Specialization and Cross-Selling

If you’ve been in business for a few years, you’re probably good at something. Hopefully, it’s something that your customers recognize – perhaps you’re an expert at embroidery, or a specialist at creating innovative promotional packages. Maybe you excel at quick turnaround, or you really know workwear in a particular industry.

What is it you’re good at? It’s an important question, because as the landscape of selling online becomes more and more competitive, the generic message “we sell promotional products” is less useful by the day. Terms like “promotional products” or “logo apparel” are so heavily marketed that competing for search for these terms against the big players in the industry is nearly impossible.

What’s a small or medium-sized business owner to do? As I’ve suggested in numerous other columns, the first place to start is with a geographical focus. In your online advertising and marketing, as well as in the copy on your website itself, you can adopt a regional strategy and make sure you target shoppers searching and buying in your area. As always, keyword research will help you determine popular search terms and search volume in your geographical area.

But what if you want to expand beyond local marketing and selling? What if the regional market isn’t large or dynamic enough to satisfy your sales goals? Now you’re moving into a vastly more competitive and expensive market. You’ll need a strategy that enables you to somehow grab customers that hundreds, rather than dozens, of other businesses are also wooing.

The first dose of reality you’ll need to accept is that you won’t get all of them, assuming your funds are limited. You can’t be competitive for every term that promotional or wearable shoppers are searching for. In fact, trying to be competitive for thousands of different types of items can really hurt you; you’ll be mediocre in many, while mastering none. (This is also why we recommend that our clients never showcase the hundreds of thousands of items that are actually available in this industry on their website; showing a prospect a dozen nearly identical pens provides them no valuable service – you’re the one that needs to tell them which one is best.)

Screenshots of two searches for ceramic mugs on e-commerce sites

Too much of a good thing? 3,862 ceramic mugs show on the Logomall site; 4imprint.com has 157

However broad of a selection you wish to showcase on your site, your go-to-market strategy should be tightly focused on specific product categories, services or solutions. Most importantly, these areas should be things you’re actually good at – things that your customers might talk about or that you can write about knowledgeably.

Why? Because content and links determine ranking, and favorable ranking increasingly belongs to the specialist. If you’re a specialist at awards, get customer testimonials about your award prowess and slap them all over your website. Blog about the great award solutions that you’ve produced and point back to specific products and case studies on your site. Optimize your content for awards first, everything else second.

This may sound counterintuitive, or even dangerous. How can you sell shirts or mugs if your site is optimized for awards? In reality, it’s not that different from the classic retail strategy of luring in customers with deep discounts hoping they’ll buy other things in the store. Just because a customer came in looking for awards doesn’t mean they won’t look at other things. That’s where the cross-selling comes in.

The cold reality of selling online is this: getting customers to your website is tough. Really tough. You’ve got to use every tool in your arsenal just to garner that initial click that takes them to your site. Once they’ve made it there, though, they’re yours to lose. Always show them what they came for, but don’t forget to show them what else you sell.

Even better, show them alternative and complementary products. With far too many choices for any buyer to ever sort through, the promotional products market is made for cross selling and up selling – remember, you’re the expert. That expertise needs to be reflected in the product suggestions on your site. You know which products are popular; which ones you can get quickly; which ones will be delivered reliably. Put those on your site, and suggest them at every turn.

Screenshot of cross-selling on e-commerce site

Cross-selling related products

If a customer comes in looking for a pad folio, you darn well should be showing them a pen that goes well with it on the very same page. Not to mention a briefcase, a laptop bag, a calculator or even a business card holder. Related products can turn a mediocre order into a big one quickly. Just ask the folks at Vistaprint, who’ve turned the related product up sell into an art form.

It’s all about intelligent options. You can overwhelm buyers quickly with too many choices, so your mission in cross selling and up selling is to offer smart suggestions. Sometimes that can mean forgoing a big ticket item for a better fit. Providing visitors with a few alternatives to the item they’re looking at can be a wise strategy as well. Sometimes, the customer that would otherwise abandon your site might stick around if they really feel like they’re getting a deal.

Good e-commerce systems make all these strategies simple to implement. Cross sells and related products can be set up quickly and automatically appear when customers are browsing products. Alternatives can be presented intelligently by setting parameters within a certain category – for instance, you might want to present alternative items within every category that vary by cost or production time. If a customer is looking at a travel mug with a 7-day lead time, you should show them another one that can ship in 48 hours – just in case they need it faster. You might be surprised how often they do!

All these alternatives help build a site that keeps users shopping even when they might have come to your site for something else. If they like what they see and trust your expertise, they might even create an account, request a catalog or sign up for your newsletter (you do have a newsletter signup and a regular, reliable, monthly newsletter, don’t you?)

In the end, if they searched for awards, came to your site and bought an award, that’s fabulous. If they searched for awards, came to your site and bought something else, that’s great too. But if they searched for awards, came to your site and discovered promotional products expertise and a smooth purchasing experience – and then became a long-term customer, well, that’s pretty much the best outcome you could hope for. Effective targeting and cross selling can get you there.

This article also appears in Identity Marketing Magazine. Brent Buford is the CEO of eBlox.