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Designing an Effective Brokerage Site

Designing an effective web site for a brokerage agency begins with traditional web site guidelines and then leverages other web sites and technologies to achieve the greatest possible advantage for the agency.  Traditional guidelines like clear objectives, quick load times, registering with search engines, and attractive, appealing design are a prerequisite of any site development.   In the following, we examine broker specific web site objectives and the tactics for achieving those objectives.


If the time horizon for your business' strategic planning is in the range of two to five years, your plan must include that manufacturers and customers will adopt automated ordering technologies at a dramatic rate. As a result, the perception of order taking as a customer service will be diminished and sales agents that don't otherwise add value to the distribution channel will be disinter mediated.  Use your web site to solicit new lines and customers and to enhance your agency's value by  providing customer relationship management (CRM) services.

E-card and business resume

The most common objective of brokerage web sites is to serve as a prospect development tool.  Let prospective vendors and customers know why they should choose you.  Cite the benefits of your company versus others, your experience, technologies, product lines, territory, and any awards that you have received.

An important element of the web site resume is in the Keywords tag line that your visitors generally do not see but is referenced by search engines.  Search engines like Yahoo, Infoseek, Excite, and Altavista use these words to match user inquiries to relevant web sites.

Layout, fonts,  and visual impression should be consistent with your company's image.  Company logo and fonts should be the same as those on your letterhead and business cards.  Use an editor like Microsoft's Front Page that has reusable style sheets to keep your site consistent.  This way, any changes made to the style sheet are automatically cascaded to other pages on your site.

Customer Relationship Management  

Use the dynamic capabilities of web site design as a relationship conduit between you, your customers, and your principals.  Your site can potentially enhance your agency's value as an information portal (gateway) to the Internet.  Your site can be designed to leverage the investments that others have made in their web sites to improve your relationships with your trading partners.  If you sell a food product, a link to the manufacturer can provide product specifications while a link to a specialty foods interest group may be used for recipes.
If you link a customer to the manufacturer, could that preclude your being paid commissions?  Possibly, however if you don't provide the link,  you may appear as an obstacle to information that is otherwise readily available from a search engine.  Instead, your site should serve a portal to information that your customers can learn to trust as a reliable source of information. 
Order taking will inevitably become an automated process between supplier and customer so, manufacturers and brokers must move away from the premise that representatives are paid only to take and place orders.  Instead, they should focus on the representative as being paid for adding value by providing customer services and increasing market share within their assigned region.
One simple design consideration that can enhance the value of your site as a portal to product information, is to name individual web pages and pictures the same as the vendor's item number.  This enhances their ability to become reusable objects for your customer's brochures, advertising, training, and database needs.

Encourage consumers (end users) to visit your site and review product information other than prices.  This is just another opportunity to promote your vendors and customers.  When a consumer sees a product they are interested in, tell them where it can be obtained.  Your customers will appreciate the referrals and potentially sell more of your products as a result. 

Use your site as a forum for customer feedback.  Setting up a form for submitting complaints or problems is an efficient way to document these concerns for remedial responses.  This may also serve as a buffer for your customer to vent a problem when your agency would not otherwise be open for business.

Taking orders

Web sites are efficient order takers if one of your objectives is to reduce your order entry costs and to allow your customers to order at any time.  There is a fundamental consideration regarding taking wholesale orders on the Internet.  The shopping cart model that is used for most business to consumer sites must be modified for the business to business environment.  In this environment, when there is more than a limited number of products, the order is going to be process versus an event.
When only 50 products are offered using only one price structure, a customer can login to your site with a password and be identified as a valid customer.  It should be easy enough for that customer to inventory what they have and what they need so that the shopping cart model will work.  There are a number of service providers and off-the-shelf programs to develop this type of site.

If however, you have a product line with 5000 products where pricing is customer-specific and orders occur as a process, development costs will be higher.  For wholesale orders, inventory may take a prolonged period, budgeting may require that the order be amended, and prices may be awarded according to volume or other customer qualifications.  In this case, your site should allow them to work off-line and to modify the order.  This can be done in a couple of ways.  Your site might offer the user an electronic order sheet that is limited to customer-authorized items so that they can work on the order off-line and e-mail it back to you at their convenience.  This model should allow for the addition of new items.  Another alternative would be to allow the user to disconnect and then to return to the order-in-progress when they reconnect. 

