For anyone selling software solutions, a strong and well-crafted web presence is de rigueur for connecting with potential customers or with the “customer as Buyer”. More and more purchasing of various software solutions is becoming an online event, fueled by the growing success of SaaS, cloud, and open source options. SMB / Mid-Market buyers, who don’t have a lot of time for purchase cycles, want to do business with vendors who make it much easier to reach a decision.
According to Forrester’s Megan Burns, Web Sites That Don't Support Customers' Goals Waste Millions:
“Results show that the vast majority of people switch to more expensive channels…Others give up and go to a competitor, while still others abandon their goals entirely. …for an average retailer the result is millions of dollars in lost revenue and unnecessary costs. Firms should use the data and models in this report to understand their own exposure to these failures and make a strong case for fixing usability problems that drive consumers away from the site.”
While the Forrester study focuses on online retail, the implications are highly relevant to software vendors targeting SMB and Mid-Market companies, since these B2B buyers primarily use the internet as the gateway to software purchases. These buyers also encounter similar difficulties trying to navigate software vendor websites to find relevant content and support to help them make buying decisions.
With buyers focused on the web as a purchasing gateway, B2B software vendors are no longer the sole owners of influencing brand perception – many online venues now play significant roles for influencing buyers, and many of these online venues are not controlled by the vendor. However, the vendor still has control of providing a high quality web presence through its corporate website and the power to increase findability for the right “customers as buyers”. While buyers reference other influencer sites, software vendors can contribute greatly to attracting and persuading buyers if buyers can easily find well-crafted and useful content on the vendor website.
Vendors should exercise all necessary resources to exceed the buyer expectations and needs when visiting the vendor website. Not being highly findable as a web presence for the right buyer content will put into motion the potential for buyers to turn to other sites, many of which lead to competitors.
Website Findablity, Usability, User Experience – They Really Matter
If buyers can’t find, via the internet, what a vendor has to offer, then the vendor is plain old losing real prospects and sales every day. Findability addresses the importance of websites being quickly found, easily accessed and distinctly identifiable with the B2B software vendor’s offerings. With the mercurial nature of the internet and individual vendor web presence, findability requires constant attention and fine-tuning.
Unfortunately many B2B software vendor websites are built from the vendor’s perspective to support its own processes for marketing and sales – instead of from the perspective of the “customer as buyer”. And most of these vendor websites have failed to provide easy access to high quality content that helps buyers make purchase decisions about the vendor offerings. B2B software vendors have a great opportunity to establish a more integrated and interactive web presence that pulls together people, tools, services and content.
There are lots of methods and tools to increase website findability: SEO optimization, recommendations / social search, Google marketing offerings, Web Standards, and so on. But the right kind of content, including social media, is key to attracting and keeping buyers on the software vendor website because these buyers have a list of items (and expectations) deemed necessary for deciding if the vendor’s software solutions are what they need. As the quality and diversity of content on the vendor website increases, so does the findability – as well as potential buyer interest.
Social media venues (communities, forums, blogs, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), both on the vendor’s website and other well-visited sites, can be used with dual purpose: first to provide quality content, user interaction, and collaboration experiences that draw buyers to the vendor; and then, to provide dynamic research sources for better understanding the SMB / Mid-Market buyers that the vendor is targeting. Ongoing vendor participation should take place on the vendor’s social sites and on external social sites that are strategic to connecting with target customers.
This post from Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter Group) provides timely insight into creating a buyer/customer-centric web presence that integrates with social media and why this matters. There are two very useful charts: one covers feature/benefits of integrating social networking sites, and the other details the integrations available from popular social networking sites.
OK – Buyers have found the software vendor’s website…
Now -- are there content and user experience worth finding? – How easily can buyers tap into what the website offers? Buyers come to a software vendor’s website with expectations. Creating and structuring the website from the usability perspective of the buyer (or buyers if targeting multiple buyer types) will greatly support ease of finding relevant content and will generate positive user experiences.
SMB / Mid-Market buyers of B2B software generally want a wide variety of information about the products and solutions, input from communities and forums, clear pricing, and other information that will guide them to making a buying decision. They would like this content in easy-to-download formats - without having to answer lots of questions to enable the download. There is an increasing buyer sentiment that vendor websites should not require any information from the buyer for any content downloads. After all, the sales engagement is buyer-driven, with the buyer deciding when and if next steps will be taken.
Content Sought Out by Software Solution Buyers
Anything provided on the vendor website should be authentic, high quality content that answers real buyer questions. “Real” content engages buyers, so invest in subject matter experts who can write relevant, sharp and interesting documents, articles and posts. Vendors should provide links to industry writers, influencer blogs and communities, and to analysts who contribute insight regarding the vendor’s solution space and the competitive landscape. When significant negative content is published about the vendor, it’s smart to deal with it head-on through a vendor blog, as well as through any external social sites that are relevant – be honest and focused, always responding with the buyer’s POV in mind.
Content that buyers would like to see on the vendor website:
à Products and solutions information
· White papers providing orientations for both technical and business problems
· Product and solution datasheets
· Technical specifications
· Best practices / company approach to solving problems with the vendor solutions (lots of details)
· Case studies with real meat
à Social media
Incorporating social media in the vendor website further provides the opportunity to create a more personalized customer experience. The website should provide vendor-sponsored social media sites and links to external social sites. Buyer-friendly social media include: communities, blogs, wikis, forums, RSS, self-serve webcasts and podcasts, video sharing sites, social networking sites. As with findability and usability, social media requires real commitment, constant nurturing and responsiveness to anyone participating in the vendor’s social sites. Social media offers a fantastic venue for building relationships with “customers as buyers”, for collaborating with them on the future direction of the vendor’s offerings, and to respond quickly to questions and issues.
à External Content from Influencers – which include current customers
· Communities, forums, blogs – the ones external to vendor website
· Coverage, reviews by industry writers and influencer blogs
· Analyst coverage – especially from analysts that specialize in software for SMB / Mid-Market
For SMB / Mid-Market buyers, pricing should be published on the website, should be straight-forward, and always up-to-date. These buyers are not interested in drawn out sales cycles – they will simply move on to another vendor if the clock has been ticking too long. Many buyers would like to make most software purchases via the website, whenever possible. SaaS, cloud, OSS software options are changing how SMB / Mid-Market buyers expect to purchase software, or software services.
à RFP Q&A – standardized answers
The more likely initiators of RFP requests are the upper tiers of the Mid-Market, rather than “classic SMB”. Most RFP/RFI documents follow a basic format widely used in software industry, with a large majority of questions repeating from buyer to buyer. So it might be a good idea to build out an engaging presentation of RFP Q&A on the website, utilizing newer media including podcasts and video. If done well (findable-usable-engaging), buyers could find answers on their own, satisfying buyer desire for self-service. Also providing online RFP Q&A could eliminate the time-wasting situation of the vendor being used as “column fodder”. Online publication of RFP Q&A demands constant updating and refinement to be useful to customers.
There are potential hazards for publishing online RFP’s:
· Relevance to buyer needs is not always supported by the usual RFP structure unless multiple RFPs are mapped to various buyer solution scenarios
· Validity of vendor strengths and weaknesses depends on how those strengths and weaknesses map to the most important requirements of each buyer project – generic RFP content may not be able to make a clear assessment and could have negative effect
· Competitors will now know more about how the vendor responds to certain questions while not providing corresponding data on their own websites
So it might be best to provide higher level, but meaty, content for unrestricted access, and then require buyer registration and validation before sharing access to deeper content, especially if a mutual NDA is necessary for more ‘sensitive” information.
à Competitor Comparisons
Software solution buyers often list “competitor comparisons” as a content type that they’d like to find on a vendor website. However, there are real issues that a vendor must consider before attempting competitor comparisons:
· Mainly, legal constraints related to claims made about what a competitor does or doesn’t do, as compared to the vendor – lawsuits could arise from buyers or competitors regarding claims made
· Even if an “objective” third-party is engaged to create competitor comparisons, such comparisons are frequently tedious and expensive to execute
· Relevance – points in competitor comparisons may not be of importance to all buyers or relate well to their needs
· Commoditization – software offerings in same solution space generally have many of the same feature/functions so competitor comparisons have reduced impact
Aligning “Findable Web Presence” with Social Selling and Social CRM
Focusing on the buyer-centricity of a vendor’s web presence by improving the findability and usability of the website and by building out proper social media connections to potential buyers also brings alignment with initiatives for social customer relationship management (the strategic practice, not just the technology) and with programs for social selling. This is especially important for SMB / Mid-Market software vendors who need to maximize existing resources for these important initiatives.
These three inter-related initiatives nurture quality buyer experiences. And these initiatives are dependent on the vendor being willing to continuously engage in real bi-directional “conversations” with buyers and to act on buyer feedback. Vendors will greatly enhance long-term loyalty, buyer success, and the ability to continuously understand what buyers need by building a composite of excellent web presence / findability / quality content, combined with lively support of social media and true buyer support through social CRM.
Social selling taps into social culture and makes use of social media to build relationships and hold conversations with potential buyers. Listening well, presenting compelling content, meeting buyer needs are important aspects of social selling. Likewise, social CRM strives to provide support for buyer success with the vendor’s software offerings, aligned with the “lifecycle of the customer support” (pre- and post-sale). (More on social CRM for B2B vendors)
For social selling, social networking and collaborative sites help sales to connect with buyers on buyer terms: in venues where buyers are looking for solutions to problems, asking about specific kinds of software solutions, exploring competitor solutions. Sales teams can tap into what matters to potential buyers in order to connect on a real basis. Monitoring social media sites can also help sales teams identify the key influencers for target buyers.
And Finally, Always Make Sure There’s a Software Solution Worth Buying
Software vendors sometimes forget that it is equally important to deliver quality solutions that are: relatively easy to implement, do the job they’re supposed to do, perform well, and provide clear benefits to the buyer. Quality solutions should be the main objective of any software vendor.
About the author: Julie Hunt is an accomplished market intelligence analyst, providing strategic market and competitive insights for the software industry. Her 20+ years as a software professional range from the very technical side to customer-centric work in solutions consulting, sales and marketing. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Market & Competitive Intelligence Services