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A Martini, you would think buying one would be simple.If your Business to Business website were a bar, what sort of bar would it be? After the festivities of the past two weeks, here's a suitably alcohol-related story about how B2B websites frequently serve the needs of the organisation over the needs of the visitor, and how you can change this for your company.

So, a man walks into a bar, and asks the Bartender for a Martini...

A bartender, who's surprisingly good at making martinis"What sort?" Asks the bartender.
"What do you mean, what sort?"
"Well, there's lots of Martinis, sir. For example, the Gibson, which has a pickled onion instead of an olive."
"What, like Sandra Bullock drinks in the film The Net?"
"Yes, exactly like Sandra bullock drinks in the film, The Net, sir."
"That was an awful film. What other Martinis do you serve?" enquires the customer.
"I can't tell you that, I'm afraid sir."
"Why not, don't you know?"
"Of course I know sir, but look outside, there's four other bars on this street. If I told you, then they might find out and also serve them. However, if you'd like to complete this simple 30 question form, I can have someone call you next week with a complete list?"

"Hmm", says the customer. "Do you really need to know what I got in GSCE English?. Look, How much is just a standard Martini?"
"Well, its not just the price of the Martini you have to consider sir." says the bartender, "it's the ambience, my friendly demeanor, and that I'm the best Martini maker in the country."
"Are you?" Asks the customer, rather shocked by this.A Business to Business Pub
"Oh yes, in fact, I now regularly do talks on how to make the best martinis"
"I didn't know that", admits the customer.
"Didn't you read the sign?"
"What sign? Oh the piece of paper stuck to the window?"
"Indeed sir."
"The one entitled 'Delivering Excellence in Ethanol Combination Services'?, I didn't understand it. I thought this place might be a factory of some kind. But then I saw there was drink."
"Then perhaps you'd like to read our leaflet extolling the virtues of our wide range of Inebriation Solutions?"
"That doesn't sound much better", says the customer, becoming increasingly frustrated.
"I became bored writing it", admits the barman, "so i made a 10 minute video that may or may not answer your questions, if you'd care to watch?"
"Well, I really only came in for a drink", says the customer, and leaves.

Haha, how does this apply to me?

Now this sound like an extreme example, but it’s a problem that many Business to Business websites face.

We are reluctant to give visitors the information they require, this can be due to competitor paranoia, a reliance upon an offline sales process, or a simple lack of content. Our calls to action are complicated, where we ask for too much information up-front, and finally, we talk in a language unfamiliar to anyone outside of our organisation.

Your website exists to give information

You are proud of the organisation you work for. Your colleagues are knowledgeable and experts in their field. Your company produces the best of whatever it is your company produces. It's innovative, dynamic, and highly regarded. So, why doesn't your website reflect that?

  • We don't want our competitors to find out what we're doing.
  • We don't want to give customers enough information so they don't need to call us.
  • We're afraid of giving an opinion that prospects may disagree with.

Conversely, in the effort for a corporate website to provide information to the variety of customers an organisation can have, we often present options that aren't relevant to a particular visitor.

Your website and your sales team should not compete

When building the Information Architecture for your corporate website, you have to consider where it should lie in the sales process. Is it a lead generator? Is it a tool your sales team can use to refer prospects to? Is it a mechanism for continuing communication post-sale? Is it all of these things?

  • Stakeholder Interviews
  • Customer Visits
  • Site Analysis

Stakeholder interviews

It's important that your offline sales team is bought into your corporate website. The best way to do this is involve them from the start. A series of stakeholder interviews with individual sales team members will not only provide you with where the site currently fits in the process, but also how your sales team would like the site to help them, and the information the site needs to provide to tease a prospect into action.

Customer visits

Remember, most B2B digital marketing teams sit in an ivory tower, away from the coalface of offline sales. The single most effective way of combating this is to actually go out and visit customers. This not only provides your sales team with a good reason to schedule a customer visit (and perhaps, demonstrate some new products at the same time!), can provide you with valuable insight you wouldn't get from Analytics, but also reassures existing customers that your organisation has their needs in mind.

