Is Your Website Doing Its Job?
In the past, B2B websites didn’t have much of a job to do. They were just online brochures, window decorations that largely went un-noticed because the majority of revenue was driven by more traditional sales channels like events and cold calling.
The landscape of client development for service businesses has changed a lot in recent years. What hasn’t changed is the need for having a strong brand presence in the channels that your clients prefer. This increasingly means having digital presence.
Service businesses that continue to rely upon traditional approaches to attracting and serving clients will find it increasingly hard to compete and get a good return on their investments, in terms of profitable client relationships.
There are a number of reasons for this.
First, there are more businesses like yours vying for the same peoples’ attention. These competitors are also investing in better digital experiences to give buyers what they want. Over 80% of businesses use content marketing and they are getting better at it.
Second, B2B buyers have higher expectations of doing business than ever before. They expect consumer-like experiences with greater control and self-service. Today’s B2B buyers are digitally savvy and can quickly filter out brands that don’t have their interests front-and-center. They don’t want to be cold-called or bothered by spammy emails and a barrage of irrelevant ads and offers. They want an easy, enjoyable experience that caters to their unique needs and challenges.
Third, B2B decision makers now expect providers to have a digital presence that aids and guides their complex buying process. B2B buyers are self-reliant, and willing and able to research, evaluate and interact with providers almost completely through digital channels. In fact, Gartner says that B2B buyers spend only 17% of their buying journey meeting with potential suppliers. And a recent McKinsey study shows that 2 out of 3 B2B buyers prefer digital channels for finding, evaluating and interacting with the service providers they ultimately choose.
Changing buyer expectations, digital innovation and new business models represent challenges for business owners who can’t keep up. And the rate of change is accelerating in the post-pandemic world.
You want to be prepared to engage with customers in those digital channels because that’s how most of your new clients will find you. 7 out of 10 B2B customers prefer to research independently online and two-thirds of them will make a purchase selection based solely on digital content. This means most of your sales process will take place before an initial sales interaction.
Your website is no longer just a brochure or billboard. It is the front door to your business and your sales team.
To do this job well, your website has to be designed to:
Generate high intent traffic. This means having content that is highly visible and well matched to the questions buyers are asking in search queries along their purchase journey.
Establish you as the best choice. Upon first visit, your website must immediately build trust and credibility in your brand. The design has to be modern and easy to use, and present a clear story about who you are, what you do, and why you do it. It has to present a strong value proposition that speaks directly to the buyer’s self-interest.
Engage visitors. The website draws visitors in via a conversational conversion path of helpful content and compelling offers that promise something of value in return for a contact. Ideally, you are personalizing content and offer experiences to deliver exactly what they want, at the right time, and at a price point most likely to convert.
Nurture buyers along their journey. A well-designed B2B website nurtures a lead through the sales funnel, often over an extended period of time. Your website should present information and micro-conversion offers that help prospective clients make better decisions and move them along the path to a service engagement.
Your website’s job has changed. The good news is that with the right strategy and design, your website has the potential to be your most valuable marketing asset. Here are the biggest mistakes that get in the way of your website doing its job, and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Skipping Customer Research
This is probably the most common and most fundamental mistake that businesses make when creating a website.
Here is how a lot of small businesses approach website design. First, you and a developer brainstorm ideas for what you want the website to look like. You might have benchmarked competitor websites that you like, and you probably have specific features in mind to differentiate your business.
And you probably have a logo, preferred colors and other elements to guide the visual design. Your developer may suggest some cool interactive features and offer SEO services to enhance the site’s user experience and search visibility. After receiving your specifications, the developer builds some draft pages for review and continues until the entire website is complete.
So far, so good – IF what you wanted was a brochure website, and not a personalized, conversion-tuned website that attracts and converts visitors to clients.
The problem with this approach to building websites (or any business strategy) is that your customer wasn’t involved in the process.
