16 important factors to consider before expanding your product or service line

Expanding the line of products or services your business provides can help you remain competitive with — or even get ahead of — others in your industry. But it’s not a decision to be made lightly. If you don’t have the right resources in place or your team isn’t on board, an expansion may bring more frustration than additional revenue.

The Business Journals

It’s essential to carefully and thoroughly review not only marketplace demand but also your company’s structure and capabilities before proceeding. To ensure you and your team are fully prepared when it’s time to add to your product or service line, read the following advice shared by members of Business Journals Leadership Trust.

1. Sustainability
At Sunflower Bank, we are committed to “sustainable growth.” This means we keep a close eye on our markets and customers to help guide where we invest in future expansion. This simply means allocating our resource investments based on customer needs. We look for opportunities to provide solutions or make connections that help our customers. – Mollie Carter, Sunflower Bank, N.A.

2. Customer satisfaction
Understanding your target customer and how the new product or service can enhance customer satisfaction is key. Any business should consider these two factors when deciding whether to introduce a new product or service line. – Sudhakar Puvvada, INDIGO MILL DESIGNS, Inc

3. Potential effects on your current product or service line
It’s important to consider how an expansion may negatively affect current products or services. Expansion that causes a deterioration in the quality of current products or services would be ill-advised. – Marc Vincent, Redstone Advisors Inc

4. Licensing
One factor that accounting firms must consider when determining where to expand their service lines is licensing. Reciprocity is virtually nonexistent where public audit and attestation services are considered. Once you’ve obtained the state license to practice, you are instantly granted access to another market of potential clients. – Anthony Otaigbe, The Otaigbe Group

5. The problem you’ll be solving
Be sure you are solving a problem. If you notice emerging trends in customer conversations, come up with solutions and engage customers to gather feedback. You don’t need full buy-in, but if the solution clearly solves the problem, pursue it. When launching a new service, act as if it were a startup and push hard to get it going, but be sure not to ignore your primary business line. – Lauren Asghari, Alderson Loop

6. Serving existing customers first
When rolling out a new product or service offering, consider making the new offering available to existing customers first. There are two reasons for this. First, an existing customer is far likelier to give you grace and forgive the inevitable bumps of a new offering. Second, the existing customer might not be too happy if they aren’t given the first crack at the new product or service. – Jim Cunningham, CunninghamLegal

7. Your current capabilities
When looking to expand a product or service line, ensure you have the capabilities to do so with your current team, as well as the necessary manufacturing capabilities. Avoid putting too much strain on your staff while focusing on this new service line, and be wary of not giving enough attention to, or abandoning, the core mission of the business. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

8. The target market
The factor to consider is this: Is the expansion’s target market existing markets, adjacent markets or new markets? The cost of taking a product or service line to market can increase dramatically when moving from existing markets to adjacent and new markets — the risk and the probability of failure are increased as well. These considerations should be balanced with the market potential for this expansion line so you make the right decisions. – Pradeep Anand, Seeta Resources

9. The competitive landscape
Understand clearly the competitive landscape in terms of existing products or services that could pose a competitive threat. Once that’s clear, lay out each competitor’s strengths and weaknesses and evaluate them against the unmet need — that’s your value proposition. Once you have your VP, test, test and test among a subset of potential customers and tweak before launch. Then, make the launch a splash! – Rodger Roeser, The Eisen Agency

10. Cash flow
Passion is an important factor, but the reigning lens for determining expansion is the impact on cash flow. That’s the reality check for any decisions we make about changes or expansions. Always consider investment — both monetary and your team’s time — as well as potential risks and rewards. Being pragmatic and thoughtful helps ensure you don’t negatively impact cash flow while continuing to generate projects. – Samantha Haney, Waypoint Ventures LLC

11. Your brand positioning
Ask yourself, “Is the extension meaningful to our brand, or not?” Sometimes brand extensions can hurt your brand positioning and value by expanding into territory that is wasteful. Poll your customers, do surveys and host focus groups — whatever you need to do to prove that this is something that your audience wants. Sometimes a strong gut feeling is just indigestion. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

