Let’s say a customer walks into your shop and approaches your friendly and informative employee. He asks a question about your product or service and she politely gives him a detailed answer. Then, she turns and walks away, leaving your potential customer interested in buying but confused about how exactly to give you money. Would you praise your employee for a job well done? Or would you consider finding a new employee who could not only be polite and informative, but actually close the deal?

Odds are your website behaves like this hypothetical employee. It’s attractive, informative, and provides useful information about your company. And then the site turns away just as your visitors are reaching for their wallets. One of the first rules of marketing is that it takes more than one contact with a potential customer to make a sale. Your website is probably the initial contact your business has with many customers. If the site does not move that customer further down the path to actually buying, it’s behaving just like that theoretical employee. You might want to consider finding a new site that’s attractive, informative, and will actually help you close the deal.

Your website can be your best salesperson. When business owners consider building a website, the first considerations (sometimes the only considerations!) are how it will look. While it’s important that your site looks presentable and professional, it’s more important that it pays attention to your customers and clearly communicates to you what it learns from them. It’s important that sales people look presentable as well, but even the most attractive sales person who never closes a deal will find themselves out of work.

“But I don’t sell products on my website.” Every company website sells products, whether that site has an e-commerce component or not. Your customers may not end up at a shopping cart entering credit card information, but your website is selling your products, your services, and your brand from the first click. The challenge for small businesses is to identify the most effective web tools and the most efficient ways to fold those tools into existing business practices in order to move visitors one step closer to being customers. If you view your website as a brochure, you’re already in trouble. If you believe providing an address and hours of business so that customers can come to your shop to buy, you’re dead wrong. Placing the burden on the customers to get to you means many of them will get lost on the drive over.

Every business, especially smaller and self-owned ones, is unique. The specific tools you’ll need for your website depend on your business, your sales process, and exactly who your customers are. Before you think about what your website should look like, you need to consider what it should do. How will it work best for your business? What do you want to achieve with your website? Who are your customers and what it is the most effective way to reach them and communicate with them?

While the specific answers to these questions are unique to your business, here are some general ways your website can help you close sales.

1. Collect data from your visitors so that you can more accurately segment your potential customers. Let you website figure out where your customers are in the sales cycle so that you can tailor your follow-up messages. If you’re in the wedding business, you know brides fall into general points in the planning process. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know if the bride is 12 months or 2 months away from her wedding date? Your web site can tell you.

2. Understand how your customers interact with your data. Let’s say that you are a florist. Would it be helpful to know that 80% of your customers view your expensive selection of red roses and immediately click over to your less expensive offerings of red carnations? Such data can be invaluable in determining how you market your products, what kind of promotions you execute, and how you speak to your customers when they do eventually walk into the shop.

3. Apply your knowledge to your website. Building a website this flexible and adaptable is crucial to generating sales. Take the above example and think of it in reverse. You’ve noticed that customers who step into your flower shop often look at roses but eventually buy carnations. Being able to organize your website site around evolving consumer tastes or quickly changing economic trends will maximize your sales. Not only will your customer feel that you really understand what they want, you will be able to make it easy for them to make that final purchase decision.

4. Let your website complete a distinct part of the sales cycle. Websites have long featured an FAQ section. The goal of an FAQ is to answer the most commonly asked questions so you and your staff don’t have to. Identify the common but time consuming parts of the sales process and engineer your website to take care of that step for you. If your website has already identified and vetted customers who are most likely to buy and you are armed with that information, you can more wisely invest your personal time in those customers.