Educating your employees and letting your customers know about your Web site can increase your bottom line.

Congratulations! You have chosen to go live with an e-commerce Web site. You already know that this site will reduce your operating costs and improve your customer service. Now all you have to do is sit back as your customers flock to your site, driving up revenue and loving you for providing this value-added service. Right?

Not quite. Before your customers can utilize your site, they have to know that you have one and that it's worth their time to visit and use it. Not to worry. By educating your employees about the value your customers can attain from using your Web site and having them in turn educate your customers, it won't be long before your customers start using your site. This will lower your cost of doing business while driving new revenue up, all adding to your bottom line.

Employee Education First ...

Help your employees see the advantages for customers to use your Web site.

From an information standpoint, the 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week access to key information is a huge advantage. If you've set up your site properly, customers can select how they see their information and drill down for a more detailed look. All of this should equal faster service vs. calling or faxing, and that will drive down your customer costs as well as giving them better service.

Order entry is also enhanced with an e-business Web site. The round-the-clock access means purchasing decisions can be made at customers' convenience. Take the example of a customer who is an independent contractor. With your Web site, he can plan the next day's projects in the evening and according to what you have in inventory. When he goes to your warehouse to pick up his order the next morning, he can start his day with exactly what he needs. This eliminates his spending time (which relates directly to his bottom line) scrambling for parts because you're out of stock of something he planned to do that day. The key is making sure your employees understand this value so they can communicate to your customers.

If your employees seem reluctant to embrace your Web site, try to make them see that it's a tool to help them do their jobs better, freeing their time to focus on new business. Give them an incentive to drive customers to your site. Make sure they understand that by lowering the costs of doing business for your customers you are ensuring long-term stability and growth.

... Then Spread The Word

Once your employees have mastered the reasons why your customers should value your Web site, it's time to educate your customers.

It's not enough to add your Web address to every document carrying your company's name, including ads, invoices, faxes, and anything else that touches your customers. Customers need to be invited and encouraged to use the site.

Host an open house to celebrate this new value-added service you're providing and have your outside and inside sales staff walk customers through demonstrations of how to use the site. Make sure they can list the benefits of use for your customers. Ask your technology provider to attend and help demonstrate and explain the benefits.

Give customers incentives to log onto the site. Many distributors have had a great deal of success offering rebates, coupons, or giveaways for first-time orders.

Reluctant customers might need further education. Taking the time to determine the value the site will provide them is not only convincing, but also greatly enhances your relationship with the customer. It is important that your customers see this as a value to them and not to you.

Don't be put off by customers who lack Internet connections. You may want to invest the money and provide them with a personal computer and Internet access. This expense may easily be made up in the savings you derive from their use of your Web site.

Bottom Line Benefit

Ultimately, you choose to have a Web site for your business because of the benefits it will bring your bottom line - reduced operating costs, increased sales, and improved customer service. But there is one more benefit you might not have thought of. In this highly competitive marketplace, a Web site just might be what keeps your customers from going to another distributor. After all, since it is so easy to do business with you over the Web why would they ever want to go anywhere else?