Your Best Potential Customer Is Looking For You Now On The Internet

    February 20, 2004

Increasingly, purchasers are using the Internet to search for suppliers. You may be unaware of the total number of people who are doing this in your market sector. Many of them may be ending up with the competition. You may be concerned that fewer people seem to be out looking for your products. Your competition may be quietly laughing all the way to the bank, as they find the market is wide open to them.

How do you identify the size of this hidden potential demand? How do you make sure that it is your company and not the competition that is communicating with the customer and making the sale? Potential clients may take a variety of routes to find suppliers. Make sure that all roads lead preferentially to your website and to your company.

Who Is This Best Potential Customer?

A customer who is looking for a supplier is like gold. They’re in the mood to buy. Such a person wants to purchase and wants help to make an informed and “right” choice. So the issue isn’t how you can sell to that prospect. The issue is how that prospect can purchase from the best supplier. In other words, this is not about marketing and selling: it’s all about purchasing.

Compare this with the typical selling situation. You try to persuade the potential lead to buy now. They may not be sure they want to buy. Or they may not want to buy this week. Or they may not want to buy from you. This is what happens in a selling situation.

Now consider a purchasing situation. This is not just Permission Marketing versus old-style (sometimes strong-arm) selling tactics. Even Permission Marketing only means that the potential customer accepts your selling approach. The Potential Customer on the Internet is at the other end of the scale completely. They want to purchase and they want to do it when they’re ready. They want to be in control of the purchasing process. The Internet gives them that control.

How Many Potential Customers Are Out There?

So how do we find out how many potential customers there may be? It’s not easy but there are probably many more than you guess. Let’s try to pin it down.

Some potential customers will look at directories of suppliers or industry related “portals”. Such websites list all suppliers they are aware of. In some cases, suppliers can register on these for free and in other cases a fee must be paid. It is difficult to get an estimate of how many potential purchasers use such directories but it is likely to be substantial.

An even more substantial proportion of potential customers will find your website by using search engines. A rough estimate of the numbers of visitors using search engines for relevant keywords can be derived in the following way. Services are available to determine how many people searched for certain keywords for particular search engines for particular periods of time. One of the most well-known is a free service offered by Overture. Here you can check the number of searches for given keyword phrases during a recent month. For example suppose you were a manufacturer of hot tubs. In December 2003, Overture recorded the following numbers of searches for the following keyword phrases:

  • 139,678 hot tub
  • 8,835 hot tub spa
  • 1,318 jacuzzi hot tub
  • 1,268 hot tub supply
  • 620 hot tub manufacturer
  • 438 hot tub los angeles
  • Overture represents only a small proportion of the total searches done using all search engines. So the total number of searches for these keyword phrases on all search engines would be many times larger. Conversely only a small fraction of those viewing any given Search Engine Report for these keywords will click on one of the websites in say the top 5. As a very crude, order-of-magnitude value, the Overture number above may give you an indication of the number of website visitors you will receive if your website ranks reasonably highly for the keyword phrase.

    Overture is not a very widely used search engine. However it does provide a rapid way to get an idea what the total searching community may be doing. For more soundly based estimates, a better tool is WordTracker. This is a paid service, giving the numbers of searches for given keyword phrases for all the search engines for any given period of time. The logic suggested above can be developed into a more complete calculation. This will give a more precise estimate of the number of potential clients who will arrive at the website via search engines.

    If you have a current website that generates customer contacts, then the detailed visitor logs show where current prospects came from when they visited your website. You can do some related analyses to confirm how many potential customers may be searching in similar ways to your current website visitors. If this approach is of interest, please contact SMM for help in following this route.

    The estimates above are for the whole Internet market place, which involves the global market place. If a certain geographical niche is your market place, then only a proportionate share of the global visitors will be serious potential clients for what your website offers.

    How Will They Try To Find A Supplier?

    How do these potential clients try to find a supplier? The next sections will examine some of the principal routes followed and suggest how these potential clients may be guided to your own website.

    Will They Search For Your Company Name?

    Perhaps your ABC company is so well known in your market place that potential customers may hear from a friend that the ABC company is a good supplier of hot tubs. If they type in the company name in a Google search box, will your website come up first? These should be the highest targeted potential clients for you since they are following a referral. If you cannot even lock in these, then the others in the next sections will be even more difficult.

    If people cannot find your company when they know the name, then look seriously at what is causing the problem. If the name is too easily confused with others, then consider adopting another operating name. In some cases, it may even be worth encouraging someone else to switch names. However this does not need to go to extremes: MicroSoft did not really have to buy the MikeRoweSoft domain name. If you are seriously considering changing the operating name of the company, then Newsletter #19 has some useful advice on this.

    Will They Search For You In A Specialized Web Directory?

    It may be that potential customers in your market place often explore specialized web directories to help them find suppliers. The category listings of these web directories are often now being included as items in the Search Engine results for keyword searches.

    It can be very instructive to look through these category listings identified by the Search Engines. You should find out which competitors are featured strongly in them. Try to match the listings of your key competitors and be equally prominent in these more important directories.

    Will They Search For You With A Search Engine?

    Perhaps potential customers will use a search engine to find potential suppliers. What are the keywords and phrases they may be using? Check out what keyword variants may be used with either the Overture tool or Wordtracker. It is also possible to sign in for a Google Adwords account and use their service to identify variants of keyword phrases that may be used. Once the most important keywords are known, then compare how well your website does in Search Engine rankings for these keywords versus the principal competitors.

    If your website performs poorly with the search engines, then some modification of the website may be needed, or perhaps even a complete overhaul. See Newsletter #33 for the changes that may be needed.

    Your Competitors May Hijack These Potential Customers

    Another way of cross-checking whether you are likely to be getting your fair share of the potential customers, is to look at competitors’ websites and see where they are likely to be drawing their traffic. An additional source of data on this is a listing of the back links for each competitor’s website in Google. This is obtained by doing a search for the term This will list all the more important “other” websites that have a link to your competitor’s website. Perhaps they have identified an important directory or portal where it would be advisable for your own website to be listed. Again make sure that your website is as prominent as those of your competitors.

    When Your Potential Customer Has Found You, Then Make Sure They Buy

    If you carefully check the ways these potential purchasers are looking for suppliers and apply the remedies suggested, then you should find your website traffic increases significantly. Remember these are people who are looking for you. They may well be in a purchasing mood. Having done the difficult part of the job in bringing them to your website, don’t drop the ball now. Make sure that your website can help to move them towards the moment of decision. Newsletter #32 has useful advice to ensure a successful sale.


    If you’re not sure how big this hidden crowd of potential customers is, why not involve SMM? In any case, we hope you have found this different perspective on what is going on around your website thought-provoking.

    Barry Welford, President of SMM Strategic Marketing Montreal works with business owners and senior management on Internet Marketing strategy and action plans to grow their companies. He is a moderator at the Cre8asite Forums and writes on current issues on the Internet and on the Mobile Web in three blogs, BPWrap, StayGoLinks and The Other Bloke’s Blog.