Unfortunately, many business owners tend to overlook this critical step when thinking about how to build a brand and market themselves. They don’t take the time to define who their right-fit customer is, what their buyer’s journey looks like, and what success looks like for those customers.
Building a new website should start with understanding your customer, what motivates their needs and what questions they have that you can answer in the right moments along their path to purchase. Once you have these insights, you can then design a website that converts visitors to clients. Don’t short-change your investment right out of the gate by skipping over customer research. Here’s what you should do.
Build up your customer IQ
Talk with existing customers to better understand how they define value and perceive your brand. Get to know ‘what’ their core problems to solve are, ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ they go about discovering solutions to those problems (their journey), and what they expect along this journey.
These are not satisfaction surveys or sales calls. Keep the focus about them, not you. Go beyond asking about desired features to understand their sources of satisfaction and frustration and what motivates their choices and decisions. Inquire about compromises they are forced to make, and mistakes they have made. You want to get into the minds of your customers to understand what drives them and holds them back.
Learn their journey
Learn about the journey they take in finding and hiring solutions to their needs. Find out what triggers them to seek out or switch to a new solution. Find out where they go to find information to inform decisions, what search terms they use, and what they consider as helpful, trustworthy content.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when learning your customers’ journey.
First, much of their journey happens before initial contact with your company, so your digital analytics, CRM or transaction data doesn’t provide the complete picture. And, even for the part of the journey you do have visibility it only tells you ‘what’ they did, not ‘why’ they did it.
Second, your prospects are at different stages in their journey (and your sales funnel), and thus have different levels of awareness of their own challenges and your solution to those challenges. The more you know about where they are in the journey and what’s important to them in those moments of decision and action, the better you can tailor an approach to building awareness and inspiring action at each stage.
Read more: Building a Customer-Centric Sales Funnel
Third, don’t forget to talk to the decisions makers and other people who play important roles in the purchase and service experience. These usually include a buyer (making the buying decision) and a user (using your offering). It might also include suppliers, partners or other stakeholders.
These ‘non-sales’ conversations can be very informal conversations or more structured using an interview questionnaire. One-on-one, open-ended feedback tends to provide more useful insights than focus groups or surveys. Customer feedback is an invaluable (and cost-effective) source of insights to inform future strategy. And customers will appreciate you more for listening and valuing their input.
Build a right-fit customer profile
Organize and synthesize what you learn into a right-fit customer profile (also called a persona or archetype). The profile helps bring clarity to who your target customer should be for future growth, as defined by their goals, motivations, challenges, common objections, and decision triggers, along with demographic and firmographic information they share.
Building your customer IQ has benefits across your entire business, not just in website design and marketing. The more know you learn about your customers, the more you’ll learn about how to build a solid strategy for growing your business.
Demand Generation Checklist
10 steps to growing your service business using a customer-centric approach to demand generation.
Mistake # 2. Lacking a Well-Crafted Value Proposition
The first impressions your customers have about you are formed long before they contact you. They start in digital channels – a search result, a social media post and during a first-time visit to your website. And B2B buyers expect a lot more now along their path of researching, evaluating and comparing solutions.
One of the biggest jobs of your website is to create a great first impression and to convince potential clients to take the next step on their journey with you as their trusted partner. To get started, they need to see themselves being successful by working with you. They need to see reasons and proof of why you’re the right solution to their needs. This is your value proposition.
Your Value Proposition
Your value proposition is a brief and persuasive description of how you make clients successful. It’s your promise of value and how you deliver it. It is a combination of copy, imagery, and a call-to-action at the top of your homepage that conveys what you do and what potential clients should do next to begin getting value — before and after they hire you.
Having a well-crafted value proposition on your homepage is not only important in converting new clients, it’s also a source of competitive advantage because so few companies do it well. The less known your business is, the more critical it is to have a great value proposition to establish awareness and cut through a crowded market to attract the clients you want.
