When I was a kid we had a wonderful and slightly disturbing book called Would You Rather? by the brilliant illustrator John Burningham. It was fun choosing between supper in a castle and breakfast in a balloon, but there were also more alarming choices, such as: which wild animal would you rather be killed by? (Everybody knows that good kids’ books need a dark undertone…).
The would-you-rather that Fluent encounters repeatedly with clients is: would you rather have some sales or more enquiries? Usually the question relates to the hiding of key information. Tell prospects everything and they might not buy. Conceal something vital and they’ll have to get in touch.
For example, in the hunt for more bookings, one hospitality client is being tempted to remove the availability calendar. The reasoning is twofold: first, that an empty calendar might scare people away; and second, that forcing an enquiry form request gives the company an opportunity to sell alternative dates or holidays if the original dates are not going to work out.
Sellers gotta sell
The first point is pretty compelling. An empty calendar is negative social proof. It drains confidence from the consumer. What do other people know about this place that I don’t?
However, if you’ve got no bookings, it’s probably not your calendar to blame. Make people want your product enough, through rich descriptions, compelling marketing and social proof, like positive reviews – and the empty calendar won’t matter. It might even be seen as a stroke of good luck – we found this gem before anyone else did.
The second point is more convincing. It is similar to the argument for concealing price. It gives prospects a reason to get in touch with you. Instead of a few sales, you can get many enquiries. Some of our clients feel that this puts them in control of the sales funnel – instead of people just bouncing off their website, they get to talk to potential sales. They can explain the benefits that justify the price in person. Or offer alternative dates. They can put on their sales hat, roll up their sleeves, and do everything within their power to convert each lead.
Which is my idea of hell.
I hate being sold to. I just turned down a better phone contract from a company because of their hideous sales technique. I would rather pay to keep my dignity and be afforded, calmly, the space to make my own decision.
It’s no surprise then that I also hate having to sell. But there are plenty of other people who are good at it. Who love it. Perhaps for them, creating some intrigue and drumming up enquiries is the way to go.
User experience and the long-term
I do wonder, though, if some of the businesses keen on getting direct enquiries don’t trust their own websites. If they suspect that prospects are slipping through the net, and that the only way they can know for sure is to talk to the leads in person.
Obviously that doesn’t scale so well. But also – you’ve got to create a website for your company that you trust. Take time to craft a compelling sales message with all the information that users need to make a decision up front. Create an easy, useful, delightful user experience. That is, after all, what our hospitality client said himself:
When I look for places to stay I find it really frustrating when they don’t show when they are full because I have to complete so many enquiry forms and then try to keep track of who have replied.
Exactly. Doesn’t helpfulness and clarity make people’s lives easier and make them more likely to buy from you? You may not get all those enquiries, but you’ll get some bookings, and, crucially, you’re playing a longer-term game of building trust with your users.
It’s do unto others – with UX. Create the experience for users that you would like to have yourself.
Have cake, eat cake
Surrendering to a helpful user experience doesn’t have to mean being in the dark about what is happening on your website. You can measure specific behaviours in analytics to see how people are using your site –what they look at before buying, or at what point they turn away.
And there is a middle way with sales versus enquiries. Why not be as useful and informative as possible up front but provide an opportunity for enquiry as well? Under the calendar put ‘get in touch if you’d like to know about cancellations’. Under the price put ‘call us to find out what discounts we are running this month’.
At Fluent we lean towards fashioning the most useful user experience: to create a strong, trustworthy image online for our clients. Having said that, if they are salespeople, and like nothing more than a hot lead on the end of the phone … we don’t stand in their way.
Of course, there are much more significant questions for us all to consider anyway. How can we worry about our websites when there are such vital decisions to be made as: crushed to oblivion by a rhinoceros or tickled to death by monkeys?