The core value any online commerce runs on is trust.
Yet business schools don’t teach this. They are instead given all sorts of models to use which take them away from why they are there to begin with.
A business is a ongoing exchange of valuable services and/or products – usually in return for that commodity called money. (But not always.)
The major problem that business courses and online training have is that they are so busy teaching the How’s that they forget the Why’s.
Look at that definition above. It’s all continuing exchange of value.
That all has to happen in an atmosphere of trust. The seller has to trust the buyer and vice-versa. These are age-old principles, which tend to help us understand how it’s done these days in digital-everything.
The reverse of this is a scam, where whatever is promised is only partially delivered. (See my “Get Your Self Scam Free” for more details of this.)
There is no decent physical model to explain what happens in marketing.
Perhaps the stupidest or laziest one is calling it a “funnel.” That implies once people enter at the top, they eventually move down to the bottom and out.
This model doesn’t deal with the fact that people are leaving all the time because they don’t want or can’t trust the person or group they are dealing with.
A better model is a set of concentric circles. People start on the outside edge and gravitate toward the center as you improve your relationships with them.
The ideal flow of customers – and customers implies they are following a custom, or cultural habit – goes from less trust toward greater. Your clients come very closely in to you, and what you do, to absorb everything possible. When they’ve achieved the highest pinnacle of what you can offer, then they do one of three things:
They move on to another mentor, or
They go back through the material from the start, or
They become evangelists for your material and bring new customers to you.
The Usual Suspects, the Usual Lies
Recently, I laid out how the Social Media has been pushed as the latest Shiny Object. I wasn’t so complimentary about it, as it was described as “Revenge of the Social Media Zombies.“
Social Media, and even book distributors (like Amazon) are on that outer ring. People come and go, they even buy your books and you have no clue who they are or what they did for you.
That outer ring isn’t worth much of your time to deal with, as there are no reliable ways to build trust. You cast a wide net of content out there, and invite them closer in to you.
Next in would be to get them as subscribers to one of your feeds, so they could get your particular brand of content on a regular basis. This is your blog and podcast. Blogs are less reliable as most people don’t know how to simply subscribe to a feed and get your data regularly, so podcasts are further in.
The next closer ring is an opt-in email subscription, where they can get a regular newsletter from you. Here is where you can build your relationships more closely. At any time, you can communicate directly to individuals, or vice-versa, and improve your mutual trust.
Even closer in would be a membership, where they have to log-in to get your special content. Here you are able to track their interests more closely, and find out what people are clicking on within your own site.
Memberships don’t have to be paid, and it is probably best to have a free one at the outset. They do have to sign in and take that extra step to get your material. They have to demonstrate a little more trust. And you reward that with exclusive value.
From here on in, and closer, you’ll be able to offer tailor-made products to them. With their feedback, you can carefully improve the value of the content they are looking for. And, if this content is good enough, they’ll pay you for it.
Courses start showing up here. Especially when delivered with a Learning Management System (LMS). You can then open a course up which is delivered on demand, not on a time schedule. People can progress at their own pace, and you can send them tailor-made emails to encourage and debug them.
And this is where it gets quite interesting. Because the trust becomes mutual.
As the trust increases, you can offer ever-greater value, and your clients will start to exchange with you more frequently and in greater volume (you can set and get higher payments.)
Errors, Mistakes, and Misdirections
Most of the misdirections which are being spread ignore this trust factor.
For authors, this can be very confusing. Amazon pays for sales, but doesn’t build trust. Your buyers are completely anonymous. And you probably know more about your reviewers (especially the trolls) than you do about your buyers.
Like Social Media, there is tons of “free” advice about how to get sales on Amazon. A lot of it is spread by Amazon itself, who wants you to only sell on their platform.
Let me repeat – Amazon is the outer ring of trust. Right out there with strangers giving you odd looks.
Here’s how you use Social Media – post your content with invitations to join your mailing list. “Interaction” (like resistance to the Star Trek’s Borg) is futile. Always syndicate to as many social networks as possible.
Here’s how you use Amazon and all ebook distributors – post your content with invitations to join your mailing list. Never respond to reviews. Always publish to as many distributor platforms, in as many formats as possible. Always. Because they each have different audiences.
Do you see the similarities?
You don’t spend a lot of your valuable time where you’ll have nothing to show for it.
You can’t build lasting relationships by “interacting” on either social networks or book distributors.
The one exception – perhaps – is to run something like a private Facebook group by invitation only. That is tricky, though, since that platform can shut you down at any time, just as the book distributors can cancel your account at any time (like Google Play has done to many Indie publishers.)
Ideally, you’d run a personal forum on your own site if you want to interact with people on that level. Like social media, it depends on how valuable your time is (as in “what should you be writing or editing right now?”) You can get a return of money for monetary investments, you’ll never be able to get time back for time spent. Always invest money. Always spend time wisely.
This model tells you to spend most of your time building relationships with those closest to you. By giving them private and exclusive special offers, they’ll help you with reviews on Amazon and sending out tweets, plusses, and likes on your behalf. Those can attract attention and get people closer in.
But some percentage of your time needs to be spent on the middle ground as well. Guest blogging, and being a podcast guest are the ways you can build your audience by interacting with other’s audiences.
In these, that existing audience is given the opportunity to join your inner circles. They trust the site you are appearing on, and can start building trust in you. Appearing as a guest takes more time than simply doing your own thing – but the investment pays off better.
Again, here’s the breakdown:
social media, book distributors
– syndicate content with offers to join your inner circles.
– deliver regular, valuable content with offers to join, as well as appearing as guest (also with offers to join.)
free memberships, email subscription, private forums, free courses
– give them more valuable content and invest in relationship building with offers to purchase. These can start inviting others to join.
paid memberships, paid courses, coaching
– this is very intensive relationship building. These can become your evangelists.
– – – –
I hope you’ve now started examining and discarding what you’ve been told about sales funnels and all the conventional wisdom around them. I know that this was a tough slog for years for myself and others, as there is just so much untested silliness being foisted off as Gospel these days.
Do test everything I say for yourself. Don’t assume it’s useful until you’ve tested it for yourself.
All this article is about is to lay out a common sense approach to timeless natural commerce principles.
As you uncover more of these natural principles for yourself, you should speed up your own progress toward the goals you’ve set.
See you next time…
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