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Tips for Transitioning Offline Sales to Online Sales

Updated on November 23, 2014
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.

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Selling on the Internet sounds like an ideal scenario to reduce costs and increase profits:

  • Lower sales call costs.
  • Customers can access product and service information, even complete transactions, 24/7/365.
  • No office space required.
  • Extended market reach.

But if a company has traditionally been selling offline, transitioning to online sales strategies can be a huge investment and culture shock. The following tips can help small business owners and sales managers make the transition and evaluate whether it makes sense for their organizations.

Relational Sales versus Transactional Sales

When selling offline and in person, salespeople can often make repeat sales over long periods of time from a base of brand loyal customers. These sales can happen easily and naturally because the salesperson usually develops a personal relationship with the customer. These are relational sales which can be influenced with social levers such as friendship, gifts and events.

But when the sales process moves online, those social levers may be totally gone. Online sales tend to be more transactional sales. If the vendor has what the customer wants, at an acceptable price and service level for the customer, the sale can be closed rather quickly. Unfortunately, the relationship can be closed just as quickly, essentially creating a "one and done" situation. This is very unsettling to sales professionals who are used to the offline selling environment.

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Are Online Sales Strategies a Good Fit?

Determining whether to pursue an online sales strategy is a major decision. Frankly, it may not be a good choice for every business. The following factors can help evaluate whether it is a good fit:

  1. Complex or Retail Offering? Sales that are very complex—such as those in B2B (business to business) including construction, commercial real estate, custom manufacturing, etc.—cannot be completed online... at all! The level of detail and oversight needed to close a deal make online selling impossible, except for correspondence via email. For more retail offerings—janitorial and office supplies, packaged or cloud-based software, shipping services, etc.—online selling is a better fit since offerings are standardized.
  2. Long Sales Cycle? As discussed in How to Plan for Sales Slumps, some sales have extremely long sales cycles. These cannot be completed with a quick shopping cart system!
  3. High Dollar Value? Large, long sales cycle deals also often involve high dollar values. No one in their right mind would close a deal running in the thousands of dollars with a mouse click!
  4. Service Restrictions and Limitations? Advertising on the Internet opens up the entire world as potential buyers. But as discussed in Good Customer Service or Servitude?, there may be regulatory and logistical factors that make sales impossible, maybe even illegal. These sales should not be pursued (sometimes not even offline!).

However, even for complex, long sales cycle, high dollar value and service restricted sales, there are online strategies that can help reduce the cost of offline selling and expand markets as discussed in the following segment.

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Tips for the Transition to Online Sales

Even if online sales are not ideal or even possible, the following tips can help a business move at least some of their operation onto the Internet:

  • Website for Retail Offerings. For retail goods and services, building an ecommerce site to handle Internet sales is an absolute must-consider! Depending on the type of business and its offerings, this is an investment that could run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for research, development, software, labor, testing, training and regular updates. However, it can automate the entire process and facilitate sales that normally would have been closed offline... or would have gone to competitors.
  • Website for Complex Sales. For those sales which will require significant in person, telephone and email contact, a website is merely a lead generator. Thorough explanation of products and services offered, sales territory and types of customers served and contact procedures must be included to filter out unqualified prospects.
  • Assignment of Online Sales Duties. While pursuing sales online can be more efficient, it still requires that a specific person or group field and service inquiries and orders that are received. This is where businesses can easily fail in their online strategy. They have a beautiful and functioning website, but then drop the ball when it comes to service.
  • Assessment of Results. When attempting to get business from the Internet, monitoring progress with programs such as Google Analytics can help assess whether it is making profits. Results from Internet marketing can be much smaller and slower than from offline sales. Caution is recommended when evaluating progress to prevent overreacting and abandoning a program too quickly. At least a full year of data should be collected to identify trends. Assessment activities should be done at regular intervals going forward: daily (only for very active online businesses), weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually. Click here to learn more about marketing ROI.
  • Marketing and Advertising. There are multiple marketing strategies that can be pursued to attract online sales. Standard Internet advertising such as banner ads and Google AdWords can bring easily measured traffic to a site. As discussed in Why Cold Calling is Dying and What It Means for Sales, content marketing and email marketing can help build inbound marketing inquiries. Native advertising, a hybrid of content and advertising, is a newer strategy that can work, albeit with cautions for disclosures. Ironically, offline advertising methods such as business gifts can even be used to encourage some customers to begin doing business with a company online.

Disclaimer: Any examples used are for illustrative purposes only and do not suggest affiliation or endorsement. The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne

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    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks so much, Elizabeth/epbooks! Glad you're finding them useful. Keep us posted on your business & publishing adventures. Have a wonderful day!

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Fantastic advice. I so look forward to your hubs! I am bookmarking many of these and I'm still in the phases of getting myself organized these days. Voting up, sharing and tweeting this.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Joe/hawaiianodysseus! Glad you're finding the info helpful. You're one of the folks here on HP that has a business focus (with your eBay biz) and understands the importance of continued learning to be successful. Aloha, my friend!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hello FlourishAnyway! Agreed, every business, regardless of their sales strategy, needs to have an effective web presence these days. The trick is tailoring it to attract the audience you want. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 3 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      I love reading your hubs because I never walk away from a sitting with you and your work without having learned at least a couple of new things. Concepts may be initially unfamiliar to me, but at some point in time, I might happen to hear or read similar or exact phrases being used in conversations, my daily business research, or even right here in Hubsville. You provide great academic and engaging content, Heidi, and I am blessed and a better businessman for it. Aloha!

      ~Joe

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Excellent review of the aspects that drive effective online sales. You provide some good examples, too, of services that just won't work online and require a (consultative human) relationship rather than transactional focus. Online venues can often present features and benefits of products very effectively, 24/7 like you mention, and one can even built interaction into online platforms.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Happy Monday, billybuc! Pushing the message is the plan. :) But what's even scarier is that many non-writers also struggle with this selling (online or offline) puzzle, hoping that the Field of Dreams' "build it and they will come" is really true. Have a terrific week my friend!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      This should be required reading for freelance writers. I am amazed by the number of writers I encounter who not only know nothing about marketing but are afraid to even begin it. Keep pushing the message my friend; it is direly needed.

      bill