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Oklahoman Business cover brief for July 4, 2019

OK rig count declines
Oklahoma’s rig count fell by five this week to 97 while the number of working rigs nationally also declined, Baker Hughes reported Wednesday.
The national working rig count fell by four to 963, down 89 from the 1,052 that were drilling the same week a year ago.Read more on NewsOK.com

20-40-60 Etiquette: Is it OK to still give compliments?

By Callie Athey, Lillie-Beth Brinkman and Helen Ford WallaceFor The OklahomanQUESTION: Has it become too personal to hand out compliments? I notice very few people tell others, particularly in the workplace, if they have done a good job, look nice or sincerely tell them something nice about themselvesRead more on NewsOK.com

Oklahoman Business cover briefs for June 29, 2019

OK rig count increases in state
Oklahoma’s rig count increased to 102 this week while the number of working rigs nationally remained unchanged, Baker Hughes reported Friday.
The national working rig count remained at 967, down 80 from the 1,047 that were drilling the same week a year ago.Read more on NewsOK.com

11 Sales Follow Up Emails That Work

Even with the adoption of tools for internal communication, like Slack, external business communication is still done mostly via email — including following up with prospects. A sales follow-up email is a delicate dance with the recipient. While you don’t want to fill up a prospect’s inbox with annoying messages, you do want to effectively get their attention.
The right message at the right time can make the sale. Check out the following sales follow-up email examples, and use cases for each one.
1. A trigger event occurred.
A trigger event is anything that suggests someone is considering your product/service. Maybe you notice that a prospect has signed up for your product’s free trial or your company newsletter. Or maybe you see that the prospect has opened another email you sent.
Whatever the case, quickly reach out with a sales follow up email to introduce yourself and offer something of value to the recipient.
Subject Line: “Looking for more information?”

Hi [Contact Name],
I noticed that you signed up for our free trial. I have some resources that are great for getting started with [Your Company Name]:
Resource 1Resource 2Resource 3
Also, please let me know if you have any questions or can’t find a certain feature. I’d be happy to help.
Best,
Tyler SmithAccount Executive – ChicagoXYZ Company

Subject Line: “[Prospect Name] [Your Company Name]”

Hi [Contact Name],
I hope all is well. I wanted to take a moment to talk about a big problem facing the logistics sector and how I can help you with [Pain Point].
Would you like me to set aside some time to go over any questions you may have? Would Monday or Tuesday work for you?
—-Tyler SmithAccount Executive – ChicagoXYZ Company

Tip: Following up right after a trigger event provides the perfect opportunity to naturally start a conversation with a prospect. And instead of just contributing to the clutter in your prospect’s inbox, offer information or freebies that can help them improve their business.
2. The intro has been made.
Almost 50% of reps never follow up with prospects. Whether you met the prospect at a networking event or they reached out, send a message as quickly as possible and further gauge their interest in your product/service.
If you’re sending a sales follow up email to someone you met at an event, do it one to two days afterward, while you can still recall what you may have learned about him or her and their level of interest. And here is a good rule of thumb for any follow-up email: Don’t overwhelm the reader with too much text. Be direct and summarize your main points.
Subject Line: “As promised, more info about [Your Company Name]”

Hi [Contact Name],
I enjoyed talking with you at [Event Name] and appreciate your interest in [Company Name].
As promised, I am sending information about [something specific you discussed at the event]. From my experience at [Your Company Name], I know that [Pain Point] is difficult for startups like yours. [Your Company Name] has worked with X number of companies to overcome these issues. I believe we could help [Prospect Company Name] do the same.
Would you be interested in a call to discuss your company’s needs in-depth? If so, would [Date, Time] work for you?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Best,Tyler SmithAccount Executive – ChicagoXYZ Company

Subject Line: “Thanks for your interest!”

Hi [Contact Name],
Thank you for reaching out. I would love to share more details about our product and how it matches [Prospect Company Name] needs. Is [Contact Number] the best way to reach you?
Best,Tyler SmithAccount Executive – ChicagoXYZ Company

Tip: Make it easy for prospects to respond to your requests for meetings. For example, include a link to your calendar or a scheduling tool like Calendly.
3. You’ve led a call or demo.
During your call or demo, give a reason to follow-up with the prospect and continue the conversation. For example, if the prospect asks about a certain product feature, answer the question, but let them know that you’ll provide more info via email. Provide more value than just a generic email saying “Checking in” or “Touching base.”
Subject Line: “Here is more info on [Specific Feature]”

Hi [Contact Name],
I enjoyed our conversation earlier. I am excited about the possibility of working with [Prospect Company Name] and assisting with [Pain Point].
As promised, attached is additional information about [Specific Feature]. Please let me know if you have any questions. Also, feel free to give me a call at [Your Number].
Best,
Tyler SmithAccount Executive – ChicagoXYZ Company

Hopefully, your meeting went well with the prospect. Take that positive tone and carry it over into your follow-up email (send right after your interaction). In it, outline next steps, and provide a clear CTA. What do you want the recipient to do? Make sure it’s clear.
Subject Line: “I enjoyed speaking with today!”

