I learned a long time ago that one of the biggest chal­lenges for a sales­per­son to make a sale is to get over the customer’s objec­tions and not add to the list of objec­tions. Simply put, a per­son could walk into a store ready to buy a prod­uct cash in hand but run into obsta­cle after obsta­cle in the store to the point they walk out not pur­chas­ing any­thing. I have. Let’s move to the 21st cen­tury. Web sites are increas­ingly becom­ing the first and often only con­tact point between a busi­ness and its cus­tomers. A web­site can throw up road­blocks or it can smooth a path to mak­ing and retain­ing cus­tomers. Businesses need to under­stand that their web­sites do matter.

Let me give you an exam­ple that trig­gered me to write this arti­cle. I am a cus­tomer of a par­tic­u­lar com­pany. I was con­tem­plat­ing the addi­tion of their stock to my stock port­fo­lio. But after deal­ing with their web­site I am hav­ing sec­ond thoughts. It felt like I was deal­ing with a site that was half baked, didn’t have the infor­ma­tion I was look­ing for, and gave me baf­fling mes­sages, like I didn’t know my own birth­date when in fact they should have been say­ing, “You already have an account with us (dummy).” Their site looks and feels like it was devel­oped by amateurs.

Now you have to fol­low my crazy rea­son­ing. If they don’t have the tech­ni­cal where­withal and desire to have a good web­site, then they may not have the tech­ni­cal skills or desire to han­dle my needs. I may not want to con­tinue using them. If oth­ers feel the same a loss of many cus­tomers poten­tial or exist­ing could cause a down­turn in their busi­ness. That would make buy­ing their stocks a bad thing. One nor­mally doesn’t make stock deci­sions based on a web­site, that is just stu­pid. There are com­pany fun­da­men­tals, P/E ratios, chart­ing, tech­ni­cals, pivot points etc that should be con­sid­ered. But in the end, some­thing as sim­ple as a poorly designed web­site could be the obsta­cle that turns me away from being a cus­tomer and own­ing stock in their company.

Now I am biased. I work on devel­op­ing web­sites every day. I believe I know what a good site is and I cer­tainly know what a good site is for me. It is one that func­tions well pro­vid­ing the solu­tions a cus­tomer needs. A good site doesn’t have to be extremely beau­ti­ful as long as it is func­tional. Scottrade’s web­site (scottrade.com) I find is ugly as sin. But I use it all the time because it does the job. Bing’s land­ing page (bing.com) is quite beau­ti­ful but I don’t use it. Oh, I guess the search engine is quite func­tional, noth­ing wrong there but being beau­ti­ful doesn’t make me want to use it… in some ways, makes me avoid it because it is func­tion­ally dis­tract­ing. Amazon’s site (amazon.com) isn’t ugly but it cer­tainly isn’t pretty either. But look at their sales! Their web­site is a well oiled machine mak­ing it easy for any­one to buy.

I have had clients that stress over how good it looks and com­pletely ignore how well it works. They have ignored my pleas to focus first on their customer’s needs. I have seen many of the web­sites com­pletely fail. I have had clients that had ugly sites but made a ton of money off of them because they put up very few road­blocks. The look of a web­site can and does throw up road­blocks to gain­ing a cus­tomer so I do rec­om­mend improv­ing the look with­out destroy­ing the func­tion­al­ity. But the lack of func­tion­al­ity will always throw up larger and harder to over­come road­blocks. A func­tional web­site can always be spiffed up a bit.

Businesses need to under­stand that their web­sites do mat­ter. I believe that there are sev­eral com­mon mis­takes that com­pa­nies make when it comes to devel­op­ing a web­site but the biggest ones come down to money. Having a web­site isn’t cheap. It costs a lot to develop and main­tain an aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing site that func­tions well meet­ing the customer’s needs. But com­pared to other meth­ods of get­ting and retain­ing cus­tomers web­sites are extremely cost effec­tive. Unfortunately, many com­pa­nies don’t under­stand this, throw­ing too lit­tle money and very lit­tle other com­pany resources at devel­op­ing the site. The results are often a site that more or less looks good but has very lit­tle func­tion­al­ity. More impor­tantly, they haven’t allo­cated the money and resources to main­tain the site. As such, the site lan­guishes and becomes a major road­block. Instead of gain­ing and retain­ing cus­tomers, they push them away.

Ironically, I have seen sites that were pur­ported to have cost hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars to develop. The site is awe­some, at least it looks that way. But when peo­ple actu­ally start using the site, it falls flat because it doesn’t meet their needs, it only meets the spec­i­fi­ca­tions that the com­pany had, make it awe­some. Awesomeness seems to always trans­late into look great as opposed to work great.

The really weird part of all this, aes­thet­ics are very per­sonal. What looks pleas­ing to one per­son may look ugly to another. There have to be peo­ple at Scottrade that find their web­site aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing. When devel­op­ing a web­site where ‘the look’ is the top pri­or­ity, a lot of energy is put into that look. ‘The look’ can even pre­vent good func­tion­al­ity because that func­tion­al­ity can ruin ‘the look’. At the end, the web­site is put out, the own­ers of ‘the look’ are proud par­ents only to be told they have the ugli­est still­born in the world.

Businesses need to under­stand and act accord­ingly that their web­sites do mat­ter. They need to focus on pro­vid­ing the solu­tions to their customer’s needs be it a prod­uct, infor­ma­tion, or sup­port. They need to worry about how the cus­tomer is going to use the web­site and antic­i­pate their customer’s expec­ta­tions. They need to allo­cate the resources needed to develop, main­tain and even expand the func­tion­al­ity of the web­site and not let it lan­guish. And yes, they need to work on mak­ing sure it all looks good too. When they have done that well they have elim­i­nated a bunch of objec­tions that the cus­tomer might have run into and cha-ching!

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