Business-to-business buying has changed dramatically in the last five years. It used to be that B2B sales happened through a sales team. Buyers would identify a problem, research possible solutions, talk with sales people from a few vendors and then pick their solution.
But the Internet has changed this process dramatically. Online searches are now the top way that B2B buyers identify possible solutions to their issues. Forrester reports that 50 – 70% of the buy cycle is now completed before customers ever engage with a sales person.
What this means for B2B companies is that their marketing efforts have to step up. With buyers in greater control of the purchase process, B2B companies have to make sure their marketing serves up the information that prospects seek. If they don't, their sales teams will never have a shot at the deal.
One of the central ways that companies can do this is through their websites. Unfortunately, too many B2B firms are still treating their websites as brochures. They only provide a description of the company, its offerings and contact information. Sometimes they make the effort to ensure their site is visually appealing.
But this is only a small portion of what matters. I've seen dozens of B2B companies spend thousands (and tens of thousands) of dollars on new websites that don't deliver strong marketing performance. These sites aren't built to ensure that search engines will list them when prospects are searching for particular solutions and they aren't built to engage users effectively once they land on the site.
If your B2B company is considering a website overhaul, here are four things to consider so that your site delivers results, not just pretty pictures:
1. Search engine optimization. Is your site optimized for the right keywords and search terms? Are you sure that you have identified the right keywords?
2. Engagement process. Does your site offer users the content they seek? Does it provide users with ways to easily engage with your company?
3. Brand presentation. Does your site portray your company's brand effectively?
4. Ongoing management. Can you update your site easily, or do you have to rely on an outside provider to do so? Google increasingly favors fresh content, so waiting three years between updates to your site is no longer an option.
B2B companies have the opportunity—and the obligation—to use their websites more effectively in marketing themselves. But they have to know what a good website can do for them and how to get it. For more details on planning a B2B website upgrade, this whitepaper offers a comprehensive website audit guide.
As buying behavior continues to evolve in the B2B world, an effective website isn't just beneficial—it's essential. Is your website doing everything it can.
Lisa Shepherd is author of Market Smart: How to Gain Customers and Increase Profits with B2B Marketing and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She was the youngest female CEO of a PROFIT 200 company in 2007 and 2008 and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.
More columns by Lisa Shepherd