We would all like to believe the popular saying made famous by Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”
However, it is not that simple when it comes to launching an e-commerce site. If you don’t communicate your launch to your team and customers, they may never know you built a new site for them to use. Even those customers and employees that have been pleading with you to create an e-commerce site will not know it is out there for them to use if you don’t tell them. Any change in your customer-facing web presence can be viewed as an opportunity to further engage both existing and new online customers.
What is an e-commerce Launch Plan?
When building a launch plan, consider the “5 Ws:” who, what, where, when and how. Important factors include timing, mode of communications, frequency of communication and a period of evaluation and adjustment.
Why is a Launch Plan Important?
If you were to open a new branch, you wouldn’t think twice about a launch plan for that branch. The same holds true for a digital branch, your e-commerce site. It is important to create a launch plan that creates a return on your investment as quickly as possible.
How do You Start to Build out Your Launch Plan?
As you were planning out the design and functionality of your site, you most likely took into consideration the needs of your employees and customers. The first step is to identify your target audiences and how to uniquely communicate to each of them. The plan for each target will be different.
Launch Plan for Employees
Change is hard for most organizations, especially if you are a multi-generational, family run business that is over 100 years old, which is the case for many independent distributors. For this reason, it is important to communicate your e-commerce launch plan throughout your organization. It is particularly important to gain buy-in from your marketing and sale teams because they are the first lines of customer service.
Your sales team needs to be considered as a prime audience in your launch plan and it is likely that there will be resistance initially. They may feel that the e-commerce site will lower their own sales, thus lowering their commissions. Consider the following when planning your communication to your employees, specifically your sales team:
1. Increased Operational Efficiencies and Reduced Costs
- Less time involved in entering orders, tracking and follow-up for repeat and non-complicated orders since the customer can perform many of these tasks online
- Channel shifting frees up time for gathering larger more complicated orders, consulting and engaging new customers
- Costs and errors are lowered through automation
- E-commerce orders are tracked by customers which can be tracked back to sales members (if you so choose)
2. Customer Retention
- Customers can buy, review and track orders 24/7 when needs are top of mind
- E-commerce is the common practice for millennials – the future leaders of organizations
- Accounts can be personalized by the customer, including custom pricing, order history and invoice tracking
- Customer behavior can be tracked and analyzed to provide insight into potential future sales
Launch Plan for Customers
Chances are your marketing team already has a plan in place for sharing news with customers. This could be anything from a new branch opening, a new brand that you are offering or a great promotional opportunity. Use your marketing team’s knowledge and expertise to help create an eCommerce launch plan for your customers.
Challenge your marketing team to think about the mode of communication. Consider social media, a text campaign, a blog or providing your sales team with tablets to promote the site during customer visits. These modes of communication are expected, especially among millennials.
Below are several additional ideas to consider when planning your customer launch plan:
- Create excitement — Create a build up to the launch and tease customers with what is to come in regards to the features and benefits of your site. This can be done through the use of social media, blogs, and email campaigns. Contests and promotional opportunities can be used prior to launch as well to help create excitement.
- Soft Launch — Identify a few key customers and show them the site prior to your official launch. Ask them to navigate around the site, place an order, etc. and then listen to their feedback.
- Identify best mode of communication — Understand how your customers like to communicate with you. If they prefer phone calls, set up time for each of your sales people to call them and walk them through the new site. If your customers are active on social media, join them. You may need to categorize your customers and target each accordingly.
- Prepare to Teach — If your customers aren’t used to shopping online, you need to be patient and walk them through the process. Create “how to” videos featuring popular features and benefits of your site, hold webinars or send someone out to teach their teams.
Now that you have identified your target audiences, created a plan that is tailored to each and communicated your launch to them, you need to step back and analyze how effective those launch plans were. Did they drive adoption across all audiences? What could have been done differently? What is the next step? It will be important to ask yourself those questions periodically after the launch and for years to come so you continue to meet the needs of your employees and customers with your e-commerce site.
Kim Connor is Senior Manager, eSolutions Content at AD