B2B or Not B2B: Design Considerations for B2B Sites

The customer was underwhelmed, to put it mildly. “Listen,” she said to the waiter as she handed the sorry excuse for a Reuben sandwich back to him. “Take this back, and tell the cook to make it like he would make it for himself.”

Snarky chutzpah? Hardly. Just a reasonable request for good value and good service. The point is clear: Treat your customers the way you would expect to be treated yourself. You know, the whole “do unto others” thing.

This should be especially easy if your customers are other businesses. Treat them the way you want to be treated, and provide a business-to-business (B2B) site that has the features you’d want to see in a B2B site.

Different Customer Characteristics Means Different Requirements

Because B2B customers have different characteristics from retail customers, B2B sites have somewhat different goals and requirements from retail e-commerce or purely informational sites:

  • B2B customers don’t have time to waste. They want to complete transactions quickly and easily without any fuss.
  • B2B customers need hard, reliable information on which they can make decisions.
  • B2B customers may not want or need to talk to a human when everything is going smoothly, but the minute something goes wrong, they want a real person on the phone who’s going to make it right and do it quickly. They don’t want to wait a day for someone on the other side of the planet to get back to them by email.

With these characteristics in mind, here are some…

Strategies for B2B Site Design

  • Tone down the marketing fluff: B2B customers often already know what they want and don’t need to be sold on it. Stick to the facts in your product descriptions: specifications, features, capabilities, sales units (liters, gallons, or barrels?), availability, and of course, price. For services, a similar approach is wise: Show what’s included (and not included), how quickly it can be done, and what it’s going to cost. Let your performance be your best marketing tool.
  • Make stuff easy to find: B2B customers who know what they want will typically search for it by model number, part number, or stock-keeping unit (SKU) number. Make sure these feature prominently in your SEO strategy.
  • Make it easy to do business: Do you take purchase orders? Let them enter a PO number when they order. Give them the ability to view past orders and easily re-order from those past orders. If you have items that come in different varieties (sizes, colors, materials, quantities), make it easy to select. Provide an easy-to-use “order status” interface. Include carrier tracking numbers, if you ship by a carrier such as UPS or FedEx—preferably linked to the tracking functionality of the carrier’s site.
  • Give them a real person to talk to: Even if that person is only available certain hours of the day, at least provide a phone number that customers can call when there’s a problem. Make the phone number easy to find! And don’t keep them on hold too long.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate: Want to lose customers? Surprise them with a “Site down for maintenance” or “Closed for Flag Day” banner on your home page just when they need something. Maintenance outages, holiday schedules—anything that affects your customers’ ability to do business with you—should be announced well in advance, so they can plan accordingly.

Think about what you like in the B2B sites that you use because chances are good your customers would like it, too. (Here’s a thought – why not ask them?) And pile the sauerkraut high on that Reuben, please.