Some buyers may ignore you, some may even unsubscribe you but others will remain in the loop. Over time, potential customers in your regular mailing circle gradually grows. Even if you are successful in 5-10% cases – there’s going to be enough orders to keep you busy round the year.

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