Today’s B2B buyers rely on digital channels at every stage of their journey – even long after face-to-face sales interactions with agents.
As a result, the efforts of commercial organizations to “serially” identify, promote, and pursue opportunities – first through digital engagement via marketing, followed by handover to sales for face-to-face interaction – support the way customers support customers actually buy.
Instead, the best companies must develop a “parallel” commercial engine where digital and personal strategies complement each other at every stage of the buyer’s multi-channel journey.
In other words, we’ve all worked hard to create a “seamless view of the customer” for our company. Now is the time to create a seamless view of our organizations for customers.
To get there, most suppliers have to rethink and ultimately redesign their websites as customers don’t just shop digitally. They rely heavily on the suppliers’ websites for this.
In fact, we’ve found that supplier websites are the most consulted digital channel for customers at every stage of the buying process.
Still, the vast majority of B2B websites are not designed to support this type of buying behavior. Instead, they are primarily designed for “transmission”.
In particular, we all try to say three things to the world: (1) who we are, (2) what we do, and (3) how we help.
However, in order to help buyers make a purchase, B2B websites will need to adhere to three important and very different design principles in the future.
Watch this video to see how the best B2B websites impress.
Build a better B2B website in 3 steps
- Give customers an entry point on their terms.
- Signal your solutions in the language of the customer.
- Help customers do what they do on your website.
1. Give customers an entry point on their terms.
After looking through hundreds of B2B websites in every major industry, we only found a handful that specifically invite customers for a chat. To do this, suppliers need to stop talking so much about themselves.
Rather, you should give customers the opportunity to share about who they are and what they want to do – on their terms.
Really, it’s no different from the usual courtesy at a cocktail party. Nobody wants to be prevented from talking to the person booming about who they are and what they are doing. This is exactly what the vast majority of B2B websites do.
This kind of self-centered approach not only dissolves, but also leaves the buyer asking, “Do you even know who I am? Or what am I actually doing? “Or worse,“ Are they even interested? ”It’s impersonal at best and repulsive at worst – it encourages questions rather than connections and distance rather than help.
However, we found a handful of websites that actually actively invite customers to get involved on their terms. For example, Square asks customers to identify their company sizes and types as the first step in entering the website. It is the first – and almost only – thing a visitor encounters when landing on the homepage. With this information, Square can offer its customers a much more personalized web experience.
Another example is vAuto.com. VAuto is a division of Cox Automotive and sells business software to auto dealers around the world. These dealers include both used and new car sellers and wholesalers – some on a franchise basis and some independently.
These distinctions are important – not only to find the right vAuto solution, but also to determine how that customer thinks of themselves.
vAuto has designed the homepage of its website in such a way that buyers can identify themselves based on the dimensions that are most important to them before they go deeper. The customer’s first choice when landing on vauto.com is “I am a new car”, “I am a used car” or “I am a wholesaler”.
Note that even the pronouns have been 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?
- What aspects of your identity do you think most influence the way you view suppliers like us?
2. Signal your solutions in the language of the customer.
Just as the best websites invite customers to chat, they also lead buyers to supplier solutions that use the language of customer results – rather than supplier skills.
The best companies take the time to understand the specific business goals that customers are trying to achieve and then organize their websites in a language that customers will immediately recognize based on those particular results. That way, clients don’t have to translate.
Here’s another place where vAuto excels. The company uses actual business problems articulated by the customer as an organizational framework to delve deeper into its wide range of solutions. This information is organized under headings such as “Nobody is buying my inventory” and “The Internet is killing my profits”.
The aim at every step is to make online learning and shopping as simple and resonant as possible – on an easy-to-follow path of breadcrumbs that leads directly to vAuto’s unique solutions.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What help are customers looking for from a supplier in your category?
- What specific language would your customers best use to describe this help?
3. Help customers do what they do on your website.
Finally, the best websites identify and facilitate the specific tasks that customers need to do on your website.
Take something like a cost calculator that is embedded right into a website. With such a tool, customers can independently calculate the cost of (in) action instead of relying on salespeople to justify changes. It’s a simple, practical idea, but it’s implemented with one goal: to allow the buyer to easily move forward on their journey while staying in their preferred channel.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What specific buying tasks do your customers do on your website?
- How easy is it currently to find support for these tasks on your website?
There is a lot to learn from the few top quality websites we’ve found in the course of our work. For a more detailed discussion, look at that Video, which also includes examples and a handy worksheet to help plan next steps.