Selling the Internet

Great ideas are a dime a dozen. The trick, according to John Pullam, is implementing them.

Pullam, a senior analyst at T4G (Technology for Growth) Ltd., said ideas can be found anywhere – at a trade show, by surfing the ‘net – but what’s tough is doing something with them.

“You have to be able to develop a business plan,” Pullam said. “You have to convince somebody else that it’s a great idea.” Pullam, the former national manager of e-commerce for Sears Canada, coordinated Sears’ Web site.

He told a group at the recent New Media conference in Toronto that when he was first getting ready to develop the Web site, he was surprised that he had to justify every move to the company because the Internet was this great idea, so how could it be wrong?

“The Internet was a big deal. I was stunned by how hard it was to justify the Internet to the company,” Pullam said. “Internet is the biggest change that most people are going to see in their lives and most people shut down because they can’t cope with that kind of change.”

He added that any attempt to implement on the Internet comes with the traditional problems of change. “Most of the people you have to justify it to don’t use the ‘net.”

Pullam noted that many companies look to the history of a medium before making decisions regarding change, but with the Internet they can’t do that. The only history they hear about is the great number of companies that have failed.

He said the best way to relate is to focus on the business metrics. “Try to impress them with numbers they feel good about. Try really hard to find metrics that are self-serving.”

Pullam also advised IT professionals with Internet-related ideas to use customer demographics when pitching an idea to the company.

“Try to focus on (the fact) that these are our customers,” Pullam said. “This may be one of the only venues where the customer goes in and buys equipment (PCs, etc.) to participate in the retail experience.”

He told the group that getting on the Internet by yourself is cheap, easy and fast, but going that route may not help the business. He suggested that companies partner with ad agencies and/or new media agencies.

He also recommended that the Web group start as independently within the company as possible, but keep in mind that an IT or Internet group always has to eventually merge with the company. “When you’re inside a business unit, you’re constrained by their rules.”

He added the hardest groups to merge are often IT and marketing because the two often have conflicting viewpoints – and they’re both right.

“If the marketing and IT people can’t get along, that’s a big black mark on your strategy,” Pullam said. “Often I would pitch the marketing viewpoint to the IT department, while arguing the IT side to the marketing group.”

Listen to the customers

The old adage that the customer is always right rings true, according to Pullam.

“Customers want to do research. They expect feeds and details and backgrounds. Expect to develop comparison tools,” he warned. “You can’t tell customers to call a 1-800 number for anything. They want to do everything on the ‘net that they could possibly be able to do at the store.”

And, he added, they are right to expect that. He noted customers prefer fast to flash. “I have spent a lot of time fending off designers who want to make it bigger and better. Customers do not want to have to add on to their browser. They want it fast and easy,” Pullam said.

He also warned that customers will blame everything on the company, even if half the time failures and slowdowns are the fault of the browser or ISP.

He told the group that one important factor when building a customer-friendly site is to make it consistent.

“You’ve got to be dead consistent and that means doing dead tedious work,” Pullam said. “One to two per cent of Sears customers were on WebTV. That screen is 556 pixels wide with no left or right scroll.” He noted they were getting many customer complaints about their sites and only when they sent a technician out did they figure out the cause was the dimensions of WebTV.

Pullam stated he is a big fan of usability testing. “The sooner you get the bugs out of the process, the cheaper it is to deliver.”