Serve as an effective marketing tool

Through both push and pull methods, your site can get your name out there so that you get more orders.  You want to push your site so that you get more hits.  Use banner advertising on your vendor's pages, trade journals, and including your web address on all your stationery to promote your site.  You must advertise your advertisement.
Maintain a list of your customers e-mail addresses.  When you have a new product release, monthly promotions, or a new line, send an e-mail newsletter with a link to a page on your site to keep your customers on the cutting edge of what's new.  Use a subscription basis and offer a remove-from-list option on each missive. It's not spam if it's timely information delivery that your customer wants. 
Dynamic content that responds to the personalized needs of your visitors helps to pull customers to your site.  What is new since their last visit? Keep track of who visits your site and how they navigate through your site for a better understanding of why they are visiting.  Offer an alternative for registering on your site that will capture the e-mail addresses of your visitors.  Allow new customers that just discovered you to submit a registration and request for information form.  This is a good way to pre-qualify them for your services. 

Clone yourself

You can clone yourself and your sales staff by extending your services to a web site that can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Pictures of you and your sales staff can reduce the techno-barrier between you and your customer while creating an impression of doing business with someone versus a computer.   Personalizing you site also helps to delineate your business from others.  Personal picks, commentary, and marketing support can be added to supplement the personal interaction aspect of your site.   With a bit more development cost, your site can recognize patrons with a personalized greeting and suggestions of products they have not tried before.

Expand your territory

Although you must negotiate this with each principal, some maintain a the one that gets the order gets paid policy.  Just as they may pay you a reduced commission for orders that are placed directly, the converse should be true for orders you take on behalf of someone else's territory.  Communications technologies like the Internet have little relationship to geographic boundaries so this issue should be addressed with your principals as to what they would be willing to do for you in regard to referring leads and accepting orders.

Generate Advertising Revenue

Banner advertising may be negotiated with your principals, manufacturers, and customers.  It is a relatively easy task to record how many hits you referred to their sites.  When a consumer visits, consider printing coupons that show the source of a referral to one of your customers.

The strategies above may be summarized into three general categories: Marketing, improvements to customer service, and generating revenue.  To calculate the return on your investment you will need to consider your research and development costs, maintenance, and your cost of capital (how much it costs to borrow or could earn in an alternative safe investment).  Because the Internet is still new, costs vary dramatically.  Some sites spend millions, while others spend nominal amounts.  You can get a basic home page with most Internet service providers that is included with your monthly fee.  Adding interactivity, taking orders with a database backend, and generating revenues will increase your development costs.

While there is the tendency to go slowly to avert risk, the alternative risk is that Internet technologies have the potential to be very powerful and move very quickly.  If your competition develops this technology before you do, traditional early follower strategies may not apply and you may get left behind.


The Internet is an exciting frontier that will make extraordinary fortunes for some and leave others in its wake as flotsam.  If you think you can delay reviewing your strategies and tactics for dealing with how it will influence your business, you may be relegated to the Willie Lomans (Death of a Salesman) in the near future.  Consider that unlike the Industrial Revolution, the influence of the Internet is growing at an exponentially faster rate with the investment of hundreds of billions of dollars!

At the very least, you should obtain and register a domain name for your company and setup a basic electronic business card site.  There are several free web hosting alternatives available, a great way to just get started.

As the next step, you should consider offering dynamic features based on the needs of your customers.  These come at a higher price however, there are now several off-the-shelf alternatives available that are adequate for a limited product selection with only one price for each product that use the shopping cart model.

If you are considering replacing or adopting order management software, be sure that the software you will use can also be used as a back end for your web site development.  Some increased cost here can avoid the costs of keeping a separate database synchronous with your office database.  Databases that use encrypted or store in proprietary formats are not recommended because web developers find it difficult to post and retrieve data to and from these sources.

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