Hi [Contact Name],
Thanks so much for the call earlier today! I learned a lot about [Prospect Company Name], and I think there’s potential for doing something together.
If you’re interested, I can schedule a demo on [Date, Time]. Please let me know if you would like to move forward.
Best,
Tyler SmithAccount Executive – ChicagoXYZ Company

Even if your call or meeting went well, you might not hear back from a prospect immediately. Try picking up the phone instead. If you are sent to voicemail, send another follow-up email immediately.
Subject Line: “Sorry I missed you”

Hi [Contact Name],
I just tried calling you to [Give a reason for your call].
I’ll try back again on [Date, Time], but feel free to give me a call back on [Your Number] before then.
Thanks for your time!
Tyler SmithAccount Executive – ChicagoXYZ Company

Tip: Take notes during your interactions with the prospect. You can use these notes to personalize your follow-up emails and mention the details you discussed.
4. You sent the quote.
Following up with a prospect after sending a quote can be intimidating. It’s the moment of truth after all — will they or won’t they commit to your product or service? Be direct but not pushy. If you gave a verbal proposal, send a follow-up within 24 hours. If you sent it via email, wait a couple of days.
Subject Line: “Any questions?”

Hi [Contact Name],
I wanted to follow up and check in on the quote I sent on [Day], which covered the features we can offer [Prospect Company Name] to help you improve [Pain Point].
Can I answer any other questions?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Tyler SmithAccount Executive – ChicagoXYZ Company

Subject Line: “Proposal recap”

Hi [Contact Name],
I’m following up to see if you received my quote outlining the features and price of our product/service? As a reminder, our software package would include:
FeatureFeatureFeaturePrice
Do you have any questions?
I look forward to hearing from you!
—-Tyler SmithAccount Executive – ChicagoXYZ Company

Tip: Remind the prospect of the tangible benefits they’ll receive if they purchase your product/service.
5. Only crickets have responded to your last email.
If you hear only crickets after sending a follow-up email, don’t be discouraged. Waiting for replies takes patience. Maybe they missed your past emails or are on the fence about your offer. Send your prospect a reminder.
Subject Line: “Still interested?”

Hi [Contact Name],
I haven’t heard from you since I reached out on [Date, Time]. I wanted to reach out again and check your interest in our product and improving [Pain Point].
Let me know if you have any concerns. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions.
Best,
—-Tyler SmithAccount Executive – ChicagoXYZ Company

If worse comes to worst and you haven’t received a response to your third follow-up, try the following message to create a sense of urgency.
Subject Line: “Close your file?”

Hi [Contact Name],
Unfortunately, my company is cleaning our sales pipeline. Since I haven’t heard from you, I assume that you are no longer interested or don’t have a need for [Your Company Name].
If that is the case, is it OK to close your file? If you are still interested, what would be the next step?
I appreciate your help.
—-Tyler SmithAccount Executive – ChicagoXYZ Company

Tip: Your sales email subject line matters. As with the examples above, craft your subject line to grab the reader’s attention, especially if they haven’t been responding to your other emails. Shorter subject lines (no more than 50 characters) are typically more effective.
Be strategic with your sales follow-up emails
A great way to keep track of each sales follow-up email is through your CRM. For example, Sell’s CRM allows you to send your emails directly through the platform and categorize responses. It also helps you avoid sending embarrassing duplicate emails. You can use follow-up templates on the platform or insert your own so you don’t have to start from scratch every time.

In addition, use CRM integrations like Mailchimp to analyze the best time to send each email. The best send time will depend on your audience (we recommend customer segmentation to source this info), but a Mailchimp study found that the optimal send time peaked at 10 a.m. in the recipients’ time zones. Experiment with sending your sales follow-up emails in the mornings.
Combine the tips with the examples above to follow up with prospects like a sales pro!

Content Marketing Lead-Gen: Reboot Your Agency’s Program in 10 Steps

Get more leads by rebooting your content marketing!
Frustrated that content marketing isn’t generating leads for your agency?
You’re not alone—a lot of agency leaders report their content program doesn’t work.
However, when I dig deeper in our consulting, the lead-gen problems are often obvious.
Where Agencies Struggle with Content
I see things like generic or otherwise irrelevant content, channels that don’t meet the target market’s preferences, or inconsistent content. (And often, the agency is unclear on their target market in the first place.)
Your agency’s content marketing program should help rather than hurt your lead-gen. Your blog doesn’t help if you haven’t updated it in a year. Your social media accounts don’t help if they’re dormant. And the world doesn’t need another “Top 10 Pinterest Tips.”
As I shared earlier this year, your agency’s content marketing should incorporate three things to actually generate leads. Specifically:

Offer Solutions to your target market’s important problems.
Deliver your advice via Channels your audience prefers.
Choose tactics you can deliver with Consistency.

