5 Essentials for Every B-to-B Website

“If you don’t have a website, you don’t have a business.” By now, this maxim is well understood. But what kind of functionality does your website really need? What website strategies should you pursue for business marketing? Here are five must-haves for every B-to-B website.

“If you don’t have a website, you don’t have a business.” By now, this maxim is well understood. But what kind of functionality does your website really need? What website strategies should you pursue for business marketing? Here are five must-haves for every B-to-B website.

The five elements every website needs are:

1. Thought Leadership
Establishing your company as a knowledgeable authority in your field is job one for a B-to-B website. You want to be seen as not only up to date, but trustworthy and helpful—sort of like the Boy Scout law. So make sure your site is filled with useful, non-salesy information about your category and the problems your customers are looking to solve. This is a classic content marketing play, whereby you provide libraries of case studies, research reports, presentations, archived webinars, blog posts, how-to videos and all manner of information intended to help visitors learn, and to present yourself as their trusted partner in that task.

2. Help Your Customers Buy
As discount retailer Sy Sims used to say, “An educated consumer is my best customer.” You want your customers and prospects to be as knowledgeable about solving their problems as they can. And you also want to influence them as they move through their buying journey. When they are ready to make a purchase decision, they will better understand how you can help them—and why they perhaps should select you over your competitors. In some ways a subset of thought leadership, helping your customers buy means teaching them how to be a good customer for you. Oracle, for example publishes a Software Investment Guide to help prospects’ decision-making.

3. Lead Generation
The perennial number one goal of just about every business marketer is generating sales leads. If you make the effort, your website can be a productive source of high quality, low cost leads for your sales force. So don’t squander the opportunity to turn your website into a lead generation tool. There are basically two ways to approach this objective:

  1. Add an offer, a call to action and a landing page with a data-capture form. If the offer is of sufficient interest, a small but steady percentage of visitors to your site will fill out the form and leave behind their contact information. Treat that data as an inquiry, and run it through your normal qualification and nurturing process. Add similar offers throughout your site, varying the deal to suit the surrounding content.
  2. Install IP address identification software that allows you to observe the domain name of business visitors to your site. You won’t know their actual names, but you will know the firms they represent. You can do a look-up by hand, or use automated processes from such providers as NetFactor and Demandbase Real-Time Identification. Once you have a sense of which companies are researching information on your site, you can then reach out and offer to help.

4. E-commerce
As I discussed last month, e-commerce is fast evolving into an effective tool for automating all kinds of B-to-B sales and marketing processes. Even if a classic shopping cart is not suited to your offerings, you are sure to find pieces of your go-to-market that can benefit from e-commerce, from quotes, to purchase orders, to selling low-margin replacement parts.

5. Community
Business marketers benefit from connecting their constituents in myriad ways: sharing expertise, promoting word of mouth, enabling channel partners, informing shareholders-the list goes on and on. Some terrific case examples come from the Kinaxis community for supply chain enthusiasts, and the Cognizant Community invitation-only forum for senior executives at its top clients. Communities can be as simple as setting up a LinkedIn group or Facebook page, or as complex as Ingram Micro’s 15-year old peer-to-peer VentureTech Network for its U.S. and Canadian resellers. However you go about it, the pay-off in community connections is huge.

So, that’s the line-up. And here’s the bonus: Not only will you advance your business goals with these strategies, you’ll also improve your SEO findability. A win win.

Do you have any website essentials to add to my list?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology.

B-to-B Marketers Should Take Another Look at E-commerce

E-commerce opportunity is evolving fast, but only 25 percent of B-to-B marketers are taking advantage of it, according to a 2012 Oracle study. Time for another look. The typical B-to-B companies selling online are classic catalogers like Edmund Optics and Seton, which were fast to supplement their print catalogs with e-commerce. But with the new functionality now available, just about any business marketer can find ways to reduce selling expense and attract new customers by integrating e-commerce into their go-to-market strategies.

E-commerce opportunity is evolving fast, but only 25 percent of B-to-B marketers are taking advantage of it, according to a 2012 Oracle study. Time for another look. The typical B-to-B companies selling online are classic catalogers like Edmund Optics and Seton, which were fast to supplement their print catalogs with e-commerce. But with the new functionality now available, just about any business marketer can find ways to reduce selling expense and attract new customers by integrating e-commerce into their go-to-market strategies.

A worthy example is Dow Corning, which found itself under huge price pressure as the silicone category grew commoditized. To meet the market demand for lower prices, Dow Corning launched an entirely new brand in 2002, called Xiameter, where customers could buy trailer-loads of certain products at a 10 percent to 15 percent discount through a newly built e-commerce engine. Xiameter sales grew so successfully that in 2009, Dow Corning moved as much as 2500 of its 7000 products to the site. Today, Xiameter represents 40% of Dow Corning’s $6 billion in sales.

Another example is Symantec, which created an online store specifically to serve its small-to-medium business customers in North America. Today, 100 percent of Symantec’s $300 million SMB sales run through this channel, which is operated for them by the SaaS outsourcing supplier Rainmaker Systems. Symantec is enjoying not only lower selling expense, but also admirable revenue growth, with sales up 25 percent and trial-to-conversion rates up 33 percent in the first year.

Why are these online ventures working so well? It’s thanks to new technology combined with changes in buyer behavior. The growth of consumer e-tailing has clearly been a contributing factor. Business buyers are people, too. So, their increasing comfort with e-commerce in their personal lives spills over to their jobs.

But business buyers also expect consumer-like functionality in e-commerce. And a seamless experience. This is where the new technologies come in. Platform suppliers like Rainmaker are building systems specifically designed to support B-to-B buying processes, with consumer-like features and ease of use.

So what are the e-commerce success factors for business marketers as they look to take advantage of these opportunities? Here are some tips:

  • Review your customer segments and product lines for e-commerce potential. Small and medium business customers may be a perfect fit. Same for high-volume, repetitive-sales product categories, like replacement parts or warranty renewals.
  • Examine your sales and marketing process for elements that can be automated with e-commerce technology. Look at quote management, contract pricing, channel partner support, purchase order processing, order approvals, cross sell and upsell, licensing, renewals, reactivation, winback-there are more than you may think.
  • Select software that was built specifically for the complexity of business markets. Companies that buy consumer solutions and try adding B-to-B capabilities will quickly be frustrated.
  • Select software that provides consumer-like e-commerce functionality. Ease of use is the competitive watchword today, according to Forrester’s recent study “Thrive by Adopting Proven B2C Principles.”
  • Make sure you connect your e-commerce with your existing accounting, manufacturing and other systems. Xiameter customers, for example, get their order confirmation, shipping notices and invoices out of Dow Corning’s SAP, which also communicates with the manufacturing plants to get the order produced.
  • Consider using cloud-based suppliers, where you can get up and running in less than a month, and leave the technology to someone else. Rainmaker Systems offers not only dedicated “sales assist” from its call center, they will even deal with their clients on a revenue-share basis.
  • Remember that e-commerce is global by definition. So look for technology that offers multiple languages and currencies, and supports tax and customer compliance.

How are you integrating e-commerce into your sales and marketing?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.