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TRUST AND THE SUMMER DOLDRUMS - SUBSCRIBER Q&A

by: Cary Christian

We received a question this week that we thought might be a timely topic for many of you, so we decided to share it with you.

Question: A reader stated that his company has been in business in the brick and mortar world for nearly a decade, but on the Internet for less than nine months. Everything was going fine with the new Internet sales activities, but in the past month or so sales dropped dramatically. The reader wonders if it is possible that the public's mistrust of big business (because of Enron, Worldcom, et. al.) is transferring to small businesses as well?

Answer: Yes . . . and no!

First of all, there are many, many people who could care less about the Enron's and Worldcom's of the world. These huge business failures primarily affected employees and investors, not consumers. As a result, the affect on consumers has been limited more to the general dampening effect on the economy than in the area of business trust.

However, many people mistrust businesses in general. For these people, the mistrust has obviously deepened. If nothing else, these failures have served to provide justification for beliefs already held.

But I seriously doubt that the reader's lagging sales have much to do with these issues. Don't take this the wrong way; trust is extremely important. Because of the heightened awareness of business ethics, you want to make sure you do everything in your power to convey an atmosphere conducive to consumer trust.

For example, take a look at your advertising and marketing efforts. If there is any hype there, it would probably be a good idea to get rid of it. Be particularly careful to avoid making any product claims or promises that appear to be unreasonable or too good to be true. This is always good advice, but it's even more important now.

You'll also want to make sure you respond to customer and potential customer questions and requests as quickly and as professionally as possible. Again, this is always good advice, but the downside of not providing high service levels is much greater now than ever before.

If you continue to run your business in a professional manner, you are not likely to be adversely affected by all the daily bad press.

More likely than not, the reader's business is experiencing the summer doldrums. It happens every year. People take vacations in the summer. They spend more time participating in outdoor activities. An analysis of annual trends will show you that sales will, indeed, slow down during the summer, possibly dramatically. I believe this is what is happening to the reader's business, as it is likely happening to all of our businesses.

In September the kids will be back in school, the weather in most places will begin to cool down, and business will begin to get back to normal.

In the meantime, use this period productively. Do some strategic planning for the coming fall and winter sales seasons. Do that work on your website you've been thinking about but never got around to. In short, get ready to take advantage of the coming periods of increasing sales activity.

If you must generate more sales immediately, get creative. Consider having a big sale. Make it too good to ignore. Try some new and different marketing and advertising sources to let as many people know about it as possible.

More importantly, learn from this experience. Understand that it will happen again next year and the year after that. Plan for it. See if you can turn it to your advantage. For example, if you go the "big sale" route discussed in the last paragraph, go all out and make your "summer sale" something people look forward to all year round! That way, even if they are online less often during the summer, they'll make it a point to visit your site to take advantage of the big sale.

The summer doldrums are a challenge we all have to deal with. But in every challenge, there are opportunities. It will be well worth it for you to spend the time required to find them. You might even make the summer months your best sales period!


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