12. Your market share
When you have reached a steady state and you’re looking to unlock the next phase of your growth, it’s time to consider adding a new product or service to enhance your brand and benefit your target clients. Or, if you are at a competitive disadvantage and are beginning to lose market share, you may need to expand your offerings to be at parity with competitors. – Shikha Jain, Simon-Kucher & Partners

13. The impact on customers
At Truliant, we make sure new services match our mission to improve our members’ lives. When there is a product or service we do not have that would allow us to better serve our members, we owe it to them to investigate it. If we can do it well, save our customers money or offer a better experience, then we would consider adding it. – Todd Hall, Truliant Federal Credit Union

14. Current market conditions and demand
The biggest indicator that it’s time for expansion is demand. For instance, before Covid, we limited our services to the local market. As a result of Covid, our services have consistently been requested nationally — so we decided to expand and now have a new service line! – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners

15. The fit with your value stack
It’s critical to consider expansion into new products and services in order to grow. However, most companies focus too much on revenue potential and not enough on how well the new offer fits within their value stack. Remember, products are tools to help customers get jobs done. Make sure any new tool you bring to market is consistent with your primary promise of impact or you risk brand erosion. – Thomas Miller, Human

16. What your clients are telling you
One definition for marketing is to find a need and meet it. When creating a new product or service, the secret to success is your relationships with your clients. Through frequent meetings and conversations, inevitably a client will express needs, and you can jointly develop a solution. Typically, the same challenges are experienced by other organizations. As you share the solution, a new product is born. – Tony Rossell, Marketing General Incorporated

10 effective ways e-commerce businesses can demonstrate a social mission

In today’s hyper-connected, information-rich marketplace, consumers can easily find out quite a lot about businesses. Many customers search for and choose to patronize companies that embrace a social mission that they believe in, seeking an emotional, personal connection based on shared values.

The Business Journals

With e-commerce playing an ever-expanding role in the shopping habits of both consumers and businesses, companies in the space need to find creative ways to make connections with prospective buyers. If your e-commerce business’s brand involves a commitment to one or more social missions, it’s essential to demonstrate that to your target audience. Here, 10 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share effective ways to do just that.

1. Carefully consider the issues to focus on.
To be successful, an e-commerce business should be authentic, transparent and reliable. Consumers — especially younger consumers — purchase from brands that mirror the values that they hold in their daily lives. They are also influenced by social and environmental issues, and to be relevant, businesses should prioritize which missions to focus on. – Shikha Jain, Simon-Kucher & Partners

2. Display your social mission on your landing page.
Display your social mission on the landing page of your company’s website so it’s one of the first things that a consumer sees when they find your brand. It can help to better communicate your brand’s values and engage consumers in your social mission. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

3. Partner with a nonprofit.
Try partnering with a nonprofit that shares your social mission. This is a great way to give back in a transparent manner while also making it clear where your ideals lie. Also, partnerships like this are great for boosting profiles and even better for special events. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

4. Highlight your team’s work.
Highlight those who work for your business and what they are doing for social impact, rather than what your company is doing. Make it about the power of individual service and sacrifice. People love to hear human stories much more than reading about how much was raised in corporate donations. – Chip Laingen, Defense Alliance

5. Be present locally.
One of the best ways to share your mission is to have a physical local presence. Many e-commerce businesses focus on casting a wide net digitally, but they forget the human element of having an impact on consumers at their local level. These are the causes that often mean the most to customers. – Nathan Scherper, Sherper’s

6. Include your social mission in all communications, and share photos.
Make sure you put your social mission on each page of your site, and include it in all communications. Do not put it just on the home page and forget about it. Also, post photos of checks being hand-delivered to recipients. People look at pictures more than they read written words. – Jim Lane, Lane Technology Solutions

7. Engage in public conversations.
Participating through social media and engaging in conversations about projects you are passionate about helps bring attention to your organization’s “why.” Make yourself and your company a part of the conversations that you care about — discuss the social aspects of what your certifications bring and the impact on the “why.” Make it about the causes. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

