A business-to-business (B2B) website and a business-to-consumer (B2C) website should both drive measurable business results, but the website choices that position them to do that vary greatly.
Just as the products, services, and goals of companies differ, so do the needs of the websites they use to help promote their business and drive revenue. Typically, fault lies with the B2B websites. All too often, businesses seem to fail to recognize this and try to apply the design techniques of a successful B2C website to the design needs of a B2B website. That’s why there’s far fewer great examples of B2B websites.
So what considerations do you have to keep in mind when planning a B2B website?
Single Customers vs. Audience Groups
One of the first obvious differences is the audience of the website. Marketing and design teams will put a lot of effort into defining the buyer personas for a B2C website. A good B2C website will even personalize the website for the individual consumer based upon those personas and the individual’s purchasing and browsing habits. However, in the vast majority of B2C customer buying cycles, you are targeting the same person across the purchase funnel.
This is not the case for most B2B websites, who have to cater to vastly different personas who may all be involved in a single lead. You’re often targeting an audience group of 3-4 people at an organization. This can complicate the information architecture of a website, because your website needs to address a wide variety of pain points.
B2B websites can accomplish this challenge in a variety of ways:
- Persona self-selection, such as a homepage section that says “How we help Person X, Person Y, and Person Z.”
- Keeping website copy high-level but offering downloads of data-heavy case studies for more technical/engineering personas
- “Why Us?” pages that articulate the main value proposition of the B2B company
- Investing in data visualization that presents technical information in a clear way
Education vs. Impulse Buying
Websites geared for B2C customers quite often rely on flashier websites with dynamic, striking content and messaging that promotes a sense of urgency. B2C websites know that if you cannot get your customer to “convert” on their current visit to the website, you may lose the potential customer to a competitor.
But frequently, B2B websites are often positioned for longer-term buying cycles. The number of visits to a B2B website before “conversion” is almost always higher than that metric for a B2C website. Why? Because multiple people at a company may need to vet you, because the product or service may be technically complex, or because the product or service is a relatively large investment.
For this reason, B2B websites often need to focus more on education instead of urgency.
B2B websites have many opportunities to be informative and educational while still pushing visitors to “convert”:
- Compelling, high-level copy that speaks to your value proposition (vitally important for both B2B websites and B2C websites)
- Product specifications that detail compatibility, support, regulations, etc.
- Case studies and testimonials
- Industry certifications and quality standards
Longer Buying Cycles
The sales cycle for B2B is much longer than for B2C. Selling straight-to-consumer often happens within one website browsing session. For example, a customer looking for a plumber might do the following within twenty minutes:
- Check a couple local websites,
- Read reviews on Yelp,
- Revisit the website with quality reviews,
- Do a final glance at the website,
- Call you,
- And set up an appointment for the next day
Contrast this with B2B purchases. If a company is looking for a new piece of manufacturing equipment, they might take months (or even years!) to do the following:
- Have an internal meeting where needs for the new equipment are discussed
- Assign an entry-level employee to do initial research
- Entry-level employee browses 6 to 7 potential vendors
- Entry-level employee creates a pros and cons list for each
- Entry-level employee sends choices to to manager and buyer in the organization
- Manager and buyer both vet the 6 or 7 websites and decide on a top 3
- Entry-level employee fills out lead form on top 3 websites
- Sales process of months to determine purchase price, delivery and installation details, training, etc.
- Final close of sale.
Building a website that addresses scenario 2 instead of scenario 1 requires a number of unique strategies. Because pricing is often not visible on B2B websites, customers are vetting potential partners for trust, quality, and expertise.
Instead of convincing your customers they need to buy from you now, simply convince them they need to buy from you. This change in messaging will position you as a B2B expert rather than a pushy, “sales-y” organization.
Custom Pricing vs. Fixed Cost
Another difference between B2B websites and B2C websites is the lack of fixed pricing. In the B2C environment pricing is generally very straightforward. Customers looking to purchase a new computer visit a website and are presented with a variety of computers, all with a clearly stated, fixed price.
However, for many B2B organizations, prices are customized and negotiable. In B2B, this isn’t the case. A corporate buyer may be looking to purchase 2,000 new business computers, which may include technical support and perhaps even system integration.
How does this change in approach affect web design? Websites advertising custom-pricing should think about:
- Content that helps address your value (are you low-cost? High-quality? Expensive but worth it? etc.)
- A promise of quick turnaround – let potential customers know you’ll get back to them quickly to answer any questions they may have
- Keeping lead generation forms short – don’t ask questions that your sales team will ask anyway in the follow-up process
- When possible, use calculators – if your “custom pricing” is really just a formula dependent on a few inputs like location and quantity, you can give a quote using an interactive calculator
Do you need an agency that specializes in B2B Websites?
As with any time you’re choosing a web design agency, you should confirm that the agency has experience relevant to your business model or industry. This is especially true for B2B companies. If your website is built by a team that’s only done B2C websites, you may end up with a website that doesn’t best address your business needs.
And that can result in one of the worst combinations possible: a pretty website that doesn’t actually help your business grow.