To B2B or B2C, what’s the difference?

The Web Chef's Café will focus on giving you insights, tips and links to free and fee resources on some of the latest developments in online marketing. Our Web Chef encourages you to send topic ideas and to comment on the postings as the bi-weekly series continues to evolve. Read Full Bio

I’m excited to join the blogging team. In this first posting, I’d like to focus on similarities and differences between elements of Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) online marketing.

The topic seemed timely, given the results of the recent audits of a wide range of B2B and B2C web sites that Ben Siegel of Exp Design, LLC and I completed for the May issue of IN BUSINESS. Beyond the audit, two other recent items tied in nicely with covering this topic: a discussion in the LinkedIn eMarketing Association Group on B2B vs. B2C; and the latest release of the BtoB Magazine Interactive Marketing Guide 2009. You can download a copy of the Guide here.

The LinkedIn discussion was especially interesting because it was initiated by Charles Moyer, COO at Madison-based Conney Safety Products. His question was about the reasons for the low conversion rate of .1% (% of sales) on their web site from SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) activities. The insights and recommendations from respondents to the question were interesting and useful – not just for Conney Safety Products, but also for other business marketers – so I thought I’d share them here.

Insights included the following:

  1. B2B purchasing cycles are more complex, meaning that conversions might take longer and be harder to immediately track
  2. There may be B2C traffic that needs to be eliminated to get an accurate determination of B2B conversions

Recommendations to both improve results and refine the conversion metrics included the following:

  1. Have call marketing agents ask how customers found the site; if it was from a search engine, ask what keywords were used.
  2. Review the keywords to make sure that they are the most appropriate.
  3. Increase value-added content on the site or what respondent, Jeff Reed from HSR Business to Business called “thought leadership content”.
  4. Experiment with keyword purchases at vertical business portals like Thomas Net, Global Spec.

Beyond this discussion, the B2B Interactive Marketing Guide had some interesting points. In a Q&A, Hoa Loranger, from the Nielsen Norman Group (a usability specialist firm) was asked about what B2B marketers could learn from the B2C specialists. She responded, “Not showing the price; locking up product information and resources behind registration and contact forms creates an antagonistic Web experience.”

Other tips that I’d like to add to the mix are to look at the following critical C’s – creative, content, community, commerce and customer service. There are various questions to evaluate for each of these C’s including:

Is your brand actively being promoted visually and functionally on your site? Are the aesthetics of the site contemporary in design? Does your navigation facilitate the access to information for each phase of the sales funnel? Have you tested your site with different browser like Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer? Have you conducted usability tests for common tasks on your sites?

Have you anticipated the questions prospects and customers want answered at your site and placed the answers appropriately throughout the site? Are you using tools like white papers, webinars, product demonstrations to educate your prospects and customers? Have you incorporated podcasts and/or video into your content strategy? Are you constantly refreshing your content? Do you have a site search engine that works? Have you updated your copyright date?

Are you incorporating social media into your mix, like blogs, Twitter, private and public social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo)? Are you incorporating product reviews into your site? Are you facilitating customer feedback?

If you’re selling products online, are your return and shipping policies including costs, visible and clear? Are you maximizing the visualization of your products so that buyers can fully see the product? Is the security seal for your SSL provider prominently displayed and visible? Are you merchandising your product mix by product line, customer solution, physical property or other relevant criteria?

Customer Service
Are you using live chat to support your customers? Do you have clear e-mail addresses for questions and if so, are you responding to questions within 24 – 48 hours? Do you have a prominently displayed 800 number for phone inquiries? Is there a customer service inquiry form? If appropriate, have you developed a user group, where your customers can share ideas and you can learn about their needs?

Regardless of your business sector, the key to online success is to constantly refresh, test and refine your site’s 5 C’s; as both business and consumer prospects and buyers, continue to shift their searches and purchases online.