A well-crafted value proposition does four things for your business:
- Gets and keeps attention. It should describe the most important benefit(s) that you provide in a way that arouses curiosity to want to know more. Pick your customer’s biggest question or pain point and address it. Be very clear about what you do and how you make customers successful.
- Speaks directly to your customer. It uses your customer’s voice so they can relate to your message immediately. It focuses on your right-fit customer’s self-interest and the specific needs and challenges of their business and industry.
- Delivers a complete message. After reading it, your customer should know what you do, how you do it well and why they should consider you. This should be made clear in 30 seconds or less.
- Draws the customer in. The value proposition is the starting point of your conversion path. However, in many cases, it isn’t enough to convince buyers to take the desired action (call to action). So, it must entice further exploration and action. Arouse your visitor’s curiosity through presenting a micro-offer of value that is easy to accept, such as requesting content, signing up for a trial or an event. Ask a question you know they want the answer to – and present the answer after following a call-to-action.
The value proposition usually consists of a headline statement that presents the main offer of benefit (i.e. the promise), a sub-headline that summarizes how the promise is fulfilled, and a short summary that provides relevant specific and relevant evidence of how you intend to deliver the value, in terms of benefits that your customer are interested in.
For B2B services, it should also include trust indicators such as client examples and evidence of your expertise, such as thought leadership content. These can be presented in various formats such as video or downloadable documents.
A value proposition is not:
- A vague, hyped-up pitch.
- Your mission statement or brand slogan.
- A list of services and features.
Word-for-word, your value proposition headline and sub-headline is the most impactful copy on your entire website, so spend some time to get it right. In fact, 4 out of 5 people will read the headline and skip the rest of your copy (David Ogilvy.) In other words, the headline represents 80% of the effort. When crafting your value proposition, remember that it is about your customer, not about you. Therefore, knowing your customer well is the first step to building an awesome value proposition.
Word-for-word, your value proposition headline and sub-headline is the most impactful copy on your website.
Here are a few examples of great value propositions.
The marketing automation provider ActiveCampaign is in a very crowded space, so differentiation for them is key. They do a nice job of positioning their product as an enabler of ‘incredible customer experiences’ using a comprehensive, easy-to-use platform. And, they have a call-to-action for a free trial that is easy to accept – all they ask for is an email address.
CMX succinctly describes what they do for who, and how they help solve specific challenges businesses face in managing their supply chains. They back this up with a video demo and client testimonials so buyers have more confidence CMX is the right choice. Their ‘About You’ section further connects their product with benefits important to their buyers in certain roles and industries.
The digital-forward real estate company Redfin has a dual value proposition, one for home buyers and one for home sellers. A 30 second video describes their innovative low commission model of home selling. An easy search function is built-in as the call-to-action to get started either as a buyer, seller, or someone interested in home value.
Mistake # 3. No Clear Conversion Path
Ok, your website has a great value proposition and has persuaded your target buyer to take the next step. So, what should the next step be? Well, it depends on where they are in their journey.
The journey is the most typical path that your customers take as they discover and decide on solutions that solve their needs, as well as the touchpoints they use as they interact with your brand throughout the entire relationship.
The steps that buyers follow don’t always line up to your sales process. They get distracted, go down multiple paths and loops, and search using a wide variety of longtail inquiries. Their path will include several touchpoints from initial inquiry to contract and service delivery over time, not just a one-time interaction. They are influenced by the enjoyability and usability of their interactions with your brand, and by what others they trust say about it.
Ultimately, customers are going down this path to achieve a business purpose. Your job is to help them be successful in that purpose. So, you want to build a conversion path that connects their journey with your sales process.
An effective conversion path consists of three parts:
- Value proposition. Value propositions can be presented anywhere on your website, in emails, ads or social media posts. You will have the biggest impact of communicating your value through your website, so make sure it is front-and-center on the home page.
- Offer. A targeted offer of value that is matched to the target customer’s stage and readiness to engage. This is best presented on a landing page as result of a call-to-action. You can also present offers conversationally on other pages, as triggered by behaviors that indicate interest, such as reading a blog article, or attending a webinar.
