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Using your website to get to know your customers

Many of us are in business where we don’t interact directly with our end customers. We operate through distributors or value-added retailers or some other channel. This is, of course, a tried-and-true model that is successful in many businesses. But even setting aside the dis-intermediation that technology continues to bring about, you’re giving up a great opportunity to get to know your clients.

You can do this without upsetting the apple cart that is your existing channel arrangement or dealer/VAR relationships. In fact, what you do can be a great support to them.

Take, for example, an experience I had with Thule recently. They make racks and accessories to haul toys around attached to your car–bikes, canoes, and kayaks, mostly. They don’t sell directly, and yet, you can order right from their website.

What’s easy to overlook–I certainly did when I first looked at their site–is that they aren’t doing the selling. They’re simply connecting you to your choice of online retailer. (Or offering you help in finding a retail store near your home.) Though this certainly creates an expense for Thule, it keeps their dealers happy, I would imagine, and it certainly caters to consumers’ desire for convenience.

Thule goes further. I had to contact customer support because my car, though hardly exotic, had been redesigned for this year, and Thule hadn’t yet adapted their racks to fit it. Instead of fobbing me off on a dealer (where a random store employee might know less about this particular issue than I did), they took the time to respond to my emails, talk to me on the phone, and explain the situation. They made me happy as I was learning things about the market that I might not have gotten if contacting them was difficult.

So take the opportunity to make your website a resource for clients and prospects, even if your model isn’t as direct as that. The market insights you gather will help you understand the concerns your prospects have and key decision points they use in evaluating what you’re offering.

You can even take a less active approach and harvest at least some of this information from your website search data–if you populate your site with enough high-value information to attract your target audience and have them view your site as a resource.

Your channels aren’t likely to provide the same level of insight, even if they represent only your products/services. Getting closer to your end clients is a critically important way to make your website work harder for you.

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Andrew Schulkind

Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: what does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured? A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms find a more strategic and productive mix of tools that genuinely support online brand goals over time. With a passion for true collaboration and meaningful consensus, his work touches social media, search-engine optimization, and email marketing, among other components. He views is primary goal as encouraging engagement. Getting an audience involved in your story requires solid information architecture, a great user experience, and compelling content. A dash of common sense doesn’t hurt, either. Andrew has presented at Social Media Week NY and WordCampNYC, among other events, on content marketing and web-development topics. His technology writing appears on the Andigo blog, in a monthly column on Biznology.com, and for print and online publications like The New York Enterprise Report, Social Media Today, and GSG Worldwide’s publications LinkedIn & Business, Facebook & Business, and Tweeting & Business. Andrew graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Bucknell University. He engages in a range of community volunteer work and is an avid fly fisherman and cyclist. He also loves collecting meaningless trivia. (Did you know the Lone Ranger made his mask from the cloth of his brother's vest after his brother was killed by "the bad guys?")

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