Sean Carton, chief strategy officer, idfive

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Carton: The key trends in b-to-b sites right now seem to be those that are sweeping the Web in general: Web 2.0 functionality, user-contributed content, blogging, online video, etc. Whether those things are a good idea, however, is a different story. Blogging is a great example. Sure, blogs are hot, but why do most b-to-b companies need them? Not only are they difficult to maintain, consume a large share of resources and are difficult to pull off in a corporate culture that emphasizes control of information, but most of the time they're pretty irrelevant to most of the customers that come to the site. … Most companies are fooling themselves if they think their customers are going to care all that much [about] what the CEO thinks about one industry trend or another, unless that person actually has some pretty interesting stuff to say in the first place. Overall, thinking that new Web trends are going to make a big impact is missing the point, unless those new technologies actually solve a particular problem or add specific value.

Where are b-to-b marketers falling short with their Web sites?

Carton: Overall, I think that sites fall short on putting content first. I see this in software sites all the time, particularly in the content management system space. When I've got a new assignment to find a set of potential CMS software candidates for a new project, marketing-speak or ridiculously detailed lists of features get in the way. I need to be able to compare one piece of software against another. I need to know that they've got satisfied customers by having access to real testimonials. I need to be able to sell my selection to my client. I need to know what the basic features are that differentiate it from the competition. I need to know—gasp!—the price. And I'm not all that different from someone who's dealing in any part of the b-to-b space, no matter what the industry. Look, you can't trick me. Either it fits the budget and the specs or it doesn't. No amount of Web 2.0-i-ness or marketing whizbangery is going to make a difference if those two things don't match.

What's on the horizon for b-to-b Web sites?

Carton: More sites turning back to the basics: providing solid, easy-to-use information that comes out of a deep understanding of the needs of users. Does this mean turning away from technology trends? No. … A good Web site is one that does things that can't be done without the Web. All the Web 2.0 stuff that people point to—user-contributed content, video, real-time interaction with data via Ajax, blogs, etc.—are really all things that can't be done without a globally linked, networked, real-time platform for information: in short, the Web. If b-to-b marketers aren't doing stuff that 1) addresses the real needs of their customers and 2) can't be done in any other way than online, then they're missing the boat.

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