Wooing online, offline buyers


The attention span of the buyer online is scattered. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Make a customer not a sale. If there was a time this were true it is now. And for the many that made sales and not customers offline, the migration to online (which is becoming necessary for many sellers by the day) will be an uphill task because the online buyer is as different from the offline, as day is from night.

Therein lays the paramount difference. You can see the buyer offline but you are blind to him online. When you walk into a shop the attendant sees you and can instantly engage you. “May I help you?” “Are you looking for something in particular?” “Here. Read this while you wait.”

Go online, and you can only hope that the buyer responds to your chat box that pops up when he opens your website. The buyer has as much control online as the seller, offline. How you treat that buyer (prospective and existing) is very different; the level of engagement is higher and more intense.

It gets complicated. Before Covid-19, the buyer was comparatively courageous, now he’s uncertain, fearful even.

A salesperson by his very nature is perceived by the buyer as intimidating, pushy. Online, the seller has to change his approach to engaging, welcoming.

The buyer needs to feel safe before he can open his arms in a “Welcome, I’m ready to listen” gesture. He cannot do this by pushing a product. He does this by gifting the prospect (potential buyer), knowledge and education. And not in the opportunistic manner hygiene related products have lately been falling over themselves to educate us on hand washing, and then telling us this message was brought to us by (their product).

To thrive in selling, the gifting is a continual process. E-commerce companies do it by letting buyers rate a product they have bought and displaying the rating for all to see.

Further, the attention span of the buyer online is scattered. Likely she has her WhatsApp, Instagram, CCTV camera watching her baby playing, and email windows open, in addition to yours. Also, statistically, the average Kenyan (before the pandemic and without WhatsApp) spent four hours online per day!

At least you know where she is most of the time, unlike offline. And online you can scientifically measure effectiveness (like views on YouTube).

The downside is that how you pitch to her offline has to be adapted to online. Not doing so is like an electronics shop shooting its showroom and displaying the image on it’s website as is.

Even the process from prospecting to closing the sale and asking for a referral is different. Online you have a viewer (or listener) who may convert to a consumer and hopefully ambassador.

So, where do you start if you’re migrating online? Leverage on what’s working now. Even if it means dusting off that website last updated seven years ago and responding to the complaint raised then.