Business and consumer brands have traditionally approached marketing from two totally different vantage points. And it’s obvious why: buying cycles are longer, buyer mentalities are different, and products typically require more investigation before a purchase. But the reality is that B2B buyers are very similar to B2C consumers— whether it’s buying a new car or new enterprise software, consumers want to be educated and informed. They want to feel as though you understand them and their problems. And they certainly don’t want to be bored to death with encyclopedic catalogue-type information.

While there are always going to be distinct differences between b2b and b2c marketing practices, B2B websites must make some B2C-inspired adjustments to keep up with savvy consumers. Sites must be more visual, more concise and more consumable, taking the following into account:

1)     Design your site for the consumer, not the company

Just because you aren’t a retailer doesn’t mean your site has to follow a typical design pattern that most B2B sites are known to follow. You know it well: a dedicated area for a rotating hero graphic; some space touting your news and events, and maybe a few awards; and, of course, customer logos prominently displayed on the site. 

But take a look around at leading e-commerce brands and you’ll find a necessary constant: they design the site with the buyer in mind. When you hit the homepage, you know exactly what products they are offering, which promotions they are running, and you are comfortable navigating or searching the site. Their hero imagery is used strategically, the calls-to-action are prominent, and simple, actionable navigation jump-starts the shopping process. B2B companies often fall prey to the internal design and jargon trap, but it’s easy to get your value proposition across without content overload that creates a confusing experience.

2)     Start testing, seriously

B2B marketers spend copious amounts of money driving traffic to their website, but spend next to nothing on converting said traffic. I can’t help but think we are leaving leads—and money—on the table as B2B marketers.

The rapid increase in adoption of A/B and multivariate testing by B2C companies has fundamentally shifted the way websites are designed (and updated) forever. Today’s leading B2C companies are not only employing testing technologies to improve customer experiences and conversion rates, they also are making this a must-have practice for their site. Just as you wouldn’t dream of neglecting SEO, playing guessing games with your site content is no longer acceptable.

While your website may not be performing B2C-like monetary transactions, a B2B site is still an important touch point in the sales and marketing funnel. Specific elements, such as calls-to-action, landing page layouts, homepage design and forms, are high on B2C marketers’ list of optimization priorities—and yet, they are very much a part of a B2B site. The bottom line is, any small change, addition or update to your site can negatively or positively impact conversions, but if you aren’t testing, you will never know.

3)     Treat your content like a category

If you think about a typical B2B tech company, it likely has a product or service to offer, or even a blend of both. Either way, the company’s aim is to educate the prospect to drive a sale. Like many B2C sites, your products and services pages are a category. Your case studies, white papers, e-books, articles and events are a category. Any area that helps inform a decision and convert a visitor (i.e., form fill out, contact us action) should be optimized accordingly.

Your content pages are crucial to making this educational process frustration free, while giving visitors an array of choices to explore and engage with. For example, quick “pop-outs” when visitors mouse over a white paper that give more detail without having to click onto a landing page can be a great way to provide that information. “Light-boxing” a video player applies the same technique, while keeping the focus on the sole content. Large images to support product copy and listings will focus visitors’ attention.

4)     Employ deeper search and sort capabilities

For B2C companies, search is a must-have that, when optimized accordingly, has been proven to lead to higher conversion rates and sales. There is no exception for B2B.

Search functionality enables visitors to easily locate your product(s) and/or service(s) based on certain parameters— leading them down the path to become educated on exactly what they are looking for, as well as get enough questions answered to want to learn more and make contact. Additionally, any user who is engaging with search on your site probably knows a bit more about you—so offering that user more sophisticated searches can help speed up the process. With sort and filter functionality, you allow users to dive deeper into your products and resources, understand their choices and know that you have what they want!

5)     Allow product reviews

It’s time to take those typical “customer quotes” you splashed across your homepage to a new level. B2C companies have cited that allowing for product ratings and reviews from previous buyers can help sway uncertain customers or reassure them that they are buying into something great. If you’re already asking a customer to write a case study with you, or endorse you in a press release, consider asking for a product review in similar B2C fashion—and displaying it accordingly on your site.

When it comes to display, stars or numbered rankings, offer an immediate signal that others have bought, used and rated a particular product. Now, those customer logos you have on your “Clients” page have suddenly come to life. And they encourage visitors to look to longer, text-driven reviews for more product information and insights. Connect this to a form or “Request a Demo” link, and you’re not only getting product endorsements but improving lead gen too.

The reality is that today’s B2B online customer experiences are falling short to the far-superior B2C buying experience. B2B sites that don’t aim to play catch-up sooner rather than later will risk losing business, and budget. Your website is often one of the first touches a prospect makes, so don’t waste the opportunity to capture—and convert them—for a deeper conversation.

Written by Paul Dunay
Paul Dunay is an award-winning B2B marketing expert with more than 20 years’ success in generating demand and creating awareness for leading technology, consumer products, financial services and professional services organizations. Paul is the global vice president of marketing for Maxymiser a leading web optimization firm, and author of four “Dummies” books: Facebook Marketing for Dummies (Wiley 2009), Social Media and the Contact Center for Dummies (Wiley Custom Publishing 2010), Facebook Advertising for Dummies (Wiley 2010) and Facebook Marketing for Dummies 2nd Edition (Wiley 2011). His unique approach to marketing has led to recognition of Paul as a BtoB Magazine Top 25 B2B Marketer of the Year for 2010 and 2009 and winner of the DemandGen Award for Utilizing Marketing Automation to Fuel Corporate Growth in 2008. He is also a finalist for the last six years in a row in the Marketing Excellence Awards competition of the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), and is a 2010 and 2005 gold award winner in Driving Demand. Buzz Marketing for Technology, Paul’s blog, has been recognized as a Top 20 Marketing Blog for 2009 and 2008, a Top Blog to Watch for 2009 and 2008, and an Advertising Age Power 150 blog in the “Daily Ranking of Marketing Blogs.” Paul has shared his marketing thought leadership as a featured speaker for the American Marketing Association, BtoB Magazine, CMO Club, MarketingProfs, Marketing Sherpa, Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG), and ITSMA. He has appeared on Fox News, and his articles have been featured in BusinessWeek, The New York Times, BtoB Magazine, MarketingProfs and MarketingSherpa. Paul holds an Executive Certificate in Strategy and Innovation from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Computer Science from Ithaca College.