“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

A passion of mine since childhood is cooking and all things epicurean – and after working in 21 countries over the last 18 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to learn some fantastic recipes from some of the world’s great chefs. People rave about my cooking, and I’ll happily throw together a feast for two to 102.

But afterward, the kitchen looks like a bomb hit it. And then I stack the dishwasher with gay abandon, in a way that my wife finds bothersome.

The fine points of stacking dishwashers are lost to me – but for some, it is important.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter more than anything else.

Recently, I witnessed the enormous impact that one seemingly miniscule thing can have on the success of an online business – a small, golden padlock not much bigger than a match head.

After working with the developers of a particular e-commerce site for some years, we’d brought about changes that doubled the number of people checking out via their shopping cart. But the shopping cart had been set up in a way that, although the entire checkout process was secure, the page where you entered your credit card details looked insecure. All because that padlock that normally appears in the Web browser wasn’t there.

There was an entirely plausible technical reason for this, and the developers were correct in saying the site was “secure.” Because the site was, in fact, secure, they assumed customers would feel safe about completing their transactions.

I questioned that assumption.

I suggested – on a few occasions – that the absence of the padlock was likely to have a negative impact on sales. And each time, I was told “It’s secure.” Or “We haven’t had more than a handful of complaints in the past five years.” Or “If people just right-mouse-click and go to ‘properties,’ they’ll see that the checkout page is completely secure.”

Finally, after much badgering, they agreed to re-do the shopping cart, test whether the change had any effect whatsoever, and, in the process (they hoped), shut me up.

The results threw even me for a loop.

Before making this change, less than five percent of people who started the checkout process completed it (by entering their credit card details and submitting their order).

In the two months immediately after we made the change to have that the golden padlock appear on the checkout page – and with no other changes or enhancements – nearly 10 percent of those who started the checkout process completed it.

That’s more than a 100 percent improvement … by questioning an assumption and making one seemingly simple change.

By making that change, millions ofdollars a year were added to this company’s online sales!

Let’s consider another assumption that may be hurting your online business.

Do you assume that people who abandon your shopping cart or checkout process stop wanting what you are offering? Something I learned from my dad years ago taught me to question that.

My first “sales” job was working Saturdays in his plumbing supplies store. “Sometimes people need to think things over before they’re ready to buy,” my dad counseled me. But that didn’t stop me from feeling down when nobody bought anything from me.

My dad showed me how it was done. He’d chat with people and get them asking questions. And if they weren’t buying, he’d try to leave one question he’d have to “check on” – maybe the availability of a color or whether something special was in stock or the best way to do something. He’d say he’d call them back with the answer.

Invariably, my dad’s follow-up phone call closed a sale he’d navigated skillfully from the moment the person first walked in his showroom some days earlier.

What was my dad’s secret? He seemed so relaxed about the whole thing.

I think it is this …

My dad developed a selling process that accommodated multiple contacts with potential customers. He learned when to close a sale and when more information or time was needed. If he had assumed that not making a sale on the first visit was an indication the person didn’t want what he had to offer, he’d have been far less successful.

Businesses that have systematically put this assumption to the test have been well rewarded. They carefully tracked customers who started the ordering process but then bailed out, for whatever reason. Then they followed up with targeted e-mail promotions aimed only at those people. The premise: They were interested enough to start checkout, so maybe – like my dad’s customers – they just needed more time.

The companies I know that tried this approach experienced fantastic results consistently – always at least a 25 percent increase in sales compared to the original promotion, and sometimes up to a 60 percent increase. And this was achieved simply by making a second contact with people who had expressed interest in buying from them.

My dad would have been proud!

What can you learn from these examples?

In a previous post, I pointed out that you need to be aware of how your prospects’ assumptions can lead them astray when they’re online. Well … you need to be equally aware of how your own assumptions can lead you astray when it comes to making decisions about your business.

Online businesses – especially successful ones – can be closed to change. They figure “It’s working … so why not just leave it alone?” But if you are open to performing the kind of audit I recommended earlier – and testing any new ideas that result – it could help bring about a significant change for the better in your online business.

Today’s Action Plan: Take a close look at your online business. If possible, get some friends and colleagues who fit your customer profile to investigate your e-mail promotions, website, shopping cart, and checkout process and give you their honest feedback. What assumptions are you making that may be hurting your business or your relationships with your customers? Test your assumptions. Roll with the winners and cut your losses.

[Ed. Note: David Cross is Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Publishing in Baltimore. He is was also the Master of Ceremonies at our first Early To Rise Internet Marketing Conference.]

Although David hails from Blackpool, England – which is often referred to as the “Las Vegas of England” – he shunned a career in show business and instead followed a meandering career path overflowing with “life’s great experiences,” working or living in over 20 countries along the way. Chef, teacher of Transcendental Meditation, guest presenter on QVC, earthquake relief volunteer, CEO of a web hosting company, marketer at a radio station and all combined with years of direct marketing, PR and sales experience for clients as diverse as health food stores, small charities and right up to multinational public companies.
David brought unique talent and experience to his role for six years as Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Publishing Group. Working closely with Agora’s publishers and marketers to test new ideas and marketing campaigns, Agora’s Internet revenues topped $200 million in 2007. David understands and can communicate fluently with creative “right-brain” marketers and analytical “left-brain” IT and software teams, all with equal ease. He has a proven track record for generating results and creative thinking and excels at making trouble to find new ways of making things happen!
He lives on a small farm close to Mount Hood in Oregon with his wife Cinda, a veterinarian, and their four children and a menagerie of animals (no more, please!). When not marketing or brainstorming you’ll find David following a dream of self-sufficiency for food, power and water within 10 years, tending the land and caring for the farm and animals. Not surprisingly, David is an engaging and knowledgeable speaker with many amusing anecdotes from his work and travels over the years.