- Call-to-action. The call-to-action is your request to act on the offer, presented as a highly visible button or link, such as to read content, answer a question, or request more information from. Calls-to-action may be placed through your website for visitors to complete various desired actions. Use copy that is brief (less than five words) and action-oriented (starts with an action verb). Examples of CTA copy are “Get the free guide,” “Get started,” “Request consultation,” or “Try for free.”
In many cases, a call-to-action involves the visitor exchanging their contact and other qualifying information for your offer. Regardless of the type, all calls-to-action should be designed to increase the likelihood of a buyer hiring or referring you. And, calls-to-action should be used strategically and sparingly, much like a pitch in a sales call.
Once a person enters your conversion path and shares their contact and other information about their needs, you have their permission to engage in a conversation. In some instances, the conversion path may begin with a question or a non-digital interaction at an event or through networking. In either case, the key is to gather the right information from your prospects in order to provide them with the most useful resources to learn and make their decision.
Conversational Conversion Paths
People generally prefer a friendly conversational style of interaction. Presenting offers and educational information in a conversational manner can be a great way to introduce your value proposition and invite prospective clients to enter your conversion path. Here are some ways to make your conversion path more conversational.
- Use conversational writing and narrative styles in your blog articles, guides and even in offers. Describe your offering as you would in a conversation with a prospective client. An example of this is starting with a title or headline that poses a question your target reader would want the answer to. In the body, provide the answers with sufficient detail. Then, at the bottom, you can wrap up with a call-to-action to learn more or contact you.
- Use conversational forms and quizzes that ask questions in a low-pressure way such as “What brings you here today?”. These tools allows you to segment your visitors by asking simple questions. The questions you pose to visitors and the responses the select (the conversation) allows you to present more relevant offers to them. A few tools we recommend to add conversational interactions to your website are RightMessage and Interact.
- Use conversational bots and live chat to automate conversations, question responses and service inquires or offer a live chat option. Many people aren’t ready for a phone conversation or may not want to even send an email. Why? Because it takes more time away from their work, or they aren’t ready to share their contact information. For these people, a chatbot or a live chat is a great option to ask a simple question and get a feel for how your brand responds. Simply answering a question quickly can mean the difference between gaining a quality lead vs. a never hear from again bounce. For conversational chat solutions, we recommend Drift or ActiveCampaign Conversations.
The Landing Page
A landing page has a very specific purpose: to convince and convert a website visitor to complete a desired action. It’s like your online sales rep designed to make a great pitch and close the deal. A landing page can be presented at any point along your conversion path. The offer and conversion can be a micro-conversion such as email sign-ups, content downloads or a webinar registration, or a higher level of commitment such as a demos, consultation or actual purchase.
Of all of the pages on your website, the landing page is the simplest in design, yet is a crucial element in a modern marketing system. A high converting landing page combines the art and science of psychological design principles and functional UX best practices to convert passive, anonymous visitors into future customers. The visitor should be able to quickly scan and understand what the offer is, how it benefits them, why they need it now, and how they can get it, with very little scrolling.
The placement of headline and body copy, images and colors, and click elements are crucial. Also, you want to minimize distractions such as links that lead visitors to anything other than a conversion. The conversion action is usually accomplished using a web form meant to collect a contact and qualify the new lead through carefully selected questions based on your business model.
Here’s a visual illustration of the key elements of a high-converting landing page.
Mistake #4. Going for The Close Too Soon
Would you ever ask someone to marry you on the first date? Well, that’s essentially what you’re doing when you ask a buyer to commit to your business upon the first visit to your website.
Remember that your prospective clients have complex buying processes. In some cases, they may have to satisfy a multi-step RFP and buying committee before purchase. The average B2B purchase decision now involves between 5 and 10 stakeholders. And they are digitally savvy, self-reliant and expect to engage on their own terms, when they are ready. The majority of your prospects aren’t ready to buy upon their first visit or expression of intent. This means that you have to be ready to nurture prospective clients over many touchpoints to close a deal – at least 8 touches on average – according to Rain Group.
So, instead of going for the close right away, warm qualified leads to a level of readiness that makes sense for them and you. Provide all of the information they need to streamline their process, save time, stress and money. Serve up content that answers their biggest questions and objections ahead of time. And do this in a way that establishes yourself as a trusted expert with proof of how you help clients succeed through case studies.
Study your conversion analytics to find the best trigger points that elevate readiness and lead to micro-conversions (e.g., premium content download) and then macro-conversions (e.g., a new services contract). Most car dealers push test drives because they know that it increases a car buyer’s confidence of choosing the right car and increases the likelihood of a sale.
Educational Content Experiences
Your prospective clients are at different stages of their journey when they first find your website. Many are just becoming aware that they have a problem to solve, so they are in a mode of discovery to educate themselves and their company about their challenges. At this stage, they aren’t looking to buy anything (not yet anyway). What they are looking for is inspiration and expertise from authentic brands that have the right answers.
Basically, you want to insert yourself into the buyer’s discovery process by being an invaluable source of answers to their ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions. Buyers are most commonly asking these questions in online search, so you want to ensure your content is as visible as possible during these discovery inquiries. One of the best ways to present your educational content and boost search visibility is by using organizing it into a pillar page.
Pillar pages are written in an editorial style with the main goal of educating the reader vs. promoting your brand offering. While the focus isn’t on you, or being salesy, the narrative strategically incorporates the importance of finding a solution to a problem, with subtle calls-to-action to learn more if interested. You are also presenting the problem and solution from your own authentic point-of-view and voice with supporting proof, which establishes your credibility.
For instance, if your expertise and services center around HR services, you could provide answers to questions about hiring the right people or when to outsource HR activities. If your focus is CRM for small businesses, you might start with an overview of the benefits of sales automation, then provide tips on choosing and implementing the software. Or a financial advisor to entrepreneurs might offer a free guide to setting up an accounting system. These ‘premium content’ pieces should be written specifically for the clients you want to attract and address their biggest questions and concerns.
Pillar pages cover a broad topic to give prospective buyers different starting points to answer their questions. This means they are more substantial in volume of content as compared to a typical blog article. For instance, a pillar page might range from 2,000 to over 4,000 words. So, it is important to organize it logically using headings or chapters. You can also make it easier to read and share now or later, provide links to skip down to specific sections, and provide options to download and share with others.
The best pillar pages are essentially digital books or guides with topics organized by chapter and clickable headings. They offer a rich variety of visual content delivery including video, infographics and expandable sections for a more enjoyable reading experience. As with reading a great book, the reader finishes it with a sense of satisfaction and appreciation that is hopefully rewarded with interest and permission to contact.
That’s why pillar pages serve as great lead generators because you can offer the option to download into an ebook format in return for contact and qualifying information. If your content is of high quality and really satisfies their needs, then readers should be happy to trade their contact and give permission to a follow-up.
Make sure these pages are featured prominently in your website navigation, so they are easy to find by visitors and search engines. If they are part of a blog, you’ll want to present these as featured topics or resources.
If you have existing content that can serve as building blocks for this, take an inventory of the content you currently have and how it performs to determine where to start. You may find that some pruning of old content, or updates are in order.
Mistake #5: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Isn’t Baked in Upfront
As mentioned before, buyers are most commonly asking their questions in online search, so you want to ensure your content is as visible as possible during these discovery inquiries.
When prospects are searching online in their discovery phase, they will generally see two types of results:
- A limited set of paid ads, which are usually salesy, sometimes helpful (but usually not).
- A much wider array of organic results including standard pages, video, news, and sometimes a direct answer to question (featured snippet).
Some people may click on the ads. However, chances are, they will choose the more helpful, less salesy results. You want to ensure your value proposition and educational content are well positioned in their search results. This is done through search engine optimization, or SEO.
