• By By Chris Keane - VP of Product, OpenSky
  • 24 Jul 2013

It’s hard being a small business. At OpenSky, we know first hand that a lot goes into making a sale, and we think there is a huge opportunity for small businesses to make this process a little bit easier for themselves.

The opportunity is engagement. While the “big guys” are busy playing the price-cutting game, you can work smartly to connect with a community of loyal followers who really appreciate what you do, and are happy to pay for it.

In the traditional retail world, this was as simple as opening a shop on Main Street and greeting your neighbors as they stopped in. It takes more work to achieve this connection online, but it's possible. Here’s how:

Narrow your audience

This might seem counterintuitive, but you’ll soon discover that a tailored message to the right audience gives you a bigger piece of what feels like a smaller pie. Remember, Facebook started out as a network just for college students.

Once you’ve defined your audience, focus your efforts in areas where they spend their time. We call this acquisition. At OpenSky, our early shoppers were sophisticated women, so we focused our marketing on blogs and newsletters that catered to their tastes. Those early acquisitions were the bedrock of our growth (and remain the most loyal shoppers today).

Use engagement to drive your bottom line

At OpenSky, we started with the mantra that “followers = sales,” but have since evolved that into “engaged followers = more sales, with less cost.” By incorporating engagement into our sales flow, we’ve increased the value of each individual follower.

Engagement is the ongoing conversation that you have with your audience, via blog comments, social media feeds, and email. It's how you keep your customers "stopping by.” What’s more, valuable content is often shared, so your audience can turn into your advocates – spreading the word about you!

Engage with sales in mind

As you engage with your customers, make sure you’re keeping the relationship oriented around your products or services, and keeping your customers aware of the opportunity to buy. Here are a few things to keep in mind when converting followers into buyers:

- Promotional content can create urgency to buy. We recommend an irregular schedule to keep things exciting and avoid training your customers to “wait for the next deal.”

- That said, don’t be afraid to just share content that establishes you as a trusted authority. Entertaining images, how-to’s, and “behind the scenes” features keep your audience interested even when they aren’t in a shopping mood.

- Reply to comments quickly and openly wherever possible. Remember that even negative comments are an opportunity. We’ve seen critics become advocates of merchants who hear and address their concerns.

- Listen to your customers. Your customers’ input can also provide new opportunities for growth. One OpenSky merchant noticed that customers frequently took her drinks on trips and developed a small version of her product that could travel on planes.

The effectiveness of all this is compounded when you engage consumers in a commerce environment. Not convinced? An OpenSky follower is 27 times more likely to buy than a Facebook fan, and our top 10% best selling merchants posts 3 times the average merchant!

Chris Keane is the VP of Product at OpenSky.

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