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Where the internet fits in your business

Using the internet is not just about building a web site and will not provide a quick solution to increased sales on its own. The internet is a business tool that needs to be used in conjunction with the long-term strategy of your company’s overall business.

With a web site your company can:

  • increase product awareness;
  • sell your products direct;
  • generate and qualify leads;
  • improve customer service;
  • gather feedback by creating customer databases (this provides the ability to record and analyse customer information);
  • decrease sales support, marketing and training costs as the business only needs to enter information once to target a wide customer base - it replaces the need to produce hard copy marketing material although many businesses still use hard copy materials to complement online communication flow with their customers;
  • expand distribution and reduce the supply chain link allowing cost savings and the ability to directly target customers without having to operate through intermediaries; and
  • communicate with customers and partners.

It is important to note that traditional methods of in-market communication are still widely used. There is still strength in having the support of an in-market distributor or a representative office working personally with your customers in your key markets of operation. The ability to make a local telephone call or visit can be enhanced, not replaced, by internet communication.

Is the internet right for my business?

The key factor will be to determine if the internet is right for your business, as marketing online does not deliver results for all companies. If your business is already trading well through conventional channels then your internet activity should enable further growth in sales. However, if you are not operating well through traditional means then the internet will not necessarily present a fast solution to increasing sales.

It is important to define who and where your customers are. Here are some broad questions to get you started. If you are unable to answer them, then you may need to do some more work before you consider the internet.

  • What distinguishes you from your competitors?
  • What makes your customers come back to you?
  • What is most important to your customers?
  • Are your customers online? If not then invest elsewhere.
  • Are your competitors online? If so, has the internet helped their businesses?
  • Does your product lend itself to direct sales? Internet selling does not suit all products and services. Generally, the following “low touch” products sell well on the Internet: Computer hardware and software; CD-Rom; Books; Some sports equipment; Services such as airline ticketing, newspapers, insurance, banking services. The following “high touch” products do not sell well on the Internet: Clothing; Shoes; Perishable grocery items. If your products fall in the second category, use the internet for marketing rather than selling.
  • How does your supply chain work? Do you have the distribution and/or resources to handle internet customers?
  • Does your company sell to regional or national customers? If your business is strictly local, will internet marketing help meet business goals?

Do not develop a web site without reasonable, business-oriented goals. Selling through the internet will not change the basics of running a good business. If you want to be successful you still have to consider the following:

Start with a business strategy. The other basics of business apply:

  • Make yourself known.
  • Make and deliver the product, or perform the service.
  • Be aware of and meet your customers’ expectations.
  • Get paid for doing business.
  • Fund your business and pay your bills.
  • Run the business efficiently and plan for the future.

Before your company deploys a web site, define specific objectives to determine the stage where your business is at present. Key questions to consider are:

  • What are your goals?
  • Who are your target customers? Are they business professionals familiar with information technology or are they computer novices?
  • How does the internet fit into your company’s plans? Are you expanding into new regions? Are you selling new products?
  • How will the internet change your business? Be prepared for new ways of working and adapt to these changes. For example, the internet is shortening the buying cycle because customers now search choices online, visiting consumer outlets only when they wish to negotiate price.
  • What is your budget for online marketing? Web sites can be developed for as little as KES.35,000 but you must not forget there will be additional hosting, maintenance and promotion costs.
  • Spend time on the internet looking at competitors’ web sites and searching companies in your business category. Ask yourself what does and does not work for you as a user. What catches your attention? What frustrates you? What makes you return to certain web sites repeatedly?

Key steps in the planning process

Providing your reason for using the internet as a selling medium fits cohesively with the overall strategic direction and marketing plan of your company, it can be a powerful tool to build a stronger business by expanding the geographical coverage of your business’ customer base.

Here are the key steps to define where internet selling could fit in your business:

  1. Define your short and long term business strategy.
  2. Define your target audience.
  3. Define your objectives for online marketing.
  4. Define online ways to help you achieve your objectives.

STEP 1: Define your short and long term business strategy.

What is your overall marketing strategy and which parts do you want your online marketing to address? This could include:

  • acquiring new customers;
  • retaining existing customers;
  • reactivating former customers;
  • customer service;
  • branding; and
  • extending your geographical coverage.

STEP 2: Define your target audience.

