A reader of our books recently asked, “How do I market through my business-to-business website?” Which got me thinking about how B2B sites face most of the same challenges as business-to-consumer sites; how so many B2B websites are really bad; and how B2B could easily be improved.
Broadly defined, a B2B website is a site directed at facilitating commercial transactions between businesses — examples would be a parts maker who sells to manufacturers, or a wholesaler who sells to retailers.
While companies which sell to consumers (B2C) generally understand how their presence on the Internet can boost sales, B2B operations seem to have mostly failed to recognize or act on the opportunity.
Many companies in the B2B sector are very conservative. They have traditionally promoted their products and services via trade shows, sales reps making calls on customers, and advertising in select print media. Management in these companies often see the Web as a sort of Wild West populated by direct-to-consumer vendors of products that traditional retailers don’t carry. At most, they have allowed a simple site to be created; one which most often bears a striking resemblance to their business brochure.
These “typical” B2B sites provide:
- a brief overview of the company history
- a short list of the kinds of products they manufacture or sell as someone else’s representative
- a description of the territory they serve
The company street address, a telephone number, a fax number, and the hours of operation round out a spartan few pages. If there are links on the site, they either let you download a PDF brochure, or lead you away to the site(s) of suppliers the company represents.
Ask the owner of one of these businesses why there is so little content, and the response is something like, “Hey, I don’t sell to consumers, so that’s all we can do on the web.” The clear assumption is, the Internet is for B2C selling, not B2B.
There are very real problems with the old school approach. Trade shows are increasingly expensive events to display at. Print media has always carried the “how do I measure my results?” question and in many cases print magazines and directories are disappearing. Direct mail flyers yield results so tiny that they are hard to measure and harder to cost-justify.
That leaves the traditional sales team, calling on clients and potential clients. Can you rely solely on the team? Probably not.
What Can Be Done
The Web is turning selling on its head. Its is often the first place business younger people go to research potential suppliers, and they use the web heavily to look for solutions to problems.
The fact that the web is used by business people is where the opportunity for B2B marketing lies. Having a digital facsimile of your business brochure is not enough. You need to provide information and solutions — exactly what your best sales reps do when they call on customers.
In reality, the difference between B2B and B2C selling on the web is tiny. Mostly, the difference is that I am not likely to place an order on the web for, say, a new injection molding machine (but I will happily order a book, or a new computer). I will, however, use the web to identify local suppliers of injection molding machines and to learn as much as I can about the products and services they offer.
Business to consumer (B2C) vendors talk about drawing customers to their web sites and engaging their interest. They do this with information the visitor to the site can use. B2B sellers should be doing the same. Consciously or not, I also gain an important “first impression” of each company whose website I visit.
Here are some things you can (and should) do with your web site as a B2B vendor:
- Provide an organized overview of what you offer.
- Provide enough detail about specifications for an interested potential client to clearly grasp the range of products and services you offer.
- If you offer installation or other services (for example, purchase financing), detail them (and, ideally, display some customer endorsements or success stories).
- Provide useful information: this might be articles on using your products, or articles on solving common problems.
- Provide a way for visitors to the web site to contact you via the site: have a facility for a visitor to send an email to your sales team, or to ask questions.
In other words, think of your web site as part of your sales and marketing team. Use it to reach out and talk to your customers, and try to engage their interest.
Don’t assume books like Low-Budget Online Marketing are strictly for the B2C crowd — what it and similar books say about B2C web sites can be easily applied to B2B sites as well. The principles are the same; your message is what differs.
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