SEO is really about optimizing for how your customers think and act. Your website has to be optimized to be highly visible in those key moments of discovery and consideration. Many businesses don’t take the time to tune their websites, offers and content for search, therefore investing in SEO upfront gives you a distinct advantage in terms of digital presence.
In order to attract the right prospects at the right time to your website, you need to know what they are searching for online. When planning for SEO, ask yourself these questions about your customers (which you would have already done with proper customer research):
- What questions are they asking?
- What words and phrases are they using in their searches?
- What information are they having trouble finding?
Keywords are the words, phrases and questions used by your target customers to research and find solutions. It’s also helpful in understanding which keywords your competitors are using. Good upfront keyword research can save you time and money in 3 ways:
- Matches your offer and content to what your customers expect, in the right moments they are seeking it.
- Drives more qualified demand, matched to your offer with a higher conversion rate.
- Reduces the need for costly paid advertising to build the same demand – and also improves the performance of paid ads when used.
Your best keywords are being used a lot (high search volume), which means they represent how the majority of your customers are thinking about their challenges and solutions.
Do some keyword research to find the right keywords to use in content and what it will take to rank for those keywords in search results. There are a lot of advanced tools designed specifically for keyword research, however, here are a few easy ways to get started.
Start by searching for your service offering or category. Use question style searches such as “what is [your product/service category]?” or “how to [the solution you provide]” to model a prospect in their discovery phase.
Focus your efforts on Google. 92% of all online searches go through Google.
Here are a few easy-to-use tools for keyword research.
Google Autocomplete and People Also Ask. Use Google’s Autocomplete feature (a feature that autocompletes a partially typed search query) to find different ways people may ask a question about your offering. Google’s People Also Ask feature can also reveal keyword insights. Just do a search for your target keywords or questions a target customer would ask. Look for the ‘People Also Ask’ section in the results for clues into different questions and ways in which they are asked.
For more advanced keyword analysis, try Ubersuggest. Just type in your website domain name, or a keyword to get started.
Once you’ve determined the right keywords that matches customer intent, follow these guidelines to incorporate them into your content:
- Use your target keywords and phrases throughout your offers and content.
- Use the phrase at the beginning of the title, in the header and several times in the body text – strive for 2-3% keyword density.
- Don’t shoehorn keywords – they should naturally enhance the readability and relevance of your content.
In addition to the above, here are some additional best practices for website design that you don’t want to forget.
Intuitive navigation and information architecture. Design your website with customers in mind so they can easily find what the need. Give them the option of using your navigation headings or keyword search to explore and find answers.
Optimize for mobile. Make sure your website is easy to use on all screen sizes as many of your customers will visit from several devices including smartphones. This also pays dividends for SEO and search visibility.
Simplicity wins. Don’t overdesign your page layouts and keep copy, visuals and interactive elements as simple as possible. Minimize the number of clicks in your conversion path. Don’t ask for too much information on forms. And strive for a minimalistic visual design that expresses your brand authentically.
Enhance the reading experience. Use a variety of text and visual content types to enhance the reading experience. Link topics and keywords across your internal pages. Use white space and headings for easier scanning.
Take a look at your website: it is doing its job? Is it a strategic driver of growth for your business, or it is just an online brochure? You probably have invested a lot of time and energy into building your business website. Now, make sure it is doing what you intended. In today’s B2B landscape, your website is the centerpiece of your multi-channel brand presence and should be helping you win and keep more of the clients you want.
Do you have room to grow?
We are brand marketers, digital strategists and design thinkers who help startups and small service businesses find, engage, close and delight their ideal clients using customer-centric approaches.
We help growing service businesses who:
- Are unsure where to start in marketing their business
- Don’t know how well their marketing is doing
- Want to be more customer-centric and data-informed
- Need to prioritize limited resources for the biggest return
If this is your business, let’s talk!