Site analysis

When working with an offline sales team, bring along printouts of your Site Analytics. Using this, you can show them both the Entry Words and Phrases prospects use to find your site, but also Site Search Phrases. Seeing phrases in Site Search you don't understand? A quick chat with your sales team will tell you. (Case in Point: I had no idea why "PEAT" kept appearing in my site search analysis until our Healthcare Manager explained it to me)

BUPA's Call to action is clear and conciseUtility

When visitors do finally find the information they require, and would like to know more, a B2B website can suffer from an unclear call to action, and often the action is to complete a cumbersome form with a promise to contact them at some vague point in the future. You have to consider the utility of your site. If a visitor hands over information to you, does your site tell them:

  • What you are going to do with that information?
  • The time it will take you to perform this action?
  • What the visitor will get in return?

Calls to action also provide the opportunity to reinforce the reasons to contact you.

Bad Language

B2B websites often ineffectually communicate the business's Unique Selling Points, essentially the reasons to do business with them. Where a compelling reason does exist, it's easy to fall back on an internal language visitors don’t understand (for example, I recently saw a job advert for a "Regeneration Assistant", how disappointed I was to learn that the position was actually for a Cook, and not PA to the Borg Queen). Why do we do this?

  • We want an innovation or USP to sound more complicated than it is.
  • We feel that "formal" language is required when dealing with large organisations.
  • Any words or acronyms used internally eventually get used externally.

Your first point of call here should be your Site Analytics, specifically search terms. Are you using the same language as your visitors? Is it of any use to your visitors having a page entitled Healthcare Catering, when your visitors are looking for Hospital Food? It's certainly no help to your organic ranking.

The copy in your printed material should not be copied onto your website. This sounds obvious, in a world where "Content is King" we will gladly use any information our organisation holds, with little time to repurpose it for the web. Since offline marketing teams will hire copywriters to handle their brochure and advertorial content, why shouldn't you hire an online copywriter?

Where good web-focused content doesn't exist, it's tempting to allow video to take it's place.

So, Video is bad?

Remember, just as the best way of testing an e-commerce site is to try to use it "in anger", can visitors to your B2B website find out the information they require without having to sit and watch a video? A video should exist to provide supporting evidence to do business with you, to show a "human face". A video can never replace the written word in terms of the ability to be scanned, copied into emails, and of course, indexed. At the very least a video should be transcribed for accessibility.

B2B isn't a poor cousin

B2B websites can often be seen as a poor cousin to consumer websites. B2B isn't a sexy as ecommerce, you can't analyse purchase behaviour, pour over transactions, perform fluffy "brand engagement" studies and flex all that consumer psychology muscle we've built up over the years.

PIFFLE.

I recently came to the shocking discovery that our B2B e-commerce application brings in around four times the revenue of our consumer e-commerce website. B2B customers are worth hundreds, if not thousands of times more than their B2C brethren. Their smaller numbers allow you to be flexible in communicating them, whilst your offline ERP systems can provide a complete transactional history. A clear, simple and concise website, written in the language of your visitors, can not only be the most cost-effective marketing channel available to your organisation, but also a thorough, transparent resource for customers both internal and external.

So, what should I be doing?

I think it's time that we started to use B2C best practise in our B2B efforts.

  • Goal Orientated Design
  • Usability Testing
  • Copy
  • Simplicity
  • Targeting
  • Behavioural Analysis

Goal orientated design

Once you're conducted your stakeholder interviews & created your user personas, you can come up with potential goals for your site. "I want to find out about your range of f inch conductive sprockets, how good they are and how much they cost" type stuff. You can then design a user journey that meets these goals.

Usability testing

I'm as guilty as anyone on this. For B2C, I've rarely outside of a usability lab, or watching a user journey. However on the B2B side of the company I work for, the site has never been tested. Even my apparently wildly successful B2B ecommerce application has only had a sliver of user testing on it. There's no excuse for this. Whilst you can imagine that you need to focus on usability when selling to 80 year olds, my experience suggests that the need for elegant, usable design is even stronger when dealing with large organisations, with potentially outdated computers (or even worse, thin clients!) and visitors who are better versed in Excel than web browsing.

Copy

In B2C, we obsess about the language that we use. Should we use Register or Continue? Add to Basket, Add to Cart, Purchase or Buy? I'm still hung up on the word checkout. But in B2B land, we're comfortable using the most twisted form of English available: business speak.

Simplicity

Read this book. Then read this one.

Targeting

A customer login can be a powerful thing. I would argue that it's the single most important thing on a B2B website. Once an existing customer has logged in, you know what business unit they belong to, their purchase history, who they're sales consultant is, the last time you emailed them, perhaps ( with a dozy of a CRM system ) the last time you visited them, or they visited you. It's time we made use of this information.

Behavioral analysis

On Wiltshire Farm Foods, we throw some seriously Hard Maths at our database. We calculate product co-variance models, run regression analysis on purchase history, we cluster our customer types, and monitor lifetime value by entry keyword, first click and last click. This fires behavioural email campaigns, serves content for geodemographic targeting, and allows us to invent new ways of optimising our business - our Terminal Baskets analysis helps the offline product development team make better decisions.

In the B2B side, we run a lead generation report. Now and again.

We, as B2B marketers, can do so much better. Imagine if the next time a customer visits your site, logs in to access the ordering app, or the planning app, or whatever killer feature you've now introduced to encourage repeat visits. They log in, and as the B2B website behavioural engine sees that they haven't ordered the usual amount of 5 inch conductive sprockets, and they haven't had a visit from Jill in sales for 3 months, the site not only presents them with your new range of nickel-plated 5 inch sprockets, but also provides access to Jill's calendar so they can schedule a visit?

I'm incredibly excited about what can be done with a B2B website, and I challenge you to be the same.

If you enjoyed the little bar-related story, you might also like Relly Annett Baker's excellent post "The Construction of Instruction" that uses the bar analogy in -commerce.

Matthew Curry

Published 4 January, 2010 by Matthew Curry

Matt Curry is Head of E-commerce for online sex toy retailer LoveHoney. He spends a lot of time working on user experience and customer satisfaction is his highest priority. He frequently has to be penetration tested. You can follow him on Twitter, although he does often talk about dildos. He also has a LinkedIn profile, where he has to act professional.

19 more posts from this author

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giles palmer

really nice article Matt. The only bit i take a different view on is the Video bit. Sometimes Video is THE best way to tell the story or get the idea across. This is especially true with products like Brandwatch (our one!) which is a data analysis application and frankly a video is so much easier for a user /potential customer to check out rather than a long description. But other than that, top stuff giles

over 6 years ago

Mark Fleming

Mark Fleming, Digital Marketing Manager at Kuoni Travel

Matt, this is a great article and something that is so often overlooked. As you state, B2B sites can bring in vast amounts in terms of ROI and you have got me thinking about what we can do in the new year!

over 6 years ago

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Corey Mahoney

This is a great (and entertaining) metaphor for customer interactions--especially since bars, like websites, depend on 'regulars' and visitors who stick around for a little while. I think the key (especially with multimedia content) is to make it available in multiple formats, so that a potential customer can find what they need in whichever form fits their day.

over 6 years ago

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Sarah Alder

ha, ha, ha - have you been sitting in on my client meetings?

over 6 years ago

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Gary Bury

Brilliant. It accurately describes what we are now trying to get away from, yet is so difficult to explain to others.

Ironically though, it's not easy. Vague websites and business speak are much easier to do than well thought out useable sites with crystal clear English.

over 6 years ago

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Stu Collett

Nice article. Totally agree.

over 6 years ago

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Kirsty Branson

Great article - this is so useful for communicating an important message in my organisation. Thanks for putting it in such an easy to relate to format.

over 6 years ago

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Nick Hilditch

Great article. I kept feeling guilty at the end of every paragraph. Note to self: must do better!

over 6 years ago

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Hotel Marketing

The bar analogy applied to business sites: "We are reluctant to give visitors the information they require, this can be due to competitor paranoia, a reliance upon an offline sales process, or a simple lack of content. Our calls to action are complicated, where we ask for too much information up-front, and finally, we talk in a language unfamiliar to anyone outside of our organisation."

over 5 years ago

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