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What B2B companies can learn from consumer websites

What B2B companies can learn from consumer websites Jim Eustace

Every time I go to Amazon.com, I am wowed by the experience. As soon as I log in, the experience is tailored to me and my shopping habits. Many times I go to buy one thing but end up with a few more items I hadn’t planned on buying. While most people now take great ecommerce experiences for granted, I don’t. I spend my days working with B2B companies and discussing sales and marketing challenges. When I look at what so many ecommerce sites have done and what so many B2B companies are struggling to accomplish, I am surprised by the great divide between the consumer and B2B website experience. There are many lessons to be taken from the consumer world and applied to the business world, and in this article I will share my top three guiding principles.

Website experiences must be based on data

What makes the consumer website experience so powerful is that it is based on data. Demographics, past purchases, search history, past visits and browsing behavior are all used to automatically present the most optimized experience for the visitor. If I purchased dog food last week from Amazon, this week I might be asked whether I need to repurchase food or whether I might also need treats and dog shampoo.

B2B organizations have great data, but too often they don’t use it to inform the visitor website experience. If they’re using a CRM and a marketing automation platform, they have great data on known visitors. They know where they are located, the size of the company, the industry, where they are in the sales cycle, what content they have downloaded, what events they have attended, and more. However, most B2B sites treat all customers the same. Everyone gets the same hero image, the same navigation, and the same resources section.

If B2B organizations connected their data, the website experience could be much more powerful. Customers could be treated differently than prospects. New visitors could be treated differently than prospects in the final stage of the sales cycle. Decision makers in the pharmaceutical industry could be treated differently than managers in technology. In other words, data on visitors could be used to create and serve the most optimal messages and content to move the prospect down the sales funnel.

If you are like many B2B companies, you have probably noticed from your Google Analytics that the majority of your website visitors, often more than 95 percent, are unknown. You might be thinking that it sounds like a lot of effort to provide unique experiences to less than 5 percent of your site traffic. But, once again, if you are using data you will be able to infer a lot of information about your anonymous traffic. If you are using a firmographics provider you can determine industry and company information. You can also know whether the visitor is in finance or IT and whether he is a decision maker. And, of course, you can look at where the visitor came from to determine intent. Did he perform a search? Did he click an ad? Was he referred from a blog or a thought leadership piece? All of these data pieces can be used to inform an experience that will delight your visitors.

Connect advertising experiences through to website experiences

Display retargeting ads became a big part of the consumer advertising mix about a decade ago and proved to be an effective way to remind shoppers about abandoned shopping carts or products that they browsed but didn’t purchase. Because the ads appeared across the web, at first they surprised consumers who didn’t realize that they were leaving a digital trail based on the sites they visited and the actions that they took. Today, we are no longer surprised by the connected nature of the web, and while some might lament the loss of privacy, others love the convenience and the personalization that cookies enable.

These targeted experiences across the web don’t need to be limited to consumer shopping. I recently visited LinkedIn and was presented with a sponsored story in my newsfeed. The story was promoting a new piece of content from a technology company. The technology company was familiar to me because I had recently clicked an ad on another website that took me to the website to learn more. LinkedIn knew about my browsing and was now presenting me with a sponsored story. To me, this advertisement wasn’t intrusive. Rather, it was timely and relevant and brought me further down the buyer’s journey.  Further, it illustrates how well cross-channel personalization can work if done well.

You can lead a horse to water

Consumer sites use predictive data to determine which products to showcase to shoppers. They create look-a-like profiles based on past purchases, spend size, location and other variables. When you match that profile, you are shown products that will likely appeal to you.

In the B2B world, the goal of the website is to provide website visitors with information about your products and services so they can make an informed purchase decision. If you have developed buyer personas and a buyer’s journey, you often know what content, videos, whitepapers and case studies, for example, you want prospects to consume depending on where they are in the journey with your brand. While machine learning and predictive analytics is helpful for shopping sites, B2B sites simply need to be able to sequence content.

With your data connected and tracking content consumption through email and the website, you can easily ensure that visitors follow a prescribed path. If they downloaded "content piece A," the next time they visit the site, present them with "content piece B." With more and more business buyers doing their research online before reaching out to sales, it has never been more important to ensure that the buyer’s journey is well-organized and relevant.

As technology continues to improve and data integration between marketing platforms becomes more standard, I have no doubt that B2B sites will soon catch up to consumer sites, making our experiences less like a hunting expedition and more like a well-timed six-course dinner, with everything you need brought to you before you even have to ask.

Jim Eustace is the founder and CEO of Get Smart Content. Prior, he was the founder and CEO of VM Foundry, a digital marketing services and technology firm acquired by the W2O Group.

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