8. Back up social initiatives with objective data.
Businesses can say they are committed to a social initiative, but they need to back it up with action. Why is the cause important to the company and its stakeholders? What benchmarks have already been hit? What are the goals for the next phase of the initiative? What is the plan to meet them? Without objective data, a company may be accused of “slacktivism.” – Mark Zinman, Zinman & Company

9. Share your mission and service on social media.
Sharing on social media is a great way for a business to demonstrate its social mission to customers. If the mission of the organization is to provide a service, they should provide a form of it for free on social media so that customers have an opportunity to interact and test the service without a commitment. – Mackenzie Toland, A New Leaf Therapeutic Services PLLC

10. Show the measurable impact you’re making.
One of the best ways an e-commerce business can demonstrate its social mission is not only clearly articulating that mission on the website and all marketing collateral but also backing up the statement with the measurable impact, whether that’s related to an environmental or social impact. – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.

10 pro tips for making your new e-commerce effort a success

E-commerce was already on the rise well before 2020, and the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this phenomenon. Many businesses that have been accustomed to primarily brick-and-mortar sales are now handling unprecedented volumes of online orders, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.

The Business Journals

To help you adapt to this change, we asked 10 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust for their insights. Below, they share their best advice for companies that are navigating a growth in direct-to-consumer shipping.

1. Hold interactive demos in-store to promote online sales later.
Leverage space with demos and interactive models in conjunction with an online presence. You can operate with less square footage and potentially enhance your customer experience with less inventory in stock but more access to the product. – Dale Gillmore, Quest

2. Evaluate your sales tax obligations.
With an increase in online sales, you need to evaluate your sales tax obligations. Most states that collect sales tax now have laws that create a sales tax obligation in their state based on the number or amount of sales made — an obligation businesses incur simply by selling into their state. Whether utilizing a third party to ship a product or doing it yourself, you may need to look at where you’re collecting sales tax. – Robert Dumas, TaxConnex

3. Set up a strong supply chain.
Have a great supply chain in place to ensure that shipping delays are minimal. No one wants to order a product and then wait a month for it to show up. – David Wescott, Transblue

4. Write clear product descriptions and ensure timely customer support.
Make sure your product descriptions are clear and accurate and that your customer support is timely and comprehensive. Ask yourself, “Would I buy if no one was around to explain it to me?” and “What if there is a problem with my order?” If the answer is “No,” “Maybe” or “I’m not sure,” then go back and improve your merchandising and your support messages. – Russell Harrell, SFB IDEAS – a Strategic Marketing firm

5. Invest in an integrated point-of-sale system.
Most point-of-sale systems now have integration for orders and inventory with the common e-commerce platforms. It is really cost-effective now for a small brick-and-mortar retailer to push online and in-store sales by presenting all their inventory online. Many customers pre-shop online to find what they want in stock and then go to the store or place an order for local pickup. – Matthew Palis, Infront Webworks

6. Look into back-end support software.
Utilize automation and software solutions that have pristine track records and are easy to implement. There is a plethora of back-end support software to alleviate the burden for brick-and-mortar stores entering the e-commerce space — especially when sales have gone from a trickle to a deluge. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

7. Take advantage of your newfound product control.
Once your product goes through traditional supply chains, you’re dependent on a couple of large outlets to sell your products, meaning you’re bound by limited price flexibility and exclusivity agreements. Being D2C means you’re able to control your products through various push/pull marketing methods, including your website and the numerous platforms where you sell (website, email campaigns and social media platforms). – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

8. Implement an enterprise resource planning system.
To capitalize on emerging direct-to-consumer opportunities and effectively transition to an e-commerce platform, an ERP system should be selected and implemented to help staff deal with order volume, fulfillment requirements and warehousing complexities. Benefits realization planning should also allow employees to recognize this new software’s competitive advantages — with comprehensive training. – Joey Johnsen, Zeevo Group LLC

9. Streamline your backend and fulfillment processes.
Ensure your backend and fulfillment processes are streamlined, as consumers have become used to e-commerce and expect instant fulfillment with shipping to their doorsteps within days. If your backend and shipping take too long, a consumer can get antsy and cancel the order before they receive it. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

