Customers' expectations of B2B websites are increasing but are often not met. We look at the challenges and why user insights are vital in addressing these.
B2B other audiences (job seekers, investors, partners, suppliers) also expect to deal online, and all users’ expectations are increasing due to their experiences on B2C sites which have improved dramatically in recent years.
Also, mobile has well and truly arrived in the B2B world:
- 44% of B2B buyers have researched company products on a smartphone or tablet in the past year (41% in 2013)
- 55% of millennial B2B workers (18-25) use mobile phones for procurement research, (36% of over 45s)
But much of the B2B customer experience is still poor:
- Only 37% of B2B buyers who conduct research on a supplier’s website feel it’s the most helpful tool for research
- 26% said the checkout process took too long
- 22% said the checkout process was too confusing
Our own research bears this out. Typical comments when testing B2B sites are:
- “It has been surprisingly difficult [to find what I wanted]” (International Marketing Manager Consumer Packaged Goods)
- “There is a lot of information to take in…not always easy to find” (Manufacturing Engineer Power Electronics)
So there remains a massive opportunity by improving their websites for B2B businesses to sell more online, market better online, build stronger brand value and save money.
Couple this with no easy way to keep count of the success of a website (no online sales), a history of using other marketing channels, and often greater reluctance to embrace new technology, it is perhaps not surprising that many B2B sites lag behind their B2C counterparts.
However, by understanding the level of product/service complexity and buying environment complexity it is possible to be much clearer about the types of content a site will require.
The matrix from Forrester Research: Death Of A (B2B) Salesman April 2015 sets this out nicely:
A simple product or service is one that requires little or no customisation and can be bought against a simply defined specification, while complex products and services are application specific – they are one-off or a ‘first-time’ purchase.
In a simple buying environment few people are involved in buying; buyers know what they want or need and sites selling these products are often, or should be, transactional. Complex buying environments involve multiple stakeholders and a lengthy multi-stage buying decision process.
Examples of B2B clients we have worked for include RS Components in the ‘Order takers’ box, Howdens Joinery (Kitchens and bathrooms to small builders) in the ‘Explainers’ box, Panasonic (‘Tuff’ computers to businesses) in the ‘Navigators’ box; and Spirax Sarco (steam equipment and systems) in the ‘Consultants’, box.
So the content and functionality a B2B web site should offer depends on both the solution type & buying environment complexity as shown below.
Developing an effective site means the right insights are needed to determine the content and functionality required.
Here’s a typical buying journey and the content required at different stages:
At the awareness stage, when customers may be happy with the way things are, content needs to attempt to upset the status quo by demonstrating alternative solutions to business issues through ‘thought leadership’ content.
At the Research stage, when customers are actively looking for solutions, details of these and their applications with case studies will be required.
At the identify vendor stage, suppliers need content that sets the agenda for supplier selection.
To identify the right content for each type of user at each stage of their buying journey requires good user insights.
An effective website achieves its aims and builds brand value by making it easy for users to achieve their goals. The user goals a site supports is its strategy. Therefore, to develop one you need to know both the site aims and users’ goals.
What is the purpose of a web site? Why have one? What is it doing for the business? Answering these questions gives us the site aims. Being clear about the purpose of the site is vital for deciding which user goals the site will support and, therefore, all aspects of a site’s design. It allows the setting of site KPIs so senior managers have a sensible way to measure site success. It is also important to be clear about the priorities of these site aims so that when there are conflicting pressures these can be resolved.
In large B2B organisations with lots of stakeholders there are often different and competing site aims. Or stakeholders see it as a place to put content they want users to know about. As a result sites get bloated with content that makes it hard for users to find what they want. Often research is required to surface these aims and a process developed to get agreement about the ones the site should focus on.
It is also vital to know what users want. Often what people in the business want to tell users is not what users want to know. It is also important to understand how users navigate to content, the channels they wish to use to buy, and the type of content needed to meet their goals
Individuals within a business are often far too close to the products and services to understand what a user wants, the terms they use when navigating, or what needs to be communicated (and, just as importantly, not communicated) in the content. Therefore, research with users is required to identify these issues so that the website strategy and a content strategy can be developed.
When it comes to building usable websites ‘incremental’ change rather than ‘big bang’ change tends to be most effective. It is much easier to fix bite sized issues, it avoids radical change that can frustrate existing users when they have to relearn how to use a site, and it is less expensive.
Identifying an annual list of quite granular issues to address, on say a monthly basis, is much more effective at making significant improvements to the user experience than a big relaunch and then ignoring the site. Twelve key issues addressed in a year can make a major difference to users in a sector where change often takes several years.
UX expertise is required throughout the development process not just at the end:
UX input at the ‘Identify requirements’ stage means potential UX problems can be flagged at an early stage. Sometimes business have requirements that can be very difficult to achieve because of the complexity of the offer. UX input may suggest simplifying the offer rather than trying to convey overly complex ideas.
Before developing assets for user testing it is sensible to identify and evaluate different potential approaches (e.g. by looking at how other sites achieve similar requirements). Often just one option is developed and, even if this is tested and works well, it may be that there were even better ways to do things. It is better to identify 2 or 3 options so the effectiveness of these can be compared. UX input is useful to identify the appropriate options for testing.
The test assets do not need to be the finished article. It is possible to test with hand drawn sketches, simple wire-frames or flat visuals. But the user journeys constructed need to be sufficiently coherent and populated with illustrative content so users can interact realistically with them (users struggle with the Latin text designers use for missing content!). Again UX knowledge is helpful in knowing precisely what assets are required to get the most from any user testing.
Agencies have their own preferred methodologies that usually reflect their roots. We have come across agencies that are technology led, design led or advertising led – but few of them are genuinely user led.
Getting them to put the user front-of-mind during development can be a challenge. Having someone to champion the user and put them at the heart of the development process is vital. They need to identify issues with the agencies’ approaches that might compromise usability, and ensure user feedback is generated at the most appropriate stage in development – ideally as early as possible.