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Five online best practices b-to-b can learn from b-to-c

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Business and consumer brands traditionally have approached marketing from different vantage points. Because b-to-b buying cycles are longer, buyer mentalities are different and products typically require more investigation before a purchase is made. But the reality is that b-to-b buyers are very similar to b-to-c consumers. Both want to be educated and informed. They want to feel as though you understand them and their problems. And they certainly don't want to be bored to death by encyclopedic, catalog-type information. While there are always going to be distinct differences between the two, b-to-b websites must make some consumer-inspired adjustments to keep up with savvy customers. Here are five ways business brands can act like consumer brands and win loyalty, leads and sales as a result:
  1. Design your site for the customer. Most b-to-b websites are known for dedicated areas with a rotating hero graphic, some space touting news and events, maybe a few awards and, of course, customer logos displayed prominently. But e-commerce brands design sites with the buyer in mind. When you hit the home page, you know exactly what products they are offering, which promotions they are running—and you are comfortable navigating or searching the site. Their hero imagery is used strategically, the calls to action are prominent, and simple, actionable navigation jump-starts the shopping process. It's easier to get your value proposition across without content overload that creates a confusing experience.
  2. Start testing. Seriously. B-to-b marketers spend copious amounts of money driving traffic to their websites but spend next to nothing on converting that traffic. The rapid increase in adoption of A/B and multivariate testing by consumer companies has fundamentally shifted the way websites are designed and updated. Within the typical b-to-b site, such elements as calls to action, landing page layouts, home page design and forms are high on the list of optimization priorities. Any small change, addition or update to your site can impact conversions negatively or positively. If you aren't testing, you will never know.
  3. Treat content as a category. As on many b-to-c sites, your products and services pages are a category, as are your case studies, white papers, e-books, articles and events. Your content pages are crucial to making this educational process frustration-free while giving visitors an array of choices to explore and engage with. Quick “pop-outs” when visitors mouse over a white paper give more detail without their having to click onto a landing page. “Light-boxing” a video player applies the same technique, while keeping the focus on the content. Large images to support product copy and listings will focus visitors' attention.
  4. Employ deeper search and sort capabilities. For b-to-b companies, search is a must-have, enabling visitors to easily locate your products and become educated on exactly what they are looking for that you are offering. Any user who is engaging with search on your site probably knows a bit more about you, so offering that user more sophisticated searches can help speed up the process. With sort and filter functionality, you allow users to dive deeper into your products and resources, understand the options and know that you have what they want.
  5. Allow product reviews. If you're already asking a customer to write a case study with you or endorse you in a press release, consider asking for a product review in b-to-c fashion and display it on your site. Now those customer logos you have on your “Clients” page have suddenly come to life. They encourage visitors to look to longer, text-driven reviews for more product information and insights. Connect this to a form or “Request a Demo” link and you're not only getting product endorsements, you're improving lead-gen, too.
Paul Dunay is global VP-marketing at Web optimization and analytics company Maxymiser (www.maxymiser.com), and the author of five “Dummies” books, including “Facebook Marketing for Dummies” (Wiley, 2012, third edition) and “The Contact Center for Dummies” (Wiley, 2010). He can be reached at paul.dunay@maxymiser.com.
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