10. Understand the e-commerce customer’s journey.
The biggest difference in adapting to an e-commerce mindset is to understand the customer journey and experience. In e-commerce, the customer experience is just as important as making a visitor to your store feel welcome. From packaging to delivery, customer service to return policies — every step of the journey must be thought through with care and precision when you convert to e-commerce. – Paul Weber, EAG Advertising & Marketing

8 Emerging E-commerce Trends Marketing Experts Are Excited About

Trends come and go like the ebb and flow of a tide. It seems like with each new quarter we see e-commerce trends on the horizon that might have a massive impact on various industries. Companies that can spot these trends before they hit the mainstream can capitalize on their new knowledge. Because of how quickly trends can gain traction, a company that can prepare or pivot into a trend before everyone else can see a lot of engagement from their core audience. However, the key is figuring out which trends are the exciting ones.

AdAge Collective

In particular, e-commerce trends can be particularly fickle. Emerging trends, the ones that haven’t reached critical mass yet, are the ones that businesses should spend their focus on. An emerging e-commerce trend, if caught on the rise, can catapult a company’s popularity. When you find the most exciting emerging trends, you’re almost guaranteed to be the talk of the town.

These eight entrepreneurs from Ad Age Collective have become quite adept at spotting emerging trends and picking out the most exciting ones from the bunch. We asked them about the most recent emerging trends in e-commerce that we should be aware of. Their responses are below.

1. COVID-19 as an e-commerce accelerator
A trend I noticed is COVID-19 as an e-commerce accelerator. Huge brands had to dive into the direct-to-consumer (DTC) playbook. Mega-retailers being “forced” into e-tailing now are finding they can activate customers at mega-scale via video ads, gaining positive attribution analytics leading to redistribution of and more sales productivity for their marketing spend. – Sean Cunningham, VAB

2. Personalization improving the online shopping experience
E-commerce personalization will improve the online shopping experience. Customers want to feel cared for, especially when they are looking for a particular product. Algorithms can assist with making webpages, emails and even advertisements more personal. When the algorithms are properly trained, then businesses can use them to win over customers. – Duran Inci, Optimum7

3. Exponential growth of online grocery and last mile delivery
The greatest e-commerce impact of COVID-19 is the exponential growth in online grocery and last mile delivery. Consumer volume increased as advertising opportunities for brands beyond perishables have expanded. Now beauty, alcohol, OTC and other center-aisle categories must build strategies for “the third shelf.” – Kerry Curran, Catalyst

4. Shopify’s integration with the Walmart Marketplace
Shopify’s integration into the Walmart Marketplace is big news. This sets up a positive network effect for Walmart, Shopify and Shopify’s sellers — more audience for Shopify and its sellers, more product diversity and revenue for Walmart to compete with Amazon. By linking advertising closely with demand, this will make the Walmart advertising platform more powerful for some advertisers. – Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)

5. ML and AI for customer service increasing velocity
Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) for customer service will help increase e-commerce velocity. Customer service is often an underfunded necessary evil for e-commerce brands, particularly when a burst of operational issues inevitably arise. Resolving customer challenges at scale keeps customers coming back because customers want to talk to “someone” who can resolve issues in real time. – Reid Carr, Red Door Interactive

6. The rise of the curbside delivery concept
The game has changed completely for businesses that rely on in-person activity for revenue, such as restaurants, bars and events. The concept of “curbside delivery” has opened up new possibilities for taking a piece of that experience away to recreate in new and different environments. The more creative a brand is, the more they can still meet customer needs regardless of our changing world. – Holly Fearing, Filene Research Institute

7. Growing importance of voice search
Voice search is coming, but it’s being ignored. With the rise of virtual assistants, e-commerce has been quick to understand the implications. When a consumer can order a product by simply saying “Hey Alexa, order X,” that changes everything from the standard web and/or social search. Marketers need to understand that voice is a completely different game to SEO — adopt voice early and they’ll be ready. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap

8. The surge of in-home training and mindfulness platforms
An exciting trend to watch emerge has been the surge of in-home gym equipment, virtual personal trainers and mindfulness platforms which allow people to feel part of a community without having to meet in person. This is a big area of opportunity for both the consumer and the advertising industry. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising