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Six lessons from a collective buying newbie (what we got right, what we got wrong)

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On Friday 25 February, Anthill launched a group buying website for bsuiness owners, called Antmart. We promised, at the time, to share what worked… and what didn’t.

At this early stage in the site’s development, our attention has largely been on aspects that didn’t work. Here are six lessons from our first week.

1. Timing is everything

Launching a  collective buying site for business owners on the Friday before BAS is due was probably not the most auspicious first move for Antmart.

Our launch email, alerting Anthill readers to Antmart’s existence, was dispatched at 10:30am on Friday. BAS would be due on Monday.

It’s generally understood that humans tend to delay making decisions until after deadlines and milestones, like elections, the moon-landing… and BAS.

Needless to say, Anthill experienced an agonisingly slow start.

2. People follow people

Fortunately, the collective buying model encourages existing and prospective online customers to share the deals.

Antmart’s Friday launch email prompted a paltry 500 people to visit the site… of a possible 14,000 email recipients. Ouch! (Yup, timing is everything.)

However, by the end of the day, approximately 1,100 visitors had come to check out Antmart.

In other words, the first 500, through their own networks, more than doubled the traffic. (I’m talking about Unique Visitors, not Page Impressons.)

While this sort of response is now commonly seen on news and content sites (prompted, for example, by breaking news), it is almost unheard of with commercial or retail sites — especially commercial sites that are one day new and not supported by any external PR and advertising.

3. Following the competition is a rookie mistake

Within minutes of Antmart’s launch, we had begun to receive constructive feedback (and many words of support) over LinkedIn, Twitter and via email.

Some were from places like Newcastle and the Gold Coast asking, “Why are your deals capital city specific?”

Good question, right?

They were city specific because we’d spent too much time looking at other people’s sites during development.

This is a rookie error, one that Anthill has made a habit of avoiding. For eight years, we have largely done our own thing and watched the others follow.

Many organisations feel strangely compelled to mimic their competitors, without asking why. We’ve found that, while being aware of our competitor’s activities, it’s far better to simply do whatever the hell we want — making sure that we know our goals and can measure our goals against our actions, of course.

Over time, we’ve found that most our competitors don’t quite know what they’re doing anyway. So, why copy.

In this instance, our crime was compounded by the fact that we were observing and mimicking organisations that don’t even target a similar customer! Embarrassing, really.

You may observe that Antmart deals are no longer distingushed by city but by state. In time, they will become category specific, rather than location-centric.

4. Customers don’t distinguish between Price and Value

One of the two deals available for the launch week was advertised as having a value of $225 and a sale price on Antmart of $95.

Also within minutes of launching, it was brought to our attention that the deal was available on the seller’s site for $147.

In short, the various elements of the package, if sold individually, add up to $225. However, at the time of our promotion, the seller’s site had also assembled these elements into its own discount pack, available for $147.

Unfortunately, we weren’t aware of the seller’s own sale price, not due to any fault on their part. Rather, the launch of Antmart took longer than anticipated and the seller was simply doing what good businesses do — moving forward (rather than waiting for us).

So, our price was still significantly cheaper than the seller’s discount deal (saving buyers $52) and even more heavily discounted against the pack’s total value (saving buyers $130).

But the distinction between ‘Value’ of the package and ‘Price’ is obviously moot if the consumer perceives it as dishonest.

5. There is more than one tipping point in a deal

Throughout the week, we noticed that sales increased in waves, broken by periods of anxious waiting on our behalf.

Triggering the first wave was the hardest. But after the first purchaser took the plunge, each deal experienced an immediate jump in sales.

Shortly before the half-way point (half way to ‘tipping’), each deal suddenly doubled in sales. This perhaps can be attributed to the ‘sharable’ nature of the platform and the influence of the first wave.

Each deal also stalled slightly before reaching the tipping point. However, once they tipped, each deal experieced a third flurry of sales. Indeed, items bought for each deal increased from 25% to 100%.

We can only guess that this was prompted by three things.

Firstly, in each case, the ‘drought broke’ shortly before the imminent close of the deal. The deadline is likely to have prompted fence-sitters to get in on the deal while the deal was still available.

Secondly, customers who had already taken the plunge and purchased are likely to have developed a strong, even emotional desire to own the product or attend the event. As the deal neared completion, we can assume that these people — motivated by a fear that the deal might not go ahead — began to ‘push’ the deal on friends and colleagues.

Thirdly, once the deal tipped, any final buyer resistance is likely to have been removed from anyone hesitant or not yet familiar with the collective buying model.

How do we plan to accelerate these waves? We’re not sure yet. We might trial a ‘first five’ bonus. Any suggestions are welcome.

6. Selling B2B services is hard work!

Personally, I already had a pretty good understanding that the sale of B2B goods and services is a lot more difficult than your average restaurant meal or fake tan.

At almost every one of Anthill’s Online Marketing Masterclasses, I have been required to school someone that marketing B2B products is about isolating a customers ‘headache’ and offering to solve that ‘pain’, rather than push the purpose, benefits and functionality.

For example, you are unlikely to care if a company is “Australia’s leading provider of liquid transfer solutions” if you just want to get the water out of your flooded basement. You won’t give a hoot if an organisation “offers an end-to-end, fully integrated, fault identification and system replacement service” if you just want that damn virus gone from your laptop.

Last week, the universe schooled Anthill.

It was not until Wednesday — five days after launch — before we finally found the language to isolate the ‘headaches’ (and desires) of our deals.

Selling B2B products and services on one page — to an unfamiliar audience that is not already educated about the finer points of the ‘package’ or even looking for a solution — is part science and part black art.

In fact, this deserves a later article in its own right.

Final thoughts

As we explained in our launch email, it’s early days. The site is still coming together. But we have received expressions of interest from big business brands and little business brands. (Over 40, at last count.)

The site has not been keeping up with the traffic (crashing frequently) and navigating through pages can be awkward. And don’t get me started on SEO and some of the backend useability issues!

But, as I’ve said many times before, quoting Scott Handsaker, who quoted Mick Lubinskas, who probably was quoting someone else, “If you are not slightly embarrassed about your web product when you launch, you’re too late.” Fortunately, our embarrassment is easing.

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