Everything You Need to Know About Digital Sales, You Learned in the Outdoors, Part 1

Preparation makes the impossible possible.

By Mary Iannotti November 14, 2017
This is part 1 of a three-part series. Read Part 2Read Part 3.

Running an outdoor business can feel like riding a seesaw. 

The ups: working in an industry you’re rassionate about. The downs: competition (especially digital) that chips away at your market share and your profit margins. 

When things get out of balance and you’re down more than you’re up, anxiety can smother your passion and take all the fun out of it. 

But don’t despair. You’re an outdoorist, which means you probably have some ingrained habits that—when applied to your digital marketing efforts—can bring you more sales. 

What are those habits?  

  • Preparation.  
  • Taking the path of least resistance.  
  • Perseverance. 

This three-part series will show you how to combine those habits with customer research that provides insights into your target audience’s motivations in order to boost your digital sales.  

Prepare Your Way to a Successful Online Sales Strategy  

Thanks to his year-long preparation, elite rock climber Alex Honnold climbed El Capitan without a rope and in record time. 

Hannold researched his route to understand the trickiest sections. He rehearsed the difficult hand and foot movements he had to execute flawlessly because there was no room for error on his routine. 

His preparation increased his odds of pulling off the first free-solo climb on Yosemite’s El Capitan.  

Likewise, your odds of making a sale increase when you do some planning. Prospects will be more inclined to buy when they understand how your product or service fulfills their need or, better still, solves their problem. Their attitude will change from “that’s cool” to “I’ve got to have it.” 

Your challenge is discovering your prospects’ needs and problems—what’s driving your audience crazy—and assuring them, at the right moment in their buying process, that you can ease that burden.  

Start by breaking down the buying process, so you can know exactly where your prospects are and how to market to them. In Breakthrough Advertising, legendary direct-response copywriter Eugene Schwartz divides every audience’s buying awareness into five stages.  

1. Completely Unaware: prospect doesn’t yet know a problem or need exists. 

2. Problem Aware: prospect has a problem but doesn’t know that there’s a solution. 

3. Solution Aware: prospect knows a solution(s) exists but doesn’t know that your product provides it. 

4. Product Aware: prospect knows about your product but isn’t sure it’s the right fit. 

5. Most Aware: prospect knows your product and only needs to know the details of the offer. 

The more aware prospects are, the further along they are in the buying process. 

Once you know which stage your website visitors are at, you can set up a digital sales path or funnel that moves them through the remaining stages. 

Build Authority at the Beginning of Your Sales Funnel

Educational content marketing is a perfect way to attract Problem-Aware buyers. According to ConsumerVue, “Outdoor consumers shop with a purpose. Seventy-five percent shop with intent and educate themselves prior to making a purchase.” 

A buyer’s guide that compares various solutions is a good place to start when selling to Problem-Aware prospects. REI’s  free hiking boot guide  is so popular, it is the top organic listing for the Google search of “hiking boots.” 


The well-crafted page title promises to equip shoppers with the knowledge they need to make an informed purchase. It gets prospects into REI’s sales funnel and moves them from Problem-Aware to Solution-Aware. 

On the landing page, REI displays its own hiking boots (1) alongside what is otherwise brand-agnostic educational content (2). 

This tactic brilliantly funnels Solution-Aware prospects to the Product-Aware stage without focusing exclusively on its own products. 

By addressing its prospects’ needs, REI builds authority and trust early in the relationship. 

Create Buying Guides Your Prospects Will Love 

To develop a guide that’s meaningful to your prospects, it’s helpful to know: 

  • why they have a need, and what that need is; 
  • what issues they may have had with other products or solutions; 
  • questions that come up during the buying process. 

The most accurate way to gather this intel is through voice of customer (VOC) research. It’s a process that uncovers the wants and needs of your customers. 

Here are a few ways to find this data: 

1. Add these survey questions to your product detail web page: 

  • “Did you have all the information you needed to make a purchasing decision?” 
  • “If not, what was missing?” 

Use an exit pop-up survey or the less intrusive option of a feedback tab that visitors can click to open.  

2. Ask customers in a post-purchase survey, “What was going on in your world that made you decide to buy (your product name)?” 

3. Review your returns to understand the main reasons products are coming back. 

4. Refer to online chats, or ask your sales team the most frequent questions prospects have about your products. 

If a buyer’s guide doesn’t work for your business, use VOC data to create a different content marketing piece that does. For example: Sacred Rides, a mountain bike adventure guide and outfitting service, created “21 Mountain Bike Hacks”. The company uses this digital guide, which is available for free to email subscribers, to get prospects into its sales funnel. 

The resource is heavy on advice and light on promotion, which helps to establish Sacred Rides’ credibility as an expert on mountain bike adventure travel. The guide is loaded with tips that protect riders from problems commonly encountered on the MTB trail.  
Your digital sales funnel doesn’t end here because your prospect’s buying process isn’t over. Prospects are still evaluating whether your product and offer are the right fit for them. 

At this point your website has to take over. It has to be a compass that guides people through the last two stages of awareness (Product-Aware and Most-Aware) and convinces them to purchase. 

In part 2 of this series, Yosemite climbing pioneer TM Herbert will share advice for building trust with your audience and moving them through the final stages of your funnel: Product-Aware and Most-Aware. 

This is part 1 of a three-part series. Read Part 2Read Part 3.