What’s the fix? Be strategic about your content marketing… and then follow the 10 steps in this article to operationalize your reboot!
10 Steps to Operationalize Your Content Reboot
Once you’ve committed to Solutions, Channels, and Consistency, it’s time to operationalize the strategy.
Follow these 10 steps as you implement your content marketing reboot!
1) Rally a subteam to lead your agency’s content marketing efforts.
2) Set lead-gen goals and metrics.
3) Define (or refine) your target client persona(s).
4) Compare your prospective clients’ core problems to identify which ones you can help them solve.
5) Build an internal repository of client problems and solutions.
6) Compare your target clients’ preferred channels to what your agency can deliver.
7) Divide the workload between the team, while designating someone to be the “integrator” for everything.
8) Make it “safe” for employees to spend time on agency self-marketing… even as it takes them away from the tantalizingly billable work they know you’d rather they be doing.
9) Adapt and execute as you learn more about what your audience really cares about.
10) Throughout the process, incorporate ways to convert content consumers into email subscribers, to support your marketing automation followup efforts.
Ready to dig deeper? Share this 2,500-word article with your team, to help them help you… and read on!
Dig Deeper: Content Marketing for Lead-Gen
Let’s take a closer look at each of those 10 steps, to help you make it all happen.
1) Rally a subteam to help.
Enlist your team; you’ll struggle if you try to do all of the content marketing alone.
How should you divide the workload? It depends on what you want to do vs. where you need your team’s help. (For specific examples, see #7 below.)
Your growth style preference matters, too—if you lean toward running a Lifestyle agency, you probably want to be the primary thought leader; if you lean toward building an Equity agency to sell, that’s less critical.
Importantly, recognize that the subteam’s billables will drop as they focus on your self-marketing. (Run the numbers, but someone needs to be doing your marketing.)
2) Set lead-gen goals and metrics.
Now that you have the team down, consider your goals and metrics.
For most agencies, this is about growing subscriber count, or about the number of MQLs (marketing qualified leads) generated on a weekly or monthly basis. You might also consider what percentage of MQLs turn into SQLs (sales qualified leads). After all, some subscribers are your competitors—not future prospects.
One of my new clients wants more leads, to support his agency’s sales growth goals. To start, we defined a baseline metric of 3-5 SQLs a month; the target metric is 10 SQLs a month (deadline TBD). We’ll ultimately use a range of approaches to improve that monthly figure—but importantly, we’re on the same page about the key performance indicator (KPI).
When your goal is lead-gen, avoid focusing on vanity metrics (things like follower count and pageviews), and instead, focus on the actual leads generated. (It’s useful to consider MQLs as a proportion of site traffic, but don’t forget the goal is leads rather than unique visitors.)
Likewise, try to avoid focusing on difficult-to-calculate metrics. If someone has to spend five hours a month manually calculating something, that’s probably not an ideal metric.
Metrics work when everyone’s on the same page about what “qualifies” a contact to be in each stage. You don’t want to be arguing each month about whether a set of leads “counts.”
3) Define (or refine) your target client persona(s).
A client mentioned “focusing” on seven types of clients, each of which had 1-3 personas (e.g., CEO vs. CMO of a SaaS tech startup would count as two within the one company-type). This translated to 15-20 individual target personas. That’s not ideal; you can’t successfully focus on 15-20 different targets at once.
Within each target persona, consider what defines them as a segment (e.g., job title, company size, industry vertical) and consider what their biggest problems are.
Many agencies use target personas that read like a “bio” of a hypothetical person; that’s fine, but be sure you talk about the problems that hypothetical person faces—and the channels they use to keep up with advice to make their job easier. (More on that in #4 and #6.)
4) Review each persona’s core problems.
What are your target personas’ core problems? (Hint: Your content should be helping them solve those problems.)
When agencies struggle here, I find it’s often because their content is targeted to themselves rather than their clients. For example:

Dev shops care deeply about APIs and UX trends… but your clients don’t. Stop writing about JavaScript libraries; instead, talk about things like the business benefits of rapid prototyping.
Content agencies care deeply about copywriting shortcuts, workflow tweaks, and metadata… but your clients don’t. Instead, talk about things like how client-side workflow tweaks can help them launch things faster.
PR agencies care deeply about media relations and influencer marketing… but your clients don’t. Instead of sharing tips on using media monitoring software, talk about what to do when one of their competitors has a crisis, or how they can help you in building relationships with journalists.

When in doubt, trace your solutions back to the underlying business problems(s) your clients are trying to solve. What gets them a bonus or a promotion? (Help them do more of that.) What would get them fired? (Help them avoid that.) Consider the “Jobs to be Done” framework.
Not sure about what their problems are in the first place? You need to do some Customer Development research to figure that out; otherwise, you’re creating content and sending it out into the void.
5) Build a repository of client problems and solutions.
You and your team are solving client problems all day long. Like my “article starter” concept above, your email replies, phone conversations, and discovery sessions are all fodder for future content.
Yet most agencies don’t have a good place to track all of those problems and solutions, which makes creating content harder. You’ll want to genericize the solutions, since you’re creating content for the persona rather than the specific original client.
What’s the right central repository? Find something that fits your agency’s existing workflow. Maybe it’s a dedicated internal “project” within your project management system. Maybe it’s a Google Doc or (even better) a sortable Google Sheet.
Having the repository isn’t enough—you want people to update it as they encounter suitable problems and solutions. This may require finding an approach that’s easy for most of your team, but difficult for the one person who’s consolidating things—for instance, forward an email to your marketing coordinator, and then the coordinator adds things to the repository.
6) Compare clients’ preferred channels to what you can deliver.
As I noted in #3, you ideally know how your clients keep up with industry trends, shortcuts, and other news and ideas to make life easier. Here, I’m using “channel” in a broad sense—referring to both platforms as well as delivery formats.
Favorite “channel” preferences will vary by persona. For example:

Marketers are active on Twitter… but non-marketers are less likely to be there.
Clients in field services—where they’re at job sites all day, like owners of pest control or landscaping firms—aren’t likely to read a long blog post, but they might watch a short, informative video on their iPad while waiting for a customer that’s running late.
Clients who are super-technical are likely to want to read that long-form blog post, because they’ll be thinking about the lack of citations in your 3-minute video.

But it’s not enough to know the channels—you need to identify the channels your agency can execute consistently. For instance:

Hate writing? Blogging probably isn’t your best choice, even if your target persona likes reading articles. (Although you can enlist your team’s help—for instance, you “ideate” a post, the team writes it, and you confirm the final version.)
Hate being on-camera? A video blog probably isn’t the right choice, even if your target market loves video. (Although whiteboard videos, explainers, and other formats may be a match.)
Never can meet an internal deadline? Don’t launch a weekly newsletter; once you start, it hurts you to be inconsistent. (I’ve missed sending my newsletter only twice since 2013—once due to a technical glitch and once due to a hospitalization.)

You may need to do some Customer Development research to understand this better. (Start by asking your favorite current clients!)
7) Divide the workload between the team.
As they say in EOS, you might be the Visionary here—but someone needs to be the Integrator for everything.
Someone needs to lead the overall strategy—including initially refining the target persona(s). After that, someone needs to manage the editorial calendar. Someone needs to create the content, too—and likely multiple people, given the different skillsets (and topics) involved.
In my case, I defined the target persona several years ago (with my team’s help). I set the editorial calendar and write all of the from-scratch blog posts.
Another team member—the marketing project coordinator—proofreads my work, drafts email newsletters, and schedules things after my “sounds like Karl” QA review. One person is responsible for all of those steps; the specific person has varied over time, but cross-training means that someone could help temporarily in an emergency.
To help me write faster, I’ve started doing what I call “article starters”—where I answer a specific client’s question, and then forward the email to my [under NDA] marketing project coordinator, typically with a note on my recommended angle. She drafts a blog post based on my advice, removes client-identifiable details, and slots the post into the editorial calendar. I still need to make a number of updates, but it’s a lot easier than starting entirely from scratch.
If you don’t like writing (or designing infographics, or shooting video), you’ll need to enlist team members to handle the parts you don’t like.
8) Make it “safe” for employees to spend time on self-marketing
Everyone at your agency should have a billable hours target, and they should know their target. When people are involved in your self-marketing, be sure to reduce their target accordingly.
Can’t spare the billable hours? OK, hire a contractor; their fees are likely less than the Opportunity Cost of your employees’ potential billables.
Can’t afford to pay a contractor to do marketing? You’re in trouble; you might be approaching—or already stuck in—the Agency Doldrums. Someone needs to be doing marketing, or else your sales pipeline will go dry.
For the most part, my marketing team members aren’t also doing billable work. This makes it easier for them to focus on lead-gen support and other self-marketing efforts.
When I do marketing—instead of billable work—it’s because I recognize that it’s part of my job as a business owner. I recognize and accept that I’ll be doing self-marketing until I retire.
A couple weeks ago, I was sorting through a sizable sales backlog… but I still executed on new marketing activities, because I don’t want my pipeline to be weak in six months.
Don’t like “Always be marketing” or “Always be selling“? Consider whether you really want to be running a business; those should get easier, but they won’t disappear.
9) Execute, iterate, and adapt.
We don’t have all the answers… but we can get better with practice. Execute, iterate, and adapt.

I do A/B tests on every newsletter send (technically, multi-variate since it’s five subject options), since I don’t magically “know” the most resonant subject line. By tracking the performance of each subject line—and comparing results over time—I can see what resonates and what doesn’t.
Which pieces of content are most popular (by lead conversions, by overall readership, by social shares)? Google Analytics and other tools can help… if you review and act on what you see.
Trying to find the right language? You can do the “run PPC campaigns” test. But don’t discount in-person discussions at a conference; nothing exposes a shaky “what do you do?” response like seeing five people in a row looking confused at what you said.

