Updated from May 23, 2011.
Fill in the blank: You can lead a horse to water [blank].
To a web visitor, your website is the [blank].
You have a unique and infinitely valuable opportunity: Somebody came to your site and you can guide them to wherever you would like them to go.
Now, it doesn't have to specifically be a sales funnel. But it is a funnel. Visitors may find you on Google, through an article you posted, from a link back to your site from a fellow merchant; there are hundreds of ways a person might have “stumbled” across your site.
Now that they're there, you have a chance to lead them–just like in your showroom–to a solution that suits them.
Say you are a plumber. Your website has some specific content–things like how to clear a simple drain, preventative maintenance suggestions, perhaps a video demonstrating how to replace a faucet or a garbage disposal. You will also have a contact page. Ideally, your phone number is prominent on every single page.
You are providing value to your (potential) customer in the form of information. Maybe they searched “clogged drain” and found your video about unclogging a drain. They tried your suggestion.
It worked. Or it didn't. It doesn't really matter. In the first case, your video helped them solve a problem. Who do you think they are going to look to the next time they have a plumbing problem? You have gained their trust because you helped them. You obviously know what you are talking about; you are now a trusted source and you haven't even met!
In the marketing industry lingo, you are top of mind.
In the second case, they tried what you suggested and it didn't work. They are already on your website, and you have already established an emotional link with them. Your phone number is readily available.
Who do you think they are going to call?
Here's a video that shows what I'm talking about. Note that getting a drain unclogged sometimes (often) takes specialized tools like the “snake” shown in the video. Most homeowners don't have such tools. Who does? Oh, yeah, YOU do!
See how effective that is? I want to call those guys next time I have a clogged drain! I wonder if they'll travel 2000 miles? Nah.
People have little time, especially when their drain won't drain. They are not going to look for another plumber “because your suggestion didn't work.”
They are going to call you. In either case, it's just a matter of time.
See what you did there? You led your visitor down a path that he or she wanted to take but probably didn't know how. You made it easy by making clear on your website what you do, how you can help them, and where they can easily find the information they seek.
Your website navigation was easy to follow. Your website is clean and uncluttered. Every page is within a click or two of each other.
In summary, you are presented with a gift each time a visitor comes to your website. It behooves you to be prepared when a “visitor stops by.” Guide them down the path they really want to take. Make finding what they need easy for them. At the end of the path, you will have solved their problem and they will have established a critical link to you and your business that is not easily severed.