"If you build it, they will come."
That may be true for baseball diamonds cut into Iowa cornfields, but not for b-to-b Web sites.
If you build a b-to-b Web site, customers might come. If they do, you need to take important steps to ensure they get the service they need, make the purchases they came for, continue using the cost-effective Web channel and enjoy an experience that strengthens your valuable brand.
The foundation of a successful b-to-b Web site is peak performance. You can have coherent content, a great look and feel and smart navigation, but they're all for naught if you don't have always-on availability, peak response time and consistency in the user experience.
Unfortunately, too many companies think Web performance is largely out of their hands, that it's more a function of the vast, amorphous Internet than something they can control and continually improve. Other companies simply miss problems that are under the radar (so far) or overlook them by focusing on the wrong metrics.
In either case, meaningful performance improvement is well within reach of a company's Web commerce and IT staff. They just need the tools to isolate and resolve the problems and, more fundamentally, a performance management culture-one that's not just about having a Web site and hoping, but making Web applications sing.
What is a performance management culture? Simply put, it's a state of mind-a way of doing business that's all about vigilant monitoring of your site's performance to ensure a consistently positive user experience, whether the user is logging on from Paris or San Francisco. It's about always measuring your site's performance against your competitors'. It's about continual learning to safeguard customers, brand reputation and the bottom line.
Here are five musts for creating a performance management culture.
Benchmark: Use new services to quantify your performance vis-à-vis key competitors. Identify gaps and improve.
Define your users: Where do they live; which networks do they use; what connection speeds do they enjoy; and what are their peak usage times and patterns? Once you know, Internet performance measurement technologies can provide hard data about their experiences, giving you a roadmap to improving them.
Test the entire system: Test the entire application infrastructure from the "outside in" and across all relevant systems, including backbone networks around the world, and the whole continuum of connection types. An internal-only view is just half the picture.
Monitor what matters: Go beyond the home page and test every important business function on the site, including catalog searches, configurators, pricing calculators, inventory updates and shopping carts.
Keep third parties honest: Most Web sites rely on third-party content and services. Hold providers accountable to service-level agreements through monitoring and tests. Don't wait for customers to complain.
William Agush is VP-marketing at Gomez Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.