You’ll find your solutions become more on-point, too.
How do you know it’s working? Well, lead-gen will be up, of course. But you’ll also hear things from people, along the lines of: “It was as if you wrote that just for me!” or “Were you listening to our last internal meeting?”
10) Get content-consumers onto your email list.
As I note in my Inbound Branding strategy, content isn’t just about sharing and promotion—it’s also about marketing automation, to help you stay in front of people.
That is to say—get people on your list (and otherwise subscribed). You may not get a second chance! As one of my speaking coaches noted, “The audience will never love you more than the moment you walk off the stage.”
For instance:

Each of my blog posts includes a newsletter signup call-to-action (CTA). The CTA is often specific to the topic.
When I do guest posts or appear on a podcast episode, I have some sort of audience CTA to encourage people to sign up for more.
When I do public speaking, I have a call-to-action (often with a special, topic-specific signup premium) that typically gets a 15-30% opt-in rate.

Throughout the process, find and act on ways to convert content consumers into email subscribers, to support your followup efforts.
Moving Forward at Your Agency
Remember, you don’t have to do all the work—but you have to lead the charge. Set the agenda… and then recruit your team to help.
And if you don’t have an active marketing automation program—an email newsletter, at minimum—fix that; you’re missing a key opportunity to stay in front of prospects.
Question: How will your agency use these 10 steps to get more leads via content marketing?

The Importance of — and How to Calculate — Lifetime Customer Value

Lifetime customer value, also called customer lifetime value (CLV), is one of the most important metrics out there. The logic is self-explanatory, so we won’t belabor it because you’re all smart people, but the bouncing ball goes like this:

You spend money to acquire new customers.
You also spend money to retain existing ones.
The acquisition of new customers typically costs 4-5x more than retention.
CLV gives you a baseline for how much revenue you can expect from a customer over time.
Understanding CLV helps you increase both revenue and profitability.

Forbes has even called it “the only metric that matters.” And while it’s a few years old by now, we actually did a “Whiteboard Wednesday” on the CLV topic back in the day.
How do you calculate CLV for mobile?
This can vary by organization and app monetization models, but here’s a general formula to consider:

Here’s what everything represents:

CLTV: Customer lifetime value

ARPU: Average revenue per user (a representation of monetization)

1/Churn: The inverse of your churn rate (a representation of retention)

Referral value: The sum value of new users that a customer refers to your app

To get each of the inputs, you’d do this:

ARPU: Take the total app revenue generated in a given period and divide it by the number of users in that same period.

Churn: Take the number of customers lost in a given period and divide that by the number of customers at the start of the period.

1/Churn: Let’s say the churn rate is 25%, or .25. 1 divided by .25 is 4, meaning the predicted lifespan for users on a 25% churn rate is 4 months.

Referrals: This is harder to track because it involves insanely specific math, but you can look for the average amount of referrals that an app user has brought in, then multiply that by the individual revenue contribution, which is ARPU x {1/Churn}. This math can get tricky for most mobile marketers, so you can also plug “zero” into the formula above and work the system that way.

OK, so now we know how to calculate it … how do we improve it?
At the most basic level, you’d improve customer lifetime value by having an app user stick around longer and do more with the app. In order to get a customer to that point and not on a four-month churn, you would need:

Personalization
A moderate to high degree of relevant content
Intuitive onboarding so they don’t just immediately abandon the app
Relevant push content

Of these, personalization is the most important. While many brands still operate on broadcast messaging or broadcast with some degree of A/B work, customers are increasingly frustrated by that. If you’ve already bought a pair of jeans or a hotel in Cincinnati, who wants to get a push notification about that? It shows the app doesn’t know you and that can lead to disengagement, which kills customer lifetime value.
Also to consider: an omnichannel strategy. We talk about this with clients all the time, and one of the easiest ways to conceptualize it is this: Let’s say you buy a pair of jeans on the web, then you get a push notification to buy those jeans on mobile. Are you frustrated right now? Yes. You just bought those jeans! Each functional silo of your business needs to be speaking to the other ones.
There’s another mathematical rub here, and we need to bring in more acronyms:

CAC: Customer Acquisition Cost

CPI: Cost Per Install, or Ad Spend divided by the number of new users tied to ad spend

As a general rule of thumb, this is how you want CLV and CAC to interact:

If CLV is higher, invest more in marketing, including app install ads.
If CLV is lower, do not invest in marketing right now and work to better your CLV first.

Makes sense. If the lifetime value of a customer is below that of the cost to acquire the customer, your app will lose money — and maybe even by the boatload. But if lifetime value is higher, it’s totally logical to spend on campaigns to drive install awareness.
What else have you seen done successfully around mobile CLV?

