B2B gives "bad web"? Yep. Especially when compared to B2C sites.
A great post by Anita Campbell on her Selling to Small Business blog (fantastic to follow if small biz is a market of yours) references Jakob Nielsen's (expert on web content and usability) assertions (emphasis mine):
"Many business-to-business (B2B) sites are stuck in the 1990s in their attitude toward the user experience.
Most B2B sites emphasize internally focused design, fail to answer customers' main questions or concerns, and block prospects' paths as they search for companies to place on their shortlists.
These sites haven't realized that the Web has reversed the company-customer relationship. Most online interactions are demand-driven: you either give people what they want or watch as they abandon your site for the competition's....
Considering that there's immensely more money at stake for B2B than for business-to-consumer (B2C), it's astounding that B2B sites offer a much worse user experience."
I couldn't agree more. Lack of clarity, lack of interesting information, and lack of direction (i.e. "where do I go next?") render most professional service firm sites useless.
Campbell picked up Nielsen's research findings from Dianna Huff, author of the Marcom Writer Blog (another great resource, especially for marketing professionals). Here, Huff emphasizes the need for stronger content and "best practices" with regard to navigation.
One thing I see repeatedly with B2B sites is lack of content. “Our Website is our online brochure,” business people will say to me with regard to a five or six-page site. Unfortunately, people don’t view Websites the way they view a 6-8 page glossy color brochure....And, when was the last time a prospect made a buying decision based on a brochure?
B2B sites must also support the decision/buying process for each person in the buying cycle — whether influencer or decision maker.
Jakob Nielsen's research is discussed in his June 1, 2006 Alertbox. The free portion of his in-depth report includes this key point about a perception mistake made by B2B orgs (again, emphasis mine):
One of the biggest differences between B2B and B2C might be that most B2B companies don't seem to see themselves as engaged in e-commerce. Perhaps this is because most B2B sites don't have shopping carts. The typical B2B product can't be purchased through a simple Add to cart button...also prices might not be fixed, but rather adjusted to each customer.
However, the lack of an Add to cart button doesn't mean that B2B vendors should ignore their websites. The site should still support the many other stages of the buying process — including the post-sales stages, which are crucial to customers' long-term brand loyalty.
Nielsen makes some other statements that answer some common questions firms ask. I've framed the questions and inserted, as indented text, his statements.
Why is "free" information (whitepapers, articles, blogs) essential?
Most important, B2B sites can be great lead generators. Prospects use websites during their initial research and stick with the helpful sites during subsequent research.
...research and multi-criteria decision-making dominate the B2B user experience. B2B sites must provide a much wider range of information than what's common in B2C. A B2B site has to offer simple facts that are easily and quickly understood by an early prospect who's just looking around to see what's available. It must also offer in-depth white papers and information....
Why are brochure sites (without detailed information) a problem?
Most of our users also said that when they were thinking of doing business with a company, one of their first actions was to check out its website. Thus, a site that inadequately communicates the credibility of a vendor and its products can seriously deter incoming leads -- long before your official sales efforts begin.
What is the worst mistake B2B sites make?
The most user-hostile element of most B2B sites is a complete lack of pricing information. And yet, when we asked users to prioritize which of 28 types of B2B site information mattered most to them, prices scored the highest by far (29% higher than product availability, which ranked second).
Sites have many excuses for not wanting to display prices, but they are just that: excuses. Users expect to get a basic understanding of products and services during their initial research, and they can't do that without some idea of what it's going to cost. Even if your company can't list exact prices, there are several ways to indicate price level, which is really all people need initially.
Interesting find! Remember, though, readers look at sites to qualify possible solutions.
As such, budget is usually a major consideration. Yet finding pricing info on a site is nearly unheard of! Even if firms cannot abide by putting prices on their sites, recognize that discussing unique pricing strategies is one of the greatest differentiators that you can offer:
- how you price, for example www.exemplarlaw.com touts "no hourly bill, no hourly bull"
- price point, some firms like to be the low cost leader, others are proud to be high-priced and claim they offer value appropriate for their price
- unique payment terms, do you spread payments out for clients?
One thing is apparent. If readers cannot find what they need, they may never call and you may never know what you've missed.
Perhaps the most alarming of Nielsen's findings:
One reason so many B2B sites have poor usability might be because they're less directly accountable for sales. On a classic B2C e-commerce site, every single design decision directly and measurably affects the site's conversion rate and other metrics, such as the average shopping cart size. Many B2C sites are religious in their observance of e-commerce usability guidelines because they know from their own statistics how much money they lose every time they get usability wrong.
In contrast, because B2B sites don't close sales online, they can turn away the vast majority of users and never know how many sales they've lost. A company can determine how its site helps or hinders users only by conducting user research with representative customers -- something most companies don't do. Given our experiences in testing 179 B2B sites, we can safely predict that most companies would be shocked if they ever tested their own sites.