Conventional wisdom dictates that B2B and B2C marketing are two entirely different animals. After all, selling shoes or books or appliances to the family at 123 Main Street is nothing like marketing complex software or high-tech equipment to a $65 million business.
When you're selling to an enterprise, on the other hand, you're dealing with detailed presentations and proposals, long sales cycles, and negotiations with committees of participants. No company is buying a $329,000 conveyor belt system through an online shopping cart. It's far more involved than that.
So here's the unconventional wisdom: While your business may be B2B, your website could be dramatically more effective if it looked, acted, and worked more like a consumer website.
That's because no enterprise will ever be visiting your website. It will always be an individual -- one living, breathing person at a time. A human who needs to be enticed, persuaded, convinced, and welcomed.
Fact is, the more you treat your site visitors as people and consumers, the more you can craft a web experience that pushes your enterprise sales along.
The key is to take a few pages from the playbooks of consumer marketers.
Design your site around the customer, not your company
Most B2B websites tend to organize around what the company wants to say. There's usually some rotating hero graphic, snippets of news and awards, and some sloganeering about the vision -- with navigation based on the company's markets or product lines.
But successful e-commerce sites are entirely buyer-centric. From the second you hit the homepage, it's all about what the customer wants -- products, solutions, offers, ideas. Imagery isn't about decoration; it's used strategically to showcase products, or attract you to offers. There are clear calls to action. Navigation is simple and set up from the customer's perspective -- based on what a potential customer might be looking for. (Hint: It's rarely "our mission.")
Test, test, test
Oddly enough, B2B marketers expect to invest heavily in pushing traffic to their sites but devote little budget, if any, to studying the best way to convert those visitors into sales, leads, inquiries, or other actions that start the enterprise sales process.
Consumer brands, however, continually use A/B and multivariate testing to test everything from copy and art to layouts, forms, and colors to determine exactly what drives conversions. What to test on a B2B site? Start with homepage messaging, layouts, forms, calls to action, offers of white papers, and product info navigation to start. As B2C marketers have learned, even small changes in wording or placement can make a big difference in actual results. And there's no way to guess that far in advance -- gut instinct is rarely right.
Treat content like product categories
Consumer sites make strategic use of so-called category pages that give customers a quick overview, such as women's shoes or metric tool sets. On your business site, think of arranging your products and services into category pages, as well as treating your case studies, white papers, e-books, articles, and events as categories -- making it easy for customers to see the landscape at a glance. Use devices such as mouse-overs that give a customer a pop-up overview of a white paper, for example, without going to a landing page. On your landing and product pages, using larger images tends to hold attention and make products more important. And sell your white papers and downloads as hard as you sell product.
Beef up search and sort
B2B marketers tend to underestimate the power of website search, especially for their most motivated buyers. Consider a visitor using your search function -- who is already on a mission -- with a clear product, problem, or piece of information in mind. The faster you put that in front of him or her, the better. More sophisticated searches -- with sort and filter functionality -- can greatly speed up the process, making it easy for buyers to dive into relevant products and resources to quickly see that you have what they want.
Use product reviews, not just product copy
E-commerce marketers have already discovered the unique power of product ratings and customer reviews in driving sales and building confidence. In the enterprise world, you can do much the same thing by leveraging the clients who agree to case studies or testimonials. Why not ask them to provide a product review, written just as customers do on sites like Amazon? Have them explain their first-hand experience, as if they were talking to a peer. It's a powerful complement to your own product copy. Better yet, connect the product reviews to calls to action -- a download or a demo request -- to quickly translate those product reviews into direct sale leads.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"3D B2B B2C Button Click Here Block Text over white" image via Shutterstock.