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Today’s B2B buyers rely on digital channels through every stage of their journeys — even long after in-person sales interactions with reps.
As a result, commercial organizations’ efforts to identify, nurture, and pursue opportunities “serially” — first through digital engagement via marketing, followed by a hand-off to sales for in-person interaction — is failing to support the way customers actually buy.
Instead, the best companies must evolve a “parallel” commercial engine, where digital and in-person strategies complement each other at every stage of the buyer’s multi-channel journey.
In other words: We have all worked hard to create for our organization a “seamless view of the customer.” Now, it’s time to build a seamless view of our organizations for customers.
To get there, most suppliers will have to re-think — and ultimately, re-design — their websites, as customers aren’t just buying digitally. They’re relying heavily on suppliers’ websites to do so.
In fact, we found suppliers’ websites to be the most frequently-consulted digital channel for customers at every stage of the purchase process.
And yet, the vast majority of B2B websites aren’t designed to support that kind of buying behavior. Instead, they’re primarily designed to “broadcast.”
Specifically, we’re all seeking to tell the world three things: (1) who we are, (2) what we do, and (3) how we help.
To help buyers buy, however, B2B websites will have to meet three critical — and very different — design principles moving forward.
1. Give customers an entry point on their terms.
After reviewing hundreds of B2B websites across every major industry, we found only a handful that purposefully invite customers into a conversation. To do that, suppliers need to stop talking so much about themselves.
Rather, they should provide customers with an opportunity to share something about who they are, and what they’re looking to do — on their terms.
Really, it’s no different than common courtesy at a cocktail party. No one wants to be stuck talking to the person droning on about who they are and what they do. Yet that’s precisely what the vast majority of B2B websites do.
Not only is that kind of self-centered approach disengaging, but it also leaves the buyer wondering, “Do they even know who I am? Or what I actually do?” Or worse, “Do they even care?” It’s impersonal at best, and off-putting at worst — fostering questions rather than connections, and distance rather than assistance.
That said, we found a handful of websites that do, in fact, actively invite customers to engage on their terms. Square, for example, asks customers to identify their business sizes and types as a first step to entering the site. It’s the first — and nearly only — thing a visitor encounters upon landing on the home page. That information allows Square to offer customers what feels like a much more customized web experience.
Another example is vAuto.com. A division of Cox Automotive, vAuto sells enterprise software to auto dealers around world. Among those dealers are both used and new car sellers, along with wholesalers — some franchise-based, and some independent.
Those distinctions matter — not only for finding the appropriate vAuto solution but they help to identify how that customer thinks about themselves.
vAuto has designed the front page of its website to allow buyers to self-identify along the dimensions most important to them, prior to going any deeper. The customer’s first choice upon landing at vauto.com is declaring, “I’m New Car,” “I’m Used Car,” or “I’m Wholesale.”
Notice that even the pronouns are specifically chosen to position the website as a learning and buying tool for customers, rather than a broadcasting tool for the supplier.
Questions to ask yourself:
- How do our customers define themselves?
- In their minds, which aspects of their identity most affect the way they look at suppliers like us?
2. Signal your solutions in customers’ language.
Just as the best websites invite customers into a conversation, they also guide buyers to supplier solutions using the language of customer outcomes — rather than supplier capabilities.
The best companies take the time to understand the specific business objectives customers are seeking to achieve, then organize their sites using language immediately recognizable to customers along those particular outcomes. That way, customers don’t have to translate.
Here’s another place where vAuto excels. The company employs actual customer-articulated business problems as the organizing framework for diving deeper into their broad solution set. It organizes this information around headings like, “No one’s buying my inventory,” and, “The internet is killing my profits.”
At every step, the goal is to make online learning and buying as easy and as resonant as possible — all through an easy-to-follow path of breadcrumbs leading directly to vAuto’s unique solutions.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What help are customers seeking from a supplier in your category?
- What specific language would best resonate with your customers to describe that help?
3. Help customers do what they are on your site to do.
Finally, the best websites identify and then facilitate the specific tasks that customers come to your website to complete.
Take something like a cost calculator embedded directly into a website. A tool like that enables customers to independently calculate the costs of (in)action, rather than relying on sales reps to make the case for change. It’s a simple, practical idea, but it’s deployed with a single-minded purpose: to allow the buyer to easily progress along the journey while remaining in her preferred channel of choice.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What are specific buying tasks your customers coming to your website to complete?
- How easy is it to find support for those tasks on your site right now?
There’s a great deal to be learned from the handful of world-class websites we found as part of our work. For a more detailed discussion, check out this video, where you’ll also find examples and a practice worksheet to plan next steps.