Web Strategies: 'The Internet Is the Future of Our Business'Published: July 06, 2010
For many young Brazilian women entrepreneurs in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program, learning how to use the web to expand sales has turned out to be one of the program's greatest payoffs. Take, for example, 42-year-old Gisele Moreira da Silva, whose company, Gaivotha, sells paper products such as photo albums, boxes and invitation cards on its website, and 47-year-old Nadjane Melo Silva Lopes, whose firm, Seken, markets disposable sheets, aprons, underwear and towels online. Once skeptical about the business value of the Internet, both women now say their companies are growing at a rapid pace largely as a result of the web.
Their 10,000 Women training sessions didn't just introduce the Brazilian women to academic web marketing experts. It brought them face-to-face with Internet professionals who had built their own successful companies online, only after making their own fair share of basic mistakes. "We had classes with an excellent executive who was very self-confident, and revealed how his own businesses grew by using the Internet," says Moreira da Silva, whose website is www.gaivotha.com.br. "I got to see how valuable the Internet could be and how there are several different ways to interact with your customers online." virtual [online] store and site were developed by a specialized company that still gives me support," notes Da Silva. Although she does not yet undertake any web marketing research, she relies on outside consultants to optimize her company's pages for Internet browsers. Gaivotha is developing new techniques to identify which products are in most demand, so it can produce greater volumes of those products. Da Silva is also expanding her knowledge of online advertising tools and strategies that attract the most profitable visitors to her site. "I always try to keep my company in the top positions" when it comes to page results from Google searches, she says. Meanwhile, Lopes laments not having used professional input when she set up her company's website. "I believe it should have been more professional, but that was all we could do at the time."
For example, selling online to customers is only one of the ways to benefit from the web. Various other strategies include posting new product information on the company's website, sending e-mails with detailed presentations about products [in pdf format, for example], and collecting feedback/survey data from customers.
"My company had marketed over the Internet somewhat for about four years but always by intuition," adds Lopes, whose corporate web address is www.seken.com.br. "Our site was created with the help of a friend in a not very professional way because we were just guessing about things. We needed to professionalize our company. I knew nothing about the market; I wasn't doing any research nor did we even have a business plan. Now we know that we can do a lot more."
Delivering the Goods
Enhanced technology skills rank high on the priority list for facilitators of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program run by IE Business School in Spain and Fundação Getulio Vargas Escola de Administração de Empresas de Sao Paulo (FGV-EAESP) in Brazil. "One of the things we want to do in this program is to help these women [develop] technological talent," notes Celia de Anca, IE's academic director of the 10,000 Women program. "They may have a good product or a good idea, but they need technological talent to deliver the goods, attract clients and become more international. I'm talking about the more sophisticated technologies: how to establish your company through the Internet and how you can sell your products and attract producers and clients globally. The women we select for the program already have computer skills and need this last push in order to make technology a more useful tool."
For the moment, at least, both women entrepreneurs' companies remain small. Da Silva has 10 employees, while Lopes has five. Lopes's firm operates out of a small rented house. The production area occupies the ground floor while the office and warehouse space are on the upper floors. Both women depend heavily on the web not just to sell their products, but also to identify and communicate with customers. Da Silva says that 90% of Gaivotha's new customers communicate with her company via the Internet, and 70% of its sales are transacted electronically, right on its site. "The Internet functions as a store window to publicize our products, including new ones, to our customers. Most of our business is closed via our virtual [e-commerce] shop, or even through [e-mail] requests [by customers] for the products and services that are displayed on our website."
Lopes's company, Seken, depends heavily on e-mail to send presentations about its products to its customers, but it does not transact sales electronically on its site. "I'm online all day long, answering e-mails about the prices of products," Lopes says. "The Internet is vital for my company because nowadays we do not need to visit a lot of our customers, except when they ask us to."
No Loyalty on the Web
Both entrepreneurs have learned that websites must be constantly upgraded, and that help from web specialists is a must. "Our
For all their new skills, both women have no illusions about the challenges of leveraging today's competitive online marketing environment. Lopes says that her major concern about the competition is that "their products are very cheap, and any difference in pricing can lead a customer on a budget to switch" to another company's products. "There is no loyalty" on the web, she adds.
Despite such concerns, both women are convinced that they will continue to expand their businesses in Brazil and abroad by exploiting what they learned in the 10,000 Women program. "I'm very optimistic about my business despite the problems we have," says Da Silva. Although her online shop is currently selling only to customers in the state of São Paulo, she has been test-marketing the company's products elsewhere in Brazil and even abroad. During the second half of 2010, Da Silva intends to start selling online to those new markets, mostly to female buyers of single products.
"We are very confident that [the Internet] is the future of our business because we have gotten contacts from all over Brazil and abroad via our website," says Lopes. "So far, we haven't gotten any orders from abroad, only requests for price quotes." But many re-sellers [distributors] in other cities have shown an interest in selling our products." Using the valuable customer leads they have acquired over the web, Lopes and her team will start to develop marketing brochures for distribution to new prospects not just in Brazil, but in foreign markets such as the U.K., U.S. and Portugal.