Year-round sales of gasoline mixed with 15% ethanol OK’d

By MARGERY A. BECKThe Associated PressOMAHA, Neb. — The Trump administration is following through on a plan to allow year-round sales of gasoline mixed with 15% ethanol, though some say the move is undercut by a policy that gives oil refineries waivers allowing them to use reduced levels of the additive.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced the change Friday, ending a summertime ban on the E15 blend imposed out of concerns for increased smog from the higher ethanol blend. Read more on NewsOK.com

Texas lawmakers OK gun storage effort over NRA objection

By Jim VertunoThe Associated PressAUSTIN, Texas — Lawmakers in gun-loving Texas have quietly gone around the National Rifle Association by slipping language into a massive spending bill that would fund a $1 million public safety campaign on gun storage.
The last-minute move late Sunday sets up a political test rarely seen in Texas for Republican Gov.Read more on NewsOK.com

How to Decide Which Online Sales Channel to Sell Your Products On

Whether you want to sell handcrafted soaps or the latest tech gadgets online, there’s no shortage of sales channels to choose from. From Amazon to WooCommerce, each ecommmerce platform comes with its own set of unique features to help you manage your business well.
There’s only one problem: Some online sales channels offer design templates and fulfillment outsourcing while others offer product auctions and multiple pricing options.
When you’re looking for the right platform, there’s a lot of information to wade through, so we’ve put together this guide to help make your decision process a little easier. You don’t have to settle on a platform because that’s where the masses choose to sell their wares. Instead, you can choose a platform based on your specific needs.
To help you get started, let’s look at how to figure out what you need from an online sales channel and then at how to choose a platform based on these needs.
Create clear objectives to focus your search
Instead of settling for a popular platform, figure out what type of support you need and how you plan to use the platform. For example, some channels use templates to make design simple and to make sure all listings, regardless of the seller, look the same.

These watches are sold by different Amazon sellers, but the listings all look similar. This is based on listing templates that all Amazon sellers have to use.
This might work for you if you want the benefits of having your products listed on a reputable, high-traffic site. But if you want more flexibility to showcase your brand’s unique style, a channel that lets you customize your online store might be a better fit.

[Source] 49th Parallel Coffee uses Shopify to list its products and has the flexibility to use branding to showcase its coffee.
Figuring out your specific, individual needs means your search for an online sales channel is more focused. You’re more likely to find a platform with the right mix of features and support to help you manage your business exactly how you want. For example, if customization is important to you, look for platforms that offer the most design flexibility.
To help you figure out what you need from an online sales channel, here are five key criteria to consider. Each of these will help you compare platforms to find the one that works for you:

Platform features. Think about what features are important to you. Do you want to manage listings, reporting, and fulfillment in one place, or are you OK with connecting external apps to your store?
Design flexibility and usability. Think about your skill level and how much energy you want to put toward building and maintaining your store. Are you OK with rolling up your sleeves and building from scratch, or would you rather have a simple drag-and-drop tool?
Fulfillment options. Think about what types of fulfillment options you need. Depending on the size of your store, do you want to package and mail orders on your own, or do you want to outsource those tasks?
Competitive landscape. Think about the types of products you’re going to sell. Keep in mind that not all products sell well on all platforms. You want to use a platform that will give you exposure to your target audience.
Price. Consider how much you want to spend on an online sales channel. Some platforms have monthly subscription fees but give you access to premium features. Other platforms are free, but a lot of brands compete on it.

Based on these needs and any new ones you add, use your answers to compare the platforms you’re interested in. Here are a few examples of how to use this list to compare some of the most popular online sales channels: Amazon, eBay, Shopify, WooCommerce, and social media.

Amazon: The trusted ecommerce leader
Amazon is a platform that lets third-party vendors sell a wide range of products on the platform. It’s seen tremendous growth over the years, becoming the leading online sales channel. Millions of brands use Amazon to sell their products, and in 2018, 19% of professional sellers made more than $1 million is sales. Amazon has become the go-to place for both new and established brands to flock to. This makes sense, considering Amazon had 2.63 billion visits by shoppers in January 2019.

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But selling on Amazon isn’t all a bed of roses. If you’re just starting out, chances are you aren’t banking millions in revenue — unless you’re selling the next must-have product. For this reason, Amazon is better suited for larger, more established brands that have a strong marketing strategy and lots of traffic to their products.
Does Amazon meet your needs?

Platform features. Amazon makes selling easy for sellers. For example, if you sell products throughout North America and South America, Amazon lets you select which products customers have access to, based on demographics. With the platform, you can also customize your shipping rates based on where you ship to and can sell products based on their condition — for instance, new, used, refurbished, or collectible.
Design flexibility and usability. There are strict guidelines for how sellers post their products. All product pages have the same look and feel to create a uniformity across the platform. Even as a third-party seller, your products don’t look any different from Amazon products. If you’re still growing your brand, this feature adds credibility to your products.
Fulfillment options. You have two options: You can ship orders yourself or take advantage of the Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) program and have packaging and shipping outsourced. This is helpful if you have a lot of inventory and products sold frequently. FBA also controls quality, so it doesn’t matter how many customers you have — they all have the same experience. FBA also helps you scale your business; some sellers experience a 30-50% increase in sales.
Competitive landscape. From baby products to electronics to pet supplies, there are 21 product categories to choose from. This means that there’s a wide range of sellers and competition on the platform. Using keywords and high-quality images is the first step in making it easier to find your products.
Price. There are two plans to choose from, depending on how many products you want to list and sell. Keep in mind that referral fees and variable closing fees apply to both of these plans:

The Individual plan doesn’t have a monthly fee which is good is you only plan on listing a few products to begin with. There is, however, a selling fee of $0.99 for every item you sell.
The Professional plan has a monthly subscription price of $39.99 that lets you list as many products as you want a month.