Who are your target customers? These could include:

  • potential and existing customers;
  • resellers;
  • staff; and

What market segments are you targeting for your products? These could include: Retail; Wholesale, Mail order.

STEP 3: Define your objectives for online marketing.

What do you want online marketing to achieve for your business? This could include:

  • reducing cost of sales or servicing by x%;
  • generating x positive leads and increasing sales by x%;
  • building knowledge through customer research by conducting customer surveys online;
  • building email lists for direct marketing; and
  • building brand awareness by x%.

STEP 4: Define online ways to help you achieve your objectives.

These could include:

  • developing a corporate brochure online;
  • providing your customers with product/catalogue information online;
  • providing full e-commerce facilities online through an extranet;
  • use of email communication;
  • use of the website as a direct response mechanism for mail campaigns; and

Key issues to consider when trading on the internet

Legal/compliance issues

Requirements related to the following issues still apply in countries where internet business is conducted:

  • Regulations
  • Taxes
  • Labelling
  • Product liability
  • Intellectual property

These need to be carefully addressed in every country where business is transacted to avoid additional unforeseen costs. It is also critical to ensure compliance with the relevant regulatory requirements in all countries where business is conducted.

Payment issues

Payment of goods and services can present problems. There are still constraints on the payment mechanisms that can be used for internet selling. To date it has been limited to credit card payments, however new methods of purchase are slowly being created.

Security issues

The security of your web site is important and as part of the process you should seek guidance from your web designer or a computer consultant on the likely issues that could arise. An insecure site, unreliable ordering system and poor delivery processes could seriously undermine the credibility of your business and the ability to generate repeat sales from your customers.

Physical transportation of your goods

Speed and reliability of the physical transfer of goods through internet selling may present problems. Even though transactions for goods and services are made through the internet, there still has to be the physical transfer of product which incurs freighting and other related costs.

The development of a fulfilment plan to clearly define the most cost effective way for you to manage the orders you generate is necessary.

Searching on the internet

The internet is becoming increasingly useful for export-related information, such as seeing how products and services are being promoted overseas.

It is a good idea to learn to identify and store useful sites for a particular product, country or market of interest. Some sites have useful links to other related sites that may be difficult to locate any other way. However, you should not assume that everything on the internet is accurate or up-to-date.

Some companies or individuals will search the internet for a fee. They will also have access to databases that are otherwise hard to find, or that would involve multiple subscriptions beyond your budget. Many libraries also provide online information and help with searches.

The trade information research system at www.intracen.org/tirc/welcome.htm is a good place to start when looking for export, trade-related or economic links around the world.

If you are targeting a specific market, then it is wise to use the search engine page specifically for that market rather than a generic one. For example, use www.google.com.au for the Australian market, or www.yahoo.co.uk for the United Kingdom market. This will ensure that the search results are more relevant.

A useful web site for pricing research is http://froogle.google.com/. This consumer-orientated site displays products in different categories by pricing bands.

Online business directories

Look for online business directories for your target markets. A list of some directories follows:

United States

Yellow Book: www.yellowbook.com - Yellow Book USA is the fifth largest publisher of yellow pages in the United States. It is a member of the Yell Group, an international directories business.

SuperPages: http://yellowpages.superpages.com - Search by category, business name, city, and state. You can also do a nationwide search.

Switchboard Yellow Pages: www.switchboard.com - Can search by business name or category, although the categories are relatively limited.

United Kingdom

Yell.com: www.yell.com - A member of the Yell Group, an international directories business.

BusinessFinder: www.businesslinx.co.uk - A directory for small to medium sized businesses. Includes a detailed list of business categories.


Europages: www.europages.net - Allows searching by company name, product or service, or business sector. Can narrow searches by country.

Middle East

AME Info Business Directory: www.ameinfo.com/db/ - Allows searching and browsing of database containing over 300,000 companies, which are indexed according to the North American Classification System.


Japan Telephone Directory: http://english.itp.ne.jp/ - In English. Can search by business name, region or category.


Kellysearch: www.kellysearch.com - Allows for searches by product, service and company information on over 2 million companies worldwide. Can also browse directory by industry sector.

Search Engine Guide

Business search engines: www.searchengineguide.com/pages/Business/ - Provides links to search engines, portals, and directories arranged by industry.

About BrandKE

The Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency (BRANDKE) is a new State Corporation established under the State Corporations Act Cap 446 through Legal Notice No.110 of August 9th, 2019
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