An introduction to working out the best digital sales channels to use

Ecommerce now comprises almost a third of all retail sales, according to the Office for National Statistics. And, even when sales are completed in-person, a digital element is now a frequent step in the sales process.
Digital sales channels

Back in the day, sales were a much more instinctual endeavour. These days, data makes it simpler to see where your time is best spent – you can take the guesswork out of selling and marketing.

There’s still a big gap between small and large firms when it comes to digitally savvy sales. Only 20 per cent of SMEs engaged in digital selling, against 40 per cent of large firms, according to the OECD.

Effective use of digital sales channels can supercharge your growth and, in this guide, we’ll show you some simple steps you can take right now. Then, you can use our dedicated action plan to pick the right channel for your business.

What contributing factors impact your choice of digital sales channels?

Competitor and customer research

The great painter Pablo Picasso is widely quoted as having said that “good artists borrow, great artists steal”. There’s a kernel of wisdom in there for businesses, too.

Look at competitors that you respect and admire. Where are they pushing hard? And, what sorts of sales mechanisms do they have in place online? It doesn’t have to be intensive: you can learn quite a lot from a visit to a website.

Look internally too. What are your customer demographics? There’s a lot of demographic research online that covers how different types of customers behave and what platforms they use.

Expert insight

There’s a bounty of ecommerce and digital sales expertise out there. Yes, it might cost you a little money to access – but it can be worth it. Especially if you’re targeting a new market.

Incisive, expert guidance can help you quickly identify a few key adaptations or localisations you need to make to your product. While expert insight is not a complete replacement for your own legwork and experience, it can be a valuable addition to it.

Customer profile

If you want to identify the right digital sales channel for your business, a lot hinges on the question: Who are your customers? Or perhaps, your target audience.

General demographic data is easy to access and always a good place to start. The aim is to create a sketch of your customer profile. Start with demographics, then dive deeper into needs and then finally look at your company's offering.

If you have a customer relationship management (CRM) system, dig a little deeper into what goes into your average sale. Modern sales comprise a whole range of efforts and touchpoints. That data is an important insight into how your business actually operates.

Larry Gould

Larry Gould recommends using a CRM to keep track of each element of a sale

“Think about what goes into making a single sale. The sales person could make several calls, the marketing department might send out brochures, there may be email campaigns, PowerPoint presentations in meetings – a whole range of efforts. Without a CRM, you have no way of keeping track of it all.”

Larry Gould, founder of thebigword Group

The cold hard facts

The amount of retail sales being made online jumped from 21 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 to 34 per cent in the same period in 2021. It’s hard to say exactly how much of that was caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s clear it had a big impact on consumer spending.

Common mistakes when choosing digital tools

Target demographic

A classic mistake is having a poor grasp of target demographic data. Especially when it comes to selling on different social media platforms. It’s not necessarily your demographics, as much as it is Facebook or Instagram’s.

Even if you only have a target audience in mind, the age, income and even job roles of social media channel users are well known.

Consider a channel like Instagram. In terms of gender demographics, 68 per cent of Instagram users are female and 90 per cent of users are under 35 years-old. From this information, you can quickly figure out if a social media sales channel is right for your business – or not.

No CRM system

Not having a CRM or system for organising data means that SMEs often sell through multiple channels – and don’t put enough focus on the most successful ones.

A fairly simple, off-the-shelf CRM system can make a big difference to your business. Software – like Salesforce, for instance – gives you valuable insight into transactions and stores customer data in a safe, accessible way.

It’s difficult to grow without access to data. You need to be able to monitor information regarding customers, products and sales channels – and a well maintained CRM system makes this much easier.

Overlooking security

When you’re selling digitally, you’re not only responsible for internal, company-facing data. It’s your responsibility to protect your customers’ private information, as well.

Don’t let security slip to the back of the queue when you’re moving quickly and trying to grow your business. If you invest in a CRM or any sort of digital channel (not only sales), it is essential to ensure it guarantees protection against security breaches and hacking attempts.

“We review all potential opportunities and apply a unique, data-centric approach. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to relationship management. As an agency, it’s up to us to adapt to the requirements of the client.”

Lauren Muxworthy, head of outreach at Ascent Group

The cold hard facts

Even smaller businesses can benefit from a CRM system. Especially if you’re on a growth track, a good CRM helps you stay up-to-date with customers and build good relationships with them.

The market is well-established and worth over £3bn in the UK alone.

Quick wins for identifying the right digital sales channels for you

Purchase history

“History doesn’t repeat itself – but it often rhymes,” as Mark Twain is reputed to have said. A really useful quick win is to analyse data from previous customer purchases.

Your business’s point of sale system will have a wealth of information and if you sell online, your ecommerce solution will offer insights too. It’s not only about successful purchases either. Look at returns or abandoned carts. A surprising pattern may emerge.

This data can tell you more about what products sell, at what times, at what prices and what buying trigger began the process (like a sale, for instance).

Invest time in developing your CRM

Bring in a CRM system and optimise it to fit your sales process. The software doesn’t need to be top-of-the-line or expensive. The market is well developed and there are solutions catering specifically to SMEs and smaller businesses.

A CRM system helps you collect and analyse the right customer data. You could update the information that’s collected to make more informed decisions about the digital sales channels you use. Such as, capturing the source of deals and tracking what email campaigns prospects interacted with.

Digital selling

It’s not always possible, but try to keep your main sales channels as web-based as possible so you can track your success rate.

Ecommerce comes with a built-in advantage of creating a breadcrumb trail for you to monitor. Not just of sales that went through, but also where customers stopped short of buying.

If you have a CRM set up, this data can quickly become very powerful. For instance, you can start offering specific deals and promotions tailored to individual customers or smaller groups of customers.

Asking customers where they first heard about your business during the purchasing process is a great way to get feedback on brand awareness activity that’s more difficult to track.

Helen Jamieson, Jaluch

Bringing in a digital assistant helped Helen Jamieson and the team get more from their technology

“We introduced a digital assistant, who has helped us use our tech far more successfully and develop that crucial tech savviness we need. He even developed and delivered a great internal training course on our CRM as a result of finding everyone kept asking the same questions.”

Helen Jamieson, MD of Jaluch

The cold hard facts

According to research from the World Economic Forum (WEF), 81 per cent of buyers would choose a business that offers a personalised service over an equally priced alternative that does not.

Decide which digital sales channels are best for your business

Take the next steps with our action plan