The verdict
While small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can benefit from the exposure Amazon offers, with more than 20 product categories and 12 million products listed, there’s a lot of competition on the platform. It’s possible your target audience won’t even see your products when they research their purchase.
eBay: The auction-style choice for unique products
Unlike other online sales channels, eBay uses a traditional list-and-sell format as well as an auction-style approach to sell products. To auction your products, create a listing and add a reserve price or opening bid. Set the price low to get interest and views so that you increase your chances of attracting higher bids compared with selling products at a set price.

eBay is great for sellers who want the benefits of a marketplace but also want the flexibility to run their stores the way they want. eBay lets sellers manage their own shipping rates, delivery and tracking, and return policy.
Does ebay meet your needs?

Platform features. eBay offers several features to make sure you build a store that meets your needs. For example, sellers can get up to 50 free listings per month, enhanced mobile browsing, and seller protection. What’s also great about eBay is that it regularly shares feature and fee updates. That way, you’re always aware of what options are available for you to try.
Design flexibility and usability. eBay gives you the flexibility to manage your store however you want, but there are guidelines for how to post and list your products. Listing requires only a few steps, but the guidelines make sure your listing follows eBay’s standards.
Fulfillment options. It’s your responsibility to manage your shipping options and the fulfillment afterward. For example, you decide if you’ll use flat-rate shipping; shipping based on destination, package size, and weight; or pickup for local customers. eBay even lets you print your own shipping labels and ship through USPS or FedEx.
Competitive landscape. There are nine main categories and multiple subcategories. As of March 2019, there were 1.2 billion listings available and 180 million active buyers. To get noticed, your products and messaging have to cater to specific niches. There’s a lot to compete with, but eBay lets customer filter their searches so they can find exactly what they’re looking for.
Price. When you list products, there are multiple listing fees to account for. For example, there’s an insertion fee that ranges from free to $20, depending on what types of products you list. There are also final-value fees that are based on the price of your products. This can range from 2% to 10% of the total sales amount, with maximum caps from $300 to $750.

The verdict
This online sales channel is ideal for sellers with in-demand products like vintage goods, collectibles, and other unique products that sell well based on the auction-style approach.
Shopify: The one-stop shop for sellers
Whether you’re selling sporting equipment or jewelry, Shopify makes it easy for you to get everything you need on one site. Shopify lets you

create a brand style and logo;
access more than 70 themes to build your website;
buy a custom domain;
access free stock images to personalize your store;
list and sell products;
run ads to draw traffic to your store; and
manage payments and fulfillment.

It’s a one-stop shop for sellers who want to simplify their ecommerce experience with a tool that’s robust enough to let them customize their store, but simple enough to manage.

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Plus, Shopify continues to evolve to make it easier for sellers to grow their businesses over time. For example, Shopify offers sellers free tools, such as a gift-card template, an invoice generator, and shipping labels that can be integrated into any site.
Does Shopify meet your needs?

Platform features. The exact features you have access to depends on the plan you purchase. For example, larger plans give you access to gift-card creation and management, a custom report-builder tool, and an SSL certificate. Shopify caters to businesses of all sizes by offering more general features, such as the following:

Unlimited listings
Fraud analysis
Discount codes
Unique integrations
Drop-shipping services

Design flexibility and usability. Like many of the options on this list, Shopify gives you the option to design your store to look the way you want it to. There’s also a drag-and-drop builder to make customization quick and easy. You can also set up your dashboard to help you do anything from calculating shipping rates to printing shipping labels to running revenue analysis without having to leave the site.
Fulfillment options. You have the option to fulfill your orders by yourself or use FBA. The option you choose depends on how many products you’re shipping per month. The more you ship, the more it makes sense to use FBA so that you can focus on other parts of your business where you can add value. For example, if you manufacture your own products, this might mean spending more time with product development and testing.
Competitive landscape. As of February 2019, Shopify was hosting over 800,000 sellers on its platform. Just like Amazon, there are many different product categories, and thousands of sellers within each one. Stand out by building a strong brand reputation and customer support, build a unique website that gets people sharing and talking about it, and speak to the pain points your niche audience experiences.
Price. There are three plans to choose from, and what you choose depends on your needs because features differ between plans. The Advanced Shopify Plan gives you the most features, but it also gives you bigger savings on shipping rates:

Basic Shopify Lite Plan: $29/mo.
Shopify Plan: $79/mo.
Advanced Shopify Plan: $299/mo.

The verdict
Shopify is great for new brands that don’t want to bother with connecting multiple platforms to make their store run. Use Shopify if you want a platform that’s easy to use and has the ability to support you as you grow.
WooCommerce: The “Do It Yourself” option
WooCommerce is a plugin designed to work with WordPress. The plugin gives sellers maximum flexibility to build their store their way. Simply choose from one of thousands of WordPress templates, based on the look and feel you’re going for, and use WooCommerce to customize anything from how your products are displayed to where you ship to.

