Much of what gets written about online marketing and web design is subject to opinion, speculation and analysis. There sometimes seems to be an entire industry that involves talking about these things rather than actually doing them. Well here's one statement that I've found to be universally true:
Every highly converting website or eCommerce store is designed around clearly defined user goals.
Apologies if that sounds blindingly obvious - and in many ways it is. But think about your own experiences. How often have you given up in exasperation when a website or eCommerce store doesn't seem to have a clue what you might want to do, or make it easy for you?
Highly converting sites also have straightforward user journeys that guide people to their goals.
The converse is equally accurate. Every seriously failing site that I have ever analysed has had fundamental issues with plotting an uninterrupted path towards a defined goal; whether that's an enquiry or a direct eCommerce sale.
User journeys and user experience are now firmly established in the lexicon of marketing jargon. This at once makes them seem mysterious and difficult. In reality they are based in nothing more cutting edge than good design and customer service.
For some reason B2B eCommerce sites seem to struggle with user journeys more than B2C.
Maybe it's because B2B sites often grow up alongside more established sales channels; so there isn't the same pressure for them to 'succeed at all costs.'
Often there seems to be an assumption that B2B purchasers are only searching for things they need. You don't have to work so hard to convince them, because they want it anyway. And buyers will probably be more diligent and determined at finding the information they need than a B2C shopper.
These are very dangerous assumptions.
The B2B Buyer's Journey
What should a B2B eCommerce buyer journey look like? How might it differ from a B2C site? And how should you go about creating something that will reap dividends for your business?
The first step, as ever, is to focus on what the user needs rather than what your business needs. It's frustrating to see so many content plans designed around the simplest way for a business to categorise its offer, rather than what a potential customer is trying to achieve.
You can normally break down the initial planning process into a few key questions:
- What do I want customers to do?
- Who are they?
- Where will they come from?
- Where will they land?
- What will drive their decision (and is anyone else involved)?
- What information will they need?
- What objections will they have?
- What will convince them to say yes?
The questions are much the same for B2C and B2B eCommerce. But there will certainly be differences in the answers.
What do I want customers to do?
Even the most 'informational' brochure site should have a goal - otherwise why bother with the expense of creating it? With eCommerce the goals are normally very straightforward: select a product; go to the shopping cart; complete the payment.
But at each of these stages things can go wrong. Can customers find the product they want quickly? Are there critical questions they need answering before making a final decision? Is the information specific enough for them to match products with their particular needs? Can they get it when they need it? Do they trust the buying process or your business?
The answers to those questions are all heavily influenced by the key questions above. The procurement process for business customers might also mean that the goal is different. If an immediate sale is unrealistic, what's the next step that moves the sales process forward?
Who are they?
The more tightly you define your buyer personas, the less likely you are to miss an important step in their journey. In B2B, it's likely that several people with different roles might be involved in purchase decisions. You'll have more success if you cater for all of them.
Customer research is obviously critical. But beware of misattribution. People don't always make decisions for the reasons they think they do. Cross check against hard behaviour-based data (such as call centre logs) wherever you can. And always draw on the experience of sales professionals: what questions do customers really ask, and what facts really convince them?
Create a clear picture of the inpiduals you are targeting; their needs, wants and problems; and their personal motivations. Your customer may be another business, but the transaction is still made by a human.
B2B customers are likely to be more cost driven and looking for things they need rather than things they might like. The site user may be being paid to shop around for the best deal, but their time still has a value.
If your customers are typically small or owner-managed businesses then their time has enormous personal value. Make life easy and you can earn loyalty. The impression they get about your customer service (impartial reviews, for example) will still have a big influence.
Where will they come from?
Organic search, social media and PPC could all bring people to your site. Where will those people enter and what will their specific journey need to be?
You'll have a mix of new and returning visitors with different levels of understanding and possibly different objectives. How are you going to get them onto the right pathway painlessly?
Where will they land?
It might be convenient to assume that every visitor arrives on your home page before deciding which of your products or services they want to explore. Convenient but probably not realistic.
Depending on what they searched for, organic traffic could land on a specific content page that isn't your home page. And for every page you need to consider how much visitors are already likely to know and what else you need to tell them.
You can't afford to assume that people will have read anything that's on a different page. That's why eCommerce sites should have delivery, returns and customer service information easily accessible from everywhere.
What will drive their decision?
Whatever you are selling, people will have their own reasons for buying it. When you understand what those reasons and judgements are, you can design buyer journeys and content to meet their highly specific needs.
In B2B sales there could be several people involved in the decision, each with their own needs and perspective. Do you need to support multiple customer journeys? And do you need to offer information and arguments that will help somebody to sell your product or service within their organisation?
What information will they need?
The simple exercise of putting yourself in your customers' shoes, and identifying the questions you would ask if you were them, is one that often seems to get missed. Have you told them everything they need to know to make a judgement? Will it be obvious how what you sell meets their needs?
There's a supplementary question here too: How do they prefer to access that information?
Explainer videos often get plonked onto sites with the assumption that they provide everything a customer wants to know in an easily accessible format. This may well be true. But it's often not clear to visitors that the video contains the answers they are looking for. In other words, there is no journey to or from the video.
And what if they can't or don't want to watch a video? What if they can't hear the voice over? How are those people going to discover what they need to know?
In B2B eCommerce people may well be viewing your site while sitting in an open-plan office, so playing a video might not be socially acceptable.
If there are potentially a lot of detailed questions about what you sell you might also think about using live chat.
What objections will they have?
Any experienced sales person will tell you that selling is often about overcoming objections. They know through experience the doubts and difficulties people will raise. That experience has equipped them with convincing answers supported by evidence.
Your online buyer journey has to do the same. If it's not possible to provide every possible answer on a single page, then it has to be clear where people can go to find them.
A well thought-out and clearly presented FAQ page will always pay dividends. But too often these seem to be included because other sites have them. You can always tell when a brand hasn't put in the research to know which questions really get asked, and hasn't taken the trouble to construct meaningful answers.
Again, the nature of the objections for a B2B customer will be unique. Issues like return on investment, financing and reliability may be their focus.
What will convince them to say yes?
Armed with all the information and facts they need, people might still do nothing or put off making the decision. The buyer journey works better when there's a trigger to take action immediately rather than later. 'Later' often translates into 'never'.
Loss aversion is a strong motivator in any selling process. It works particularly well with businesses. A business is more likely to take immediate action if they can see that delay gives their competitors an advantage and could mean they lose existing customers.
Building the Buyer's Journey
This might seem a lot to think about. That's because there is a lot to think about. The B2B ecommerce buyer journey can get complicated. Research, analysis and detailed wire-framing are essential if you want to avoid expensive inaccurate assumptions.
As an eCommerce site designer the challenge is often to get clients to visualise the online selling process at an early stage - when changes are still inexpensive. The wireframes help; but there also has to be time to 'walk through' the journeys and challenge every assumption. Skimp on this planning stage and you'll end up paying the price over a long period.