When I do Web work–whether solo or in collaboration with a Web designer–I’m always mindful that we need to keep things simple. Sometimes keeping things simple forces us to compromise more than we would like or generalize in the interest of time and money (for us and the client’s). Ironically, when you tend to over simplify, that’s when many situations tend to get really messy.
Most Web sites are tailored to a specific audience–business or consumer. How to structure and compartmentalize content in that instance can be pretty obvious.Those are the easier ones for us and the client because they tend to be focused (i.e. simple).
However, I’ve worked on a few sites that attempted to be all things to both consumers and businesses. You essentially need to create two sites packaged into one, even though I know it’s a lousy way to go about it. When you try to satisfy everyone, everyone goes home unhappy.
If I had my druthers, I’d want the client to set up two different sites–one for consumers and one for business customers–but that’s not something a small entrepreneur wants to do, or even has time for. It can be costly and time consuming for a whole host of reasons that I won’t go into today.
I worked with one client, for example, who sells individually custom-designed T-shirts to consumers and a similar T-shirt in bulk to retailers. Not surprising, his site wasn’t working for him, and he needed help.
It was pretty obvious that he needed to structure his site so that consumer would enter the site and go off in one direction and so that retailers would enter his site and go off in the other direction. I find working on sites like that particularly difficult because you have to work on half the site with your right brain (consumers) and on the other half with your left brain (business).
That was what I was thinking about when I decided to write a post about the difference between crafting sites for business people and consumers. For now, I’m going to focus only on the needs and buying motivations of business people. I’ll cover the consumer angle not too far down the road.
The idea here is that if you understand what motivates your audience, you’ll be able to shape your message more precisely and use the right tools to hit the bulls eye. The fact that you’re working with one-site-fits-all makes it more challenging and more important to shape your message and design appropriately.
What makes writing/designing different for B2Bs than consumers?
1. The smart ones want to solve problems over the long-term. Business people, let’s call them B2Bs, for the sake of brevity, are often motivated to buy a product or service to solve a business problem. It might be so they can be more competitive, operate more efficiently or increase profitably. That’s a strategic decision and it’s usually takes a long sales cycle and repeated message to get through to them.
2. They often buy expensive items. The kinds of purchases B2Bs generally make are high-ticket, so they’re willing to read more copy and do more research than consumers. They’re willing to read just about everything you have to say, not only on your Web site, but also in your direct mail, email, e-newsletters and every other media (including Webinars). Reaching B2Bs requires all your tools–it’s can take three-four-five-six prong attack to succeed.
3. They often know what they want better than you do. B2Bs tend to be sophisticated about what they’re buying and they know how, usually even better than you do, to solve their problems. They’re not looking for generalizations or simple answers. They want details, often backed with testimonials, case studies, white papers and live demonstrations. Every B2B is from Missouri. You have to show them.
4. The products and services they buy often have lots of moving parts. B2B product and services generally tend to be complex and may require you to explain or educate quite a bit to get the point across. Again, case studies, how-to guides and white papers often make compelling reading for these folks.
5. They do not buy impulsively. Not only is the product or service more likely to be complex, more people are involved in the purchase decision. That requires shaping your message to different audiences and to each of their needs within the organization. The IT guy wants the Web widget or service because it saves time; the marketing woman wants it because the widget makes the company more competitive; the board of directors wants the widget because it will increase profits. Everyone wants the same thing but for different reasons.
6. Some want to solve a short-term problem. That is, they need need to buy a product or service to solve a tactical (instead of strategic) problem. Less-sophisticated B2Bs won’t buy anything in anticipation that something will go wrong; they wait until it breaks before they do something about it.
I used to write about computer security quite a bit and companies typically didn’t buy security products until an employee stole their data, a hurricane trashed their offices or a hacker took down their Web site.
It’s always been that way when it comes to what I call “mañana products, ” meaning, “I need it, but I’ll wait until tomorrow to get it.”
7. The dumb ones buy to satisfy a burning desire. They not only buy only when there’s a fire, they needed to put it out yesterday. Keep that in mind when you craft the benefits of using your service. Push how you can get things done quickly and efficiently and how that helps cuts losses in time and money. You may be asked to write and distribute a press release for crisis management or you might have to redesign a Web site because the owner suddenly decides the reason he’s nearing bankruptcy is that his Web site needs to sprucing up. It’s always that way with some B2Bs.
Maybe 6 months ago, I pitched to my wife’s boss the need to rewrite some of the copy on his Web site to make it more appealing to consumers and business visitors (yes, he’s trying to reach two audiences with one Web site) and more visible to search engines. The home page was a jumble and at first glance, it was difficult discern just who the site was for. Heck, it wasn’t even clear that he sold one group of products to consumers and another group of products to businesses. There are also serious navigation issues with this site.
The place needed sprucing up to make it more optimized too. For example, most of his content was in graphics files instead of HTML. Almost none of the copy was properly formatted, there were too few keywords on the site–in short, it was a disaster.
The boss was more than receptive to the changes I suggested but he wanted to talk to his IT guy. Why he wanted to involve the IT guy about what were essentially marketing decisions, I don’t know. Eventually, he came back and said the IT guy said the site was fine as it was.
I suspect the IT guy just didn’t want to take on the work of adapting the site in a way that served each category of customer. It still remains this fuzzy thing that none of its visitors recognize and business is worse than ever.
The boss just didn’t get that he needed to address each audience differently and his business is suffering because of it.
So, tell me, how do you handle situations where you have clients who want to be “jack of all trades and master of none?”