Back in January, Brian Walker posted a short piece on some of they key cultural differences between B2B and B2C organizations, and how those cultural differences drive differing approaches to web site requirements and technologies.
Over the last year, I have seen an increase in the number of B2B clients seeking help with their web strategy, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with quite a few of them. While initially it might seem odd that a retail/e-commerce consultant can offer insights on how to make a B2B website work, I have found that there are many strategic concepts rooted in retail and e-commerce that can catapult B2B websites from the bland brochure-wear of the ’90’s into vibrant and effective marketing and selling tools.
First, it’s important to acknowledge that B2B is a different animal. Sure, it’s selling stuff to customers just like e-commerce, but the customers and the way they buy are dramatically different. The critical differences that need to be considered are:
- The selling cycle is usually longer: Depending on the product, it may take weeks, months or longer from the initial research to the purchase.
- The decision process may cross from online to offline numerous times: from initial web search to phone conversation to more web research to a sales call, etc. The information gathering and decision making takes many twists and turns and touches.
- There may be many people involved: And, those people may float in and out of the decision process over time, gathering different pieces of information along the way.
- Products and services (and their prices) are more likely to be negotiated and tailored to the client: this means that zeroing in on specifically what products and services to cover on the website may be a very complex undertaking.
These differences cause many B2B clients to ask “is my website even worth the investment?” I think the answer is absolutely yes. If you need convincing, download the Enquiro B2B Survey that was done in 2007 (it’s free). Ok, it’s a couple of years old, but I suspect that the findings have become even more pronounced. The entire study is worth reading, but most notably, across the entire B2B purchase cycle, from awareness through purchase, company websites and search engines are the most used resource by B2B buyers. That means if you’re a B2B company and your website is bad (and, I must say, many of them are), you’re likely missing significant opportunity.
So, here are my top 5 e-commerce concepts that translate well in making great B2B websites:
- What’s on the menu? E-commerce sites are typically very good at telling you what they sell. There’s a defined product assortment, usually categorized. Not so with many B2B sites. In fact, many B2B companies don’t think about their business in clean categories the way retailers do. Spend some time on this ; how do you expect customer to understand what you offer? What do they call it? If a lot of your phone calls start with “Do you do____?” , start there, and develop a framework for your products.
- Show it off and make it move: Ask any top tier e-commerce leader and they’ll tell you that video and interactivity, done well, can pump up the sales volume. Yet, most B2B sites are a sea of stasis. A nice video about your operation or a demo of how your product works can make it real and bring credibility to your company. Ditto for professional images and larger & multiple views (if applicable).
- The power of proof: Customer reviews have become one of the key decision tools for customers on e-commerce sites. While there may not be a direct translation to your B2B site, especially if products are built to order or highly customized, testimonials can be a great substitute. Well placed testimonials from high profile clients can help the customer turn the corner and pick up the phone. Client lists and case studies are also great proof points. If you’re worried about your competitors seeing who you do business with, get over it. They probably already know, and they’re already calling them. Holding back info that your customer needs because you’re afraid of a competitor is not likely to help your business. He who is transparent (within reason) and can prove (not just talk about) greatness will likely win.
- Clear and ever-present call to action: On e-commerce sites this is the “add to cart” or “buy now”, of course. Not so clear for B2B, particularly if the transaction takes place offline. So think about it. What do you want visitors to do? Most likely, you want them to call you or email you, or request a quote on a job. Sounds obvious, but I am amazed at how many B2B sites have the contact information buried in the “contact us” section vs. making it readily available on every page. Your customer can have that “moment of truth” on any page. Have the number there when they’re ready to pick up the phone.
- Tracking the transaction path: That phone number we just talked about that you’re going to put on every page? Make it a track-able phone number so that you can measure how well your website is achieving it’s goal of driving people to contact you. Bonus points if you add call recording as well, so that you can go back, listen to calls and coach your sales people on how to handle these important inbound leads. Be sure salespeople know that the phone number is on every page and that sending those calls to voice-mail is not an option. Tie phone activity to your web analytics to see the full picture of visit through “conversion”, even if you define conversion differently.
The good news here is that in many industries, the B2B bar for websites is set very low. A few simple, and likely not too expensive changes can have you towering over your competitors and helping your customers get the information they need. And don’t forget to track the results. Then, you won’t have to trust me when I tell you that the investment is worth it. You’ll know.