We don’t have to belabor the obvious: When it comes to the Web, the bloom is off the rose. The widely shared expectation that Web sites would be able to sell anything to anyone, 24/7, has been brought crashing to earth by mediocre results. True, an ever-increasing amount of buying takes place on the Web, but very little selling (or need development) actually goes on. Most Web sites are nothing more than electronic brochures. They lead with product, and they treat it as if it were a noun. In fact, it’s difficult even to point to a model “selling” Web site.
What went wrong? It has a lot to do with the evolution of the relevant technologies. Web sites began as one-dimensional and static, mainly because of the limitations of modem speeds and twisted-pair capacities. Interactivity was a far-off dream. With the advent of high-speed Internet connections, these barriers have been overcome for many applications. A recent development, product configurators, can lead potential buyers step-by-step to a purchase recommendation—in other words, through a crudely interactive process.
So although technology has eliminated many barriers, the interactions still tend to be plodding and mechanical. We have yet to see a Web site that begins to simulate the work of a Customer-Focused salesperson. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect a machine to interact with a person as well as another person would, especially since computers are still largely limited to seeing the world in a binary, on/off way. But Web sites do hold the potential to have dialogues with buyers, and we think they should begin to live up to that potential.
The Solution Development Prompter described in previous chapters is all about dialogues, based on “conversation architecture.” There’s no inherent reason why this kind of architecture can’t be recreated in the context of the Web. Given adequate investments in programming, a Web site should be able to discover the interests of the Web visitor and, based on those interests, present content in a sequence that simulates a sales call.
We remain optimistic. Think how far these technologies have come in less than 2 decades. Even with today’s technologies, we believe, it should be possible to build a Web site capable of developing a visitor’s vision, either to qualify a buyer or—depending on the type of offering and expense—to take a sale all the way to closure. With tomorrow’s technologies, it should be far easier.