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If You Know It Isn't Broken, It May Need Fixing!

By Bob McElwain
Posted Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I know of a company selling a software package that can double, even triple, the price of the program and lose less than 4 to 6 percent of sales. What's more, I can prove it. Simply. Easily. The response to my suggestion? "We're doing fine now, and see no reason to change anything."

I know of another program I could sell like hot cakes. I agreed to feature it on my site and in my newsletter. I requested a discount of 40%, to be split equally with my visitors. That is, 20% to me and a 20% savings to purchasers. Response? "Why should I give up 40% when I can have it all?" A comprehensive explanation of how this works effectively in the offline world, fell on deaf ears. As did the suggestion of an affiliate program.

People Are Hesitant To Change

In the above, part of the rejection likely stemmed from the fact that I made the approach. But here is a different kind of situation, one I have encountered as often offline as online. It goes like this.

I am approached by someone concerned about their business. They feel something is not quite right, but can't put their finger on it. In the process of collecting information and preparing recommendations, I often come across something else that should be happening, but is not. Or something that is simply wrong.

Suggestions regards these findings are generally brushed aside with something like: "I've been doing very well for N years now. And I can tell you this much for sure. ..."

"If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It."

Such thinking ignores the possibility of more effective alternatives. It stifles all thought about ways in which current procedures can be improved.

Still, there can be legitimate justification for resistance to change in the brick and mortar world. A change may bring not only added risks, but added cost as well. For example, a proposed price change may mean massive reprinting costs of four-color sales literature. But there is no such excuse online.

Give It A Try

If you are contemplating a price change online, install a simple script that will send half your visitors to the original pages and half to new pages. There is only a small time cost in setting this up and such scripts are inexpensive. Here, there is virtually no risk at all, because your site will give you almost immediate feedback.

Suppose the number of sales over 10 days at your original price is 40. If over the next 10 days you have 20 at the original price and 15 at twice the price, there is likely no need to go further. Even if you must run for 20 or more days in order to be certain, where's the risk? A few bucks in lost time and sales is about it. No medium has ever offered the opportunity to test as quickly and inexpensively as does the Web. Yet few make use of this powerful strategy.

Why Is There Such Resistance To Change?

Apart from fears to be addressed in contemplating any change, the most common reasons appear to stem from the reactive nature of many businesses. That is, rather than a continuing reevaluation of all aspects of the business, management tends to act only when forced to do so. They react to customer objections, a sales pitch for a new product, an advertising campaign, and so forth.

This pattern typically includes a conviction that when all seems to be working, considering a change is a waste of time, if not downright foolishness. The focus is on the latest and greatest enhancements available. It's a pattern that works reasonably well for many. However, it overlooks opportunities for significant improvements in current procedures.

Such attitudes can kill on online business quickly. Change is an inherent factor in the Web. What worked yesterday, may fail today. Much that is part of older sites is now out of date. This can easily be overlooked given familiarity with the site.

What Needs Doing

The way to break out of such traps is to approach your website as a whole with the intent of experimenting. Focus on all those many elements assumed to be just fine.

- Ask yourself if that headline you're so fond of can be rewritten to be more compelling.

- Ask if there is any possible change you can make in the first fold (screen) to persuade more visitors to click a link or scroll on down the page.

- Since people scan, check the subheadings. Are there enough of them? Is each sufficiently compelling? Does the first line following each have sufficient impact to draw the reader further into the content.

- Would simple things, such as a change in font face or size, make any difference at all?

Exempt nothing on any web page from this examination.

Where Best To Focus

For maximum gain, look closely at those elements that seem just right, those that do not seem broken in any way. They may be just fine, but over time a flaw may have come to be accepted. Also look for elements that worked well when implemented, that may not be getting it done now. If you can discover even a small change that has a possibility of bringing improvement, do not hesitate to make it.

Check your stats with care on any change. And limit the amount of change at any one time. Several small changes can be made at the same time. But if the change is major, as in a page headline, make no others. Then let your stats reveal the appropriateness of the change.

Hustle Your Friends

Since we tend to be blind to our own work, encourage serious minded friends to join in the hunt. This brings in a variety of computers and particularly monitors, which means you get to "see" your pages in different ways. If in doubt about a comment received, ask for a screen shot from their system. It can be a real eye opener.

Seek to include at least one MAC user. The MAC world is quite different. If you can't pull enough input in this way, hire a professional.

Consider All Input As Gold

Regard all input with care. A single comment may point to something you feel isn't broken, but actually is. Even if certain of your position, "fix" it anyway. There is little effort or risk involved. If the change does not bring improvement, revert to the original copy.

You may discover changes that improve your bottom line substantially. If pursued ruthlessly, you may obtain far greater gains than are possible from adding yet another profitable widget to your inventory.


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