E-Catalog Business to Business Myths
Myth 1 Business to Business is different from Business to Consumer.
In my 27 years of catalog experience, this is the most common myth. Studies shows that the top problem Business to Business (B-to-B) shoppers have is finding a product and making a purchasing decision. Sound familiar? Same problem with Business to