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WooCommerce works for small and large businesses alike. Whether you sell handmade products or own a growing subscription-based business, WooCommerce can handle it all with its product-listing features. For example, you can list products individually, group together similar products to sell variations of the same product, or set up subscription billing for customers.
The main drawback with using WooCommerce on WordPress is the initial setup. Because of the amount of flexibility WooCommere gives you, there are lots of settings to update. For example, there are lots of subcategories in tax and shipping settings. The good news is, once you’ve set up your store, there isn’t much for you to do, other than update your listings and process orders.
Does WooCommerce meet your needs?

Platform features. WooCommerce is very robust and can be customized to meet very specific needs, like setting the currency in the country you’re located in. To meet the needs of small to large businesses, the WooCommerce plugin comes with features like

preinstalled payment gateways, such as PayPal and Stripe;
geo-location-enabled taxes;
discount coupon and code options;
automatic tax calculation; and
customizable cart notices to keep customers informed during the checkout process.

Design flexibility and usability. There’s 100% flexibility to design a store based on your specific needs. For example, if you want to establish social proof, you can add the option for customers to add reviews to each of your products. Depending on what additional features you want your store to display, like a contact page, some additional free plugins and simple short code is required on the back end. Because not all sellers are also tech developers, WooCommerce also offers a massive video and resource library to help you troubleshoot and learn more about the platform.
Fulfillment options. You or your team is responsible for order fulfillment, but WooCommerce helps by letting you integrate apps into your store, such as ShipStation for mailing. If you have an existing ShipStation account, you can connect it to your WooCommerce store. Then, every time a new order comes in, ShipStation automatically updates with customer details so that all you have to do is print the shipping label. It’s a real time-saver.
Competitive landscape. As of January 2019, estimates put the total number of websites using WooCommerce at over 2.9 million. It accounts for 22% of the top 1 million ecommerce sites. Since stores powered by WooCommerce are custom made vs. on a marketplace like Amazon, you’re not necessarily guaranteed a steady stream of traffic and income. You’re simply competing against other stores in your niche. To get your products noticed, you need advertising, a strong content marketing strategy, and a good social media presence.
Price. The WooCommerce plugin is free to use, but to customize your site, you’ll have to buy additional products. For example:

WooCommerce Pre-Orders lets your customers order products before they’re released: $129.
WooCommerce Subscriptions lets you offer subscription products: $199.
Product Bundles lets you offer custom product bundles to customers: $49.

The verdict
WooCommerce is a great option for sellers who already have a WordPress site and want the flexibility to build their store from scratch to meet their unique needs and specifications.
Social media: The evolution of online selling
As more people spend time on social media, these platforms are making it easier to shop and buy in one place. For example, sellers on Pinterest can use Shop the Look Pins to promote products to users. Instagram recently introduced Product Tags that let users buy products they discover on the platform. Facebook Marketplace lets small, early-stage sellers post and sell their products.

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Social media has become a contender in the online sales channel space because it caters to where audiences spend a lot of time. There’s no need to disrupt their browsing experience when they’re on social media. With a few taps, your audience gets what they need.
Depending on your audience, if they engage with you on social media through comments, shares, and likes and by posting user-generated content (UGC) in response to your campaigns, focus your efforts on making their shopping experience easier.
Does social media meet your needs?

Platform features. This depends on the platform, but, in general, Facebook Ads Manager lets you create ads on Facebook and Instagram at the same time, and Pinterest lets you create boards that focus on customer interests to gain followers and traffic back to your Shopify or WooCommerce site. You can engage with followers in real time; they don’t have to wait for a text or email from you.
Design flexibility and usability. You can use social media to draw traffic back to your website. What’s great about social is you can create custom messaging, images, and pins to attract attention. For example, for a new product release, you can add a series of product images to Instagram, add shoppable product tags, and close the sale. You can even use tools like Hootsuite and Buffer to automatically schedule your posts.
Fulfillment options. Payments are processed through the social media sites with the help of tools like Stripe. You receive a payment and then send the ordered products the way you normally would.
Competitive landscape. This depends on the products you sell and on your audience. For example, Pinterest reaches 83% of its female users between the ages of 25-54, and many of the products on the site are home decor and fashion items. Other brands that cater to this audience with a similar product mix pose a real threat only if they’re also actively using social media to target the same audience. Use ads and search engine optimization (SEO) tactics to stand out and get noticed.
Price. The best part of using social media as an online sales channel is that these platforms are free to use. Simply set up a business account on each one to get access to ecommerce features.

The verdict
Social media is a solid online sales channel for sellers with a large social media following. Making it easier for your audience to buy your products makes it easier for you to make more sales.
Choosing the right online sale channel
Choosing the right channel to sell on helps growth happen naturally over time. You get comfortable using it and take advantage of more features. This is opposed to choosing an online sale channel that isn’t a good fit and leaves you feeling frustrated.
Since each platform has perks and benefits, and sellers integrate completely with them, choosing a platform to sell on isn’t something to take lightly. Take the time to figure out what you need in order to grow and thrive, and then look for platforms that support that.