Free Markets, Free People

Business

The Internet: Still Not Getting It

It’s been an interesting week for me, because I’ve run into three situations that illustrate to me that, even though the Internet has been around since 1995, and has been hugely important to business–and politics, of course–since 2000, it’s clear that many people are still unclear about it.  Ive been a web developer since ’96, and have been the Managing Principal of WebmasterDeveloper.Com since 2003.  There was a time when I just assumed that no one knew anything about the Internet, and that sort of attitude among customers was defensible. In 2010, however, those days should be long gone.

But that attitude is still out there, and I’ve been hit over the head with it repeatedly this week.

Client 1:

This client created an affiliate marketing web site, aimed at a group of customers to which they have direct access through their other lines of business.  They spent months crafting the web site to provide the best affiliate programs they can think of.  After going live with their web site a few weeks ago, they’ve had 1 sale, and about 40 affiliate click-throughs.  They were shocked that their direct marketing of the site to existing customers has had such a dismal response.  In the course of conversation with the client, I asked, “Did you ever do any surveys of your customers to see what kind of offers would have value to them?  The answer:  No.  We didn’t want to spend a bunch of startup capital doing that.

They’ve spent thousands of dollars building a web site without any knowledge about what their customers want.  They’ve never talked to their customers; never gotten any idea of what their customers need, and how to fulfill that need.  They’ve spent every penny on building a web site to fulfill a need they haven’t even defined with their customers.  And now, since the customers aren’t responding, they’re concerned that there may be some sort of technical problem.

Client 2:

“I haven’t been getting any orders from my web site.  Apparently, the web host shut my site down for non-payment, but I don’t remember getting any notifications that there was a problem with my credit card. Anyway, can you see what I owe, so I can pay them, and you guys can download my site and transfer it to another web host?”  As it happens, the web host not only sent out email notifications, but made phone calls to try and collect payment, with no response.  In May of 2009.  Of course, their web site files are loooong gone.

So, the client clearly hasn’t even looked at his own web site for at least 10 months.

Client 3:

This client is completely changing their web site to become the single point of contact with their customer base.  Their customers will have to pay an annual fee just to see the products they sell, then use the web site to submit initial bids for salvage auctions.  I informed the client via email that we needed content from them.  I received an angry phone call from the client, who screamed at me, “I just want to concentrate on my business, which is [widget salvage]!  I don’t want to spend all my time doing web design!  That’s what I pay you for!”

In other words, the client wants to make the web site his sole source of initial interaction with his customers, but he is uninterested in writing any content for it.  His web site will be the primary public access that customers have to his company, but working on the web site is a distraction from his real business.

And the real kicker is, on the day we finished the initial programming, he drops the bombshell that the site’s design–which he approved on January 27–is completely unacceptable, and he wants to completely redesign the site.  This is akin to approving the blueprints for a home construction project, then kiting in on the day the contractor finishes laying the last bits of carpet and exclaiming, “I wanted four bedrooms, not three!”


All of these clients, despite their differing details, have one glaring thing in common:  It’s the assumption that once something goes out onto the Internet, it works because pixies sprinkle magical fairy dust on it.  Tinkerbell waves her wand, sparkly bits fly through the air, and money just comes rolling in to your bank account.

In the real world, the Internet operates on the same principles any brick and mortar business does.  You still have to perform due diligence.  You still need to market to your customers.  You still need to go into the office–even if it’s a virtual one.

Nothing magical happens simply because people can access your business online, rather than jumping in the car and driving to it.