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B2B vs B2C Website Design Usability

May 23, 2008
There have been many discussions and training programs on the Internet about website design conversion techniques, however, almost all of these refer to the B2C (Business-to-Consumer) business websites. Very few, if any at all, focus on the B2B (business-to-business) and/or professional services business. Due to the fact that the B2B and professional services websites' goals are substantially more complex than those on a typical B2C website, the impact and cost to the company resulting from each design mistake becomes less apparent compared to those on a B2C website.

In a classic B2C e-commerce website, every single design decision directly and measurably affects the website's conversion rate and other metrics. This means that B2C website owners can see, from their own statistics software, how much money they lose every time they get their website usability wrong. However, for the B2B and professional services industry, their websites do not usually close sales online, and hence, they can turn away the vast majority of users without ever knowing how many sales they've lost as a result.

You see, many B2B and professional services companies don't even consider themselves as engaged in e-commerce because they mistakingly assume that any website without a shopping cart is a non e-commerce website. The reality is, typical B2B products or services cannot be purchased through a simple "Add to cart" button because they are usually custom-tailored for the client and/or the prices may vary depending on the customer. Thus, the lack of an "Add to cart" button does not mean that B2B and professional services providers should ignore their website usability. The site should still support the many other stages of the buying process, including the post-sales stages, which are crucial to customers' long-term brand loyalty. In reality, the more complex the scenario, the higher the need for supportive user interfaces.

The main goal of a B2B and/or a professional services website should be to generate leads; not to create sales. Not all users who visit your site are ready to buy from you instantly, and you shouldn't assume so. In fact, many prospects use websites during their initial research stages and only stick with the sites that were helpful for future reference. For this reason, your website should have readily accessible information on your products and services with simple, user-friendly menu structures to assist the user in finding the right information easily and effectively.

B2B websites must also provide a much wider range of information than what's common in B2C. A B2B website has to offer simple facts that are easily understood by an early prospect who is just looking around to see what is available. It must also offer in-depth white papers and information to help prospects determine whether your products or services can offer the right solutions to their company's problems.

One mistake that many B2B website owners make is hiding important information behind registration barriers. In today's world of mass spam, junk mail, and unwanted telemarketers, users are often reluctant to give away their contact details unless you can convince them that you have the right solution to their company's problems. Hence, hiding information behind registration barriers are usually not a good idea. It is still strongly recommended that you try to acquire their contact details as part of the lead generation process, but you should reveal enough information to gain their trust before requesting these details. Anything less will just cause them to browse to a competitor's site.

In conclusion, B2B purchases are often big-ticket items or service contracts. The sites' products and services are often extremely specialised, with complex specifications. Decisions made on B2B sites can usually have long-term implications. Customers aren't just making a one-time purchase, they're often buying into a long-term relationship that includes support, follow-up, and future enhancements and add-ons. For these important reasons, you should pay more attention on your B2B website usability to support the user in their early researching stages if you want to generate long-term business sales.

In the future articles, I will show you some conversion techniques that you can use right away to generate more leads through your business website. Until then, have a great day and best wishes for you, your family and your business in 2008.
About the Author
Binh is the General Manager of "Market Ease Business Promotions" (http://www.marketease.com.au), a web design and development company from Port Adelaide who work with small, home-based, and b2b businesses helping them leverage the power of the internet to generate more leads and achieve more sales.
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