If the COVID-19 pandemic has proven anything, it’s the power of direct-to-consumer (D2C or DTC) sales. Whether it’s selling customized face masks for social distancing, yeast for baking home-made bread or car parts so enthusiasts can finish projects while stuck at home, brands that sell directly to customers have greater control over their destiny. While entire sectors of the economy have been all but shut down for months, companies with an effective D2C sales strategy have not only stayed in business, some have actually seen higher revenue since the pandemic began.
If you already sell your products or services directly to consumers, then this checklist will help ensure that you’re doing everything you can to make your sales strategy as effective as it can be. If you don’t already sell D2C, then we’ll walk you through the basic steps and tools needed to set up a direct sales program so you can increase your sales now.
Are you already selling D2C?
- Yes. Good! Keep reading to make sure you’ve got all the bases covered.
- No. There’s no better time to start, and this checklist will help you get up and running in no time.
How do you sell D2C?
Selling products directly to consumers can take several forms. You can set up an online store on eBay, sell products through Amazon, use the new Facebook Shops platform, set up your own e-commerce portal using Shopify or create a fully customized solution.
- eBay Store: Setting up an eBay Store is easy, and it provides you with discounted fees, extra free listings every month and access to tools to manage and promote your business. For more information, check out this link: Open an eBay Store.
- Amazon: We all know that Amazon dominates online commerce. In the U.S. alone, Amazon has over 95 million monthly unique visitors, and research shows that Amazon is the #1 or #2 most beloved brand among Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. Becoming a seller on Amazon is easy, and Fulfillment by Amazon, an optional service where the retailer stores, picks, packs, ships and manages customer service and returns, allows you to stay focused on running your business. For more information, check out this link: Build Your Business By Selling on Amazon.
- Facebook Shop: This new e-commerce platform allows businesses to create customized digital storefronts on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook says, “Shops are simple to set up, seamless to use, load faster relative to a mobile website, and global in scale.” And when you connect a catalog of your products using Facebook’s Commerce Manager, you can add checkout functionality so customers can make purchases without leaving Facebook or Instagram. For more information, check out this link: Shops on Facebook and Instagram.
- Canva, the online graphic design platform, offers free Facebook Shops ad templates. Find them here: Facebook Shops Ad Templates.
- Shopify: This is an integrated platform that offers tremendous flexibility, allowing businesses to sell online with an e-commerce website, by adding a buy button to any website or blog or through other channels such as social media and online marketplaces. Shopify can also be used for in-person, point-of-sale transactions. For more information, check out this link: Sell — everywhere.
- Custom options: Creating a fully customized e-commerce site from scratch is time-consuming, expensive and, frankly, not worth the hassle. The options listed above allow you to leverage the power of large tech companies to maximize up-time and minimize hassle and expense.
Do you have product photos and videos?
Online shoppers want to see photos and videos of the products they buy. If you’re a reseller, then the manufacturer(s) will often provide photos and videos to use.
- Yes, we have product photos and videos.
- No. Smartphones are great and most of them shoot impressive photos, but if you want your products to be viewed in the best possible light — literally — then you should hire a professional photographer to create high-quality, high-resolution studio and lifestyle images of your products. Many photographers can also provide pro-level video as well. Trust us, it’s worth the investment to hire a pro, and you can use the photos and videos on your website, in your newsletters and emails, and on social media. Kahn Media has an in-house creative team that provides photography and videography services. Send an email to Help@KahnMedia.com for a free consultation.
Do you have product and application data?
To sell D2C on various online platforms, you typically need detailed product data, which can include specifications, weights and measures, accurate descriptions, current pricing and UPC codes. And if you sell products with specific fitments such as automotive parts, then you will need application data for vehicle-specific parts look-ups.
- Yes, we have product and application data.
- If you’re in the automotive industry, does your data conform to standardized industry data formats? These include ACES (Aftermarket Catalog Exchange Standard) for managing and exchanging automotive application (fitment) data, and PIES (Product Information Exchange Standard) for managing and exchanging product (part number) data. These formats are administered by the Auto Care Association and are available through a paid subscription. For more information, visit the association’s Technology FAQs page.
- No. If you need help with product and application data, third-party providers can simplify the process.
- SEMA Data Co-op: For automotive aftermarket companies, SEMA has created “the definitive, industry owned and operated centralized data repository, complete with a comprehensive set of online data management tools.” For more information, visit the SEMA Data Co-op website.
- Third-party companies that provide end-to-end product and application data solutions for automotive aftermarket companies include DCi and Paramount Data Management.
- In other industries, product data management varies in its level of complexity and detail. Contact your trade association or other business groups to find out what standards exist and what companies can provide the assistance you need. For example, the American Lighting Association publishes standards for lighting manufacturers. And companies like Centric provide Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solutions for various industries.
Do you have a strategy for moving customers through the sales funnel?
A sales funnel describes a customer’s journey. Although a real funnel directs everything that flows into it down to the narrow spout at the bottom, in the case of a sales funnel, it’s a metaphor for attrition — not everyone who enters at the top makes it all the way to the bottom (sale).
- Yes, we have a strategy for moving customers through the sales funnel.
- No. To maximize the number of people who will become customers, you need a strategy to move them from one level to the next: from awareness at the very top to interest, education, conversion (sale) and advocacy (loyalty) at the very bottom. This requires a well-executed integrated marketing strategy, which includes advertising, social media, PR, digital marketing, email marketing and more (some of which we discuss in more detail below).
Are you using social media to engage people?
Social media is an important tool for moving customers through the sales funnel, but it needs to be treated in the appropriate way.
- Yes, we have an effective and engaging social media strategy.
- No, our social media isn’t very engaging. A common mistake many companies make is going for the “hard sell” in daily social media posts, which just turns people off. Use digital marketing for the hard sell; use social media to post compelling, engaging content. You also need to be responsive to incoming messages/comments and actively communicate with your audience. Ideally, in addition to posting content, use social media to build a community.
Does your PR and earned media feed into your sales funnel?
Public relations, or PR, is a strategy used by firms like Kahn Media and marketing teams to drive exposure for a brand and its products or services.
- Yes, our PR and earned media feeds into our sales funnel.
- No. PR is telling your brand’s or company’s story to the right audience, which includes earned media, paid media and owned media. Paid media is ads; owned media is your website, newsletters, social media, etc. Earned media is content about your company that’s created by someone else and published on external channels (e.g., a newspaper or news site), so it has maximum credibility. Earned media raises brand awareness and drives site traffic, whether through a direct click-through from a link within the story or organic search traffic from a user looking up your brand in a search engine. Every time a notable website talks about your brand — even more so if they link back — it legitimizes your site in Google’s ranking algorithm and helps with future SEO and search results. In some cases, one of the highest-ranked search phrases is “[Product Name] Review.” Third-party reviews, including those on YouTube (the second largest search engine behind Google), can have a huge impact on how potential customers perceive your product.
Are you using digital marketing (DM)?
Digital marketing is advertising that uses online channels such as social media, search engines, and email to reach consumers.
- Yes, we use DM. If so, are you using SEM (search engine marketing) only, or a combination of SEM and paid social? If you are only using one digital marketing platform, consider expanding to include others if your budget allows. Multi-channel marketing has proven to be more effective by increasing your brand’s presence online. Most platforms have evolved to offer a range of advertising options that can appeal to customers at all levels of the sales funnel. We recommend using a multi-channel DM strategy to reach your customers in as many places as you can.
- No, we don’t use DM. We’ve seen plenty of businesses fall into the trap of dumping thousands of dollars into boosted social media posts because they’re fast and easy. Resist the urge. Using the full range of options on an ad manager dashboard may seem daunting at first, but after some basic familiarization and training you’ll see better results with higher ROI, and you’ll have more control over your ads. Creating an ad account on most marketing platforms can be done in a matter of minutes with a valid credit card. If you are working with a small budget, you can usually capture some immediate ROI by concentrating your efforts on remarketing, which we cover in more detail below. As someone new to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, you need to do the following:
- Think like your customer. Before you begin to create your campaign, identify who your customer is. What age are they? What do they do for fun? Where do they shop? Identifying as many of their characteristics as possible will make it easier to segment your audience for the most effective targeting.
- ABT (Always Be Testing). Once you have a thorough customer profile, don’t try to cram all of your targeting into one ad set; break it up into multiple smaller campaigns. Doing this lets you test each variable separately to find what works best and gives you better control of the budget distribution. For example, on Facebook/Instagram, this could be testing audiences of only one interest target at a time, different age ranges, etc. On keyword-based platforms like Google Ads, try creating multiple single-keyword ad groups. As your ads run, you will be able to get a better idea of what audiences are responding to so you can hone in on the segments driving results and use the data to discover new ideas to test.
Do you have a strategy to deal with site visitors who shop around but don’t buy anything?
Let’s face it, no matter how nice your website is, no matter how many call-to-actions you have, the majority of visitors will still leave without converting. That’s just the nature of ecommerce, in fact the average conversion rate for U.S. e-commerce sites is just 2.6%. Depending on the nature and price point of your product, a potential customer may visit your site up to 10 times or more before taking action as they gather information, learn about your company and shop prices. One of the most frustrating scenarios with online sales is cart abandonment — when someone has added items to the shopping cart, goes all the way through the checkout process and doesn’t convert. You’ve spent your hard-earned marketing dollars to make the customer aware of your brand, educate them and get them to your website, but how do you get them to commit to a purchase?
- Yes, we have a strategy to deal with site visitors who shop around but don’t buy anything.
- No. Remarketing reaches potential customers after they have interacted with your brand or website and encourages them to return to complete your desired action. The key to remarketing is defining where a customer is in the sales funnel based on their actions and then crafting messaging for your ads that applies to them at that stage. There are nearly infinite ways to build remarketing audiences and each brand will be different, but if you are looking for a place to start, here are some commonly used audiences:
- Added products to cart without checking out
- Site visitors of any page
- Watched a video (website or social channels)
- Engaged with social content
- Downloaded free content
- Completed a form
- Subscribed to email list
Do you use Google Shopping?
Google Shopping compares product listings from thousands of online and local retailers.
- No, we don’t use Google Shopping. Google shopping has been rapidly gaining popularity as a marketing platform for the past few years and for good reason. These listings have a 30% higher conversion rate compared to standard text ads! Their placement at the top of the search results and visual thumbnails make them arguably the most visible element on a Google search page. The best part is, as of May 2020, Google made its shopping service free in an effort to give smaller, lesser-known brands exposure on the search engine. Setting up Google Shopping ads can be done by first creating a Merchant Center account, which acts as the interface between Google and your store, and uploading your product feed. Most popular website content management systems WordPress and Shopify have plugins which can automatically create and export your product feed for you. For more information, check out this link: Start selling your products across Google.
- Yes, we use Google Shopping. Try some of these best practices to boost your ROI:
- Remarket to site visitors with your shopping ads: As mentioned above, remarketing is a crucial part of closing sales and should be implemented on as many platforms as possible.
- Segment your ad sets by products with similar profit margins: The conversion rates will vary from product to product, so by grouping products with similar margins you have better control over your bids to ensure you are staying profitable.
- Update negative keywords regularly: While Google Shopping does not use keywords targeting, there is still the option to add negative keywords, or search keywords that you do not want your ad to appear for. It’s a good practice to check your ad’s search term history regularly to identify any new irrelevant keywords that could be wasting your budget.
Do you use email marketing?
Email marketing includes any emails your brand or company sends to consumers.
- No, we don’t use email marketing. Out of all digital marketing channels, email typically has the highest rate of conversion and remains one of the most effective methods of reaching potential customers. With a variety of capable outbound email marketing platforms like Mailchimp, Constant Contact and ActiveCampaign, it is easier than ever to begin email marketing for as little as $9.99 per month.
- Yes, we use email marketing. Great! Answer the following questions to make sure you’re using it to maximum effect.
- Are you using it to retarget users who have shown purchase intent? As mentioned above, remarketing plays a crucial role in capturing sales that would otherwise be lost and email is one of the best ways to do it. Whether you are targeting users in the decision phase with products they have viewed or engaging customers who have already converted, email is the most direct channel to send that message.
- Are you segmenting your email lists? Often your email content will not apply to every single user on your email list, so split the list into smaller segments and tailor specific messages for each target audience. You can segment in just about any way imaginable including contact source, product interest, geography, age, gender and so on. Excluding irrelevant segments can keep your unsubscribes down and open rate up.
- If you have call-to-actions or external links, does the email copy match the messaging of the landing page? As an email recipient, the last thing you want is a bait-and-switch where the destination link contains a different offer or a completely separate subject than what was originally promised. Keep the email text as relevant as possible for better continuity and a lower bounce rate.
- Are your emails optimized for mobile viewing? At least half of people read their emails on mobile devices, so mobile-friendly email formatting is essential.
- Have you tested the timing of your emails? Most email programs like Mailchimp and Constant Contact will recommend optimal times for sending out emails. Review the open rates and other analytics to find out what days and times are the best.
- Are you using all available opportunities to grow your email lists? Most well-optimized websites will usually have numerous locations to capture emails including the website header/footer, high-traffic landing pages, blog sections and a subscribe pop-up window. You can also get creative and include sign-up links in other locations such as your personal email signature. If you attend any live events or trade shows, try to leverage a contest or giveaway to drive on-site email capture.
Do you follow up with customers after they have made a purchase?
Your existing customer is your best customer, so following up with them post-sale and providing good customer service are critical for building loyalty and encouraging repeat sales. And if you sell D2C through sites like eBay or Amazon, then reviews and ratings by customers can make or break future sales.
- Yes, we have an effective strategy for post-sale follow-up and customer service.
- No. Capturing customer email addresses is essential for post-sale follow-up, customer service and email marketing, as discussed above. A follow-up email about a week after the sale is a great way to drive product reviews on your website, your Google Shopping page, Amazon, etc. It’s also a great opportunity to offer an incentive for a future purchase. For example, Revzilla, one of the largest online motorcycle retailers, provides Zilla bucks with every purchase that can be applied to future purchases.
- Good customer service is crucial. Train your customer service team to be patient and ready to deal with issues that arise — everything from complaints about navigating your website and lost shipments to manufacturing defects or warranty issues. Be prepared to answer technical questions or sales questions through social media and respond quickly.
Be A Closer
Getting started with direct-to-consumer sales is easy, but it takes time and effort to create and execute a comprehensive D2C sales strategy. We’ve helped dozens of clients pivot to a digital-first, D2C-focused strategy, and we’ve helped many more use specific tactics described above more effectively. And yes, some of our clients have seen their sales increase during the pandemic. If you need help getting started or improving your existing D2C sales strategy, drop us a line at Help@KahnMedia.com for a free consultation.