With all the current discussion about B2B brands and their need to treat their customers like actual people, we decided to have the Rosetta User Research Team audit the websites of ten very recognizable B2B technology brands to see how well they are doing. Rachel Thayer, who is a lead on the team, spearheaded the effort to rank the companies across website categories like brand, design and how well they serve channel partners.
I caught up with Rachel to hear more about the most interesting findings from her assessment.
Question 1: Based on your analysis, what are some of the things that distinguish a B2B tech website from any other categories?
They have several unique challenges compared to other categories we look at, like retail or banking. First, enterprise B2B companies usually have a broader and more complex solution set, which can make site navigation tough.
Second, they have different, more technical terminology to describe products, which not all users understand and which can create complexity.
Also, these brands have to provide a balance between providing the content visitors need, and trying to capture leads and getting people to engage. The long sales cycles, and the number of people in the purchase decision-making process for big technology solutions, mean marketing is always going to try hard to identify who users are and how to “push” them through the funnel, which sometimes is counterintuitive to creating a really good experience.
These points aside, we do see B2B tech companies modeling some elements of their sites after designs that customers might see elsewhere on a consumer-oriented site. There are some experiences that users are expecting to see in any web experience.
Question 2: What were the most interesting examples of the brands you evaluated that are engaging customers in a new way?
Intel is pulling social feeds into product pages. This has potential to be useful for a few reasons:
- It pulls relevant content from outside sources, keeping users engaged on the site when they might otherwise go to those other channels anyway to do research.
- It is more engaging and interesting, which does have some value when you are trying to establish your brand and products as unique from any others, and to create “experience based” differentiation.
- Seeing discussion or commentary around a particular product is like going to a tradeshow on the computer – users see comments and answers to questions that they themselves might have.
In general, we saw sites getting simpler and simpler due to responsive design. Some of these brands are starting to take a “mobile-first” mentality, so it is interesting to see how they attempt to balance providing the right amount of information with the inherent space limitations.
Question 3: Salesforce ranked very well in each of the categories you evaluated. What can other brands learn from them?
Of all the brands, Salesforce does the best job of being approachable. They use very clear language and their product categories are clearly defined and simple to understand. Many of the other brands are bundling products into solutions, which might make sense for some buyers, but in many cases makes it really unclear what exactly somebody needs to buy in order to do what they are trying to do.
Salesforce also has very clear selling propositions for each product line, with calls to action that align well to their key selling points. Their use of contextually relevant case studies, video, and trials or demos make their offers relevant and not intrusive.
Lastly, they have a really great mobile site that is tailored to mobile-specific tasks.
Question 4: What predictions do you have regarding the ways B2B tech websites will evolve in the next two years?
They will likely continue to integrate social into the site through partner communities, product pages, or support experiences. Responsive design will continue to influence how these companies design their desktop sites.
Finally, they will become increasingly personalized. Right now, some companies allow users to self-select what kind of visitor they are in a “gateway” page before accessing the site. I personally don’t think most users understand why they are being asked, and they would prefer to not have to choose a path. Instead, we are starting to have some of our own B2B clients ask us to help segment site visitors based on their click behavior (and other factors), and then, once we define their persona, tailor the experience. For example, if a user is digging into technical product details, we would provide more product details front-and-center on the next page.
View the summary of key findings from Rachel and her team on the SlideShare presentation below titled Website Competitive Assessment – B2B Tech Companies.