Just Make The Phone Number Bigger

A few years back when business owners decided to jump on the blogging bandwagon, I was asked to come up with ideas for starting a company blog. When our CEO got wind that he’d be expected to occasionally post his thoughts online, that plan was nixed.

The company I worked for at the time created technical training courses, and it made sense that our customers would expect to learn about, sample and purchase our products online. I decided if I couldn’t talk the executives into getting behind a company blog, I’d convince them to allow me to update the website.

Sales through the website were considered a necessary nuisance. Most sales came over the phone and were easily tracked to an employee earning a commission. But sales through the website weren’t easily tracked back to an individual. No whipping boy. Sales would increase for a few months and then stagnate over a holiday weekend. Someone needed to be held responsible for the poor sales and yelling at a website isn’t as enjoyable or effective as yelling at sales reps.

Once I gained approval to update the site, I recruited a designer from another division to help me. Over the next few weeks, we updated the branding, layout and product descriptions. Basically, we gave the site a more modern look while simplifying the navigation.

The new site went live and sales soared.

I was excited. My manager was excited. At the next company meeting, our CEO gushed over the sales totals for the month, and I expected everyone would be happy for us. And most were.  Near the end of the meeting, anyone could chime in with suggestions such as which products to spotlight on the homepage. I often collected customer testimonials at this time, and would later add them to the site.

After a short discussion, the sales manager said, “Just make the phone number bigger”.

Clearly, she viewed the website as a billboard. Customers would come to the site to locate our phone number and then call one of our sales reps. She did not view the site as a tool to drive more sales.

A few years after this experience, I found myself working at another technology company that did not have a website. That’s hard to imagine, but in 2008, we did not have a website open to the public. I worked with the same designer to create a website that provided information about the services we provided. It was a very simple site but served our needs.

At the final review with my manager, before we took the site live, I asked for his input. All features had been locked so what I was looking for were bugs and/or obvious mistakes. That’s when my boss said, “Can you add a scrolling stock ticker to the top of the homepage?”

It was difficult not to burst out laughing. But he was serious. He viewed the site as a portal such as My Yahoo or iGoogle and wanted a site that employees would set as their default homepage. I viewed the site as a way to inform and interact with our customers.

The lesson I learned was that company execs often view the power of the web much differently than those of us who grew up immersed in technology. While we view the web as a tool to improve sales or market our services, others shun the impersonal nature of it. We have no problem posting our opinions on Twitter or blogs. But not everyone is comfortable with that level of sharing or promotion.

The sales manager who asked me to make the phone number bigger was afraid how her crew would react if the phones stopped ringing. Once we worked together to figure out a way to compensate them for sales that came through the site, they got on board with us. We updated the site to focus on the quick sale while encouraging those interested in our more expensive products to call us for discounted pricing.

Next time I’m asked to assist in the creation of a company website, I’ll build in time to educate those who don’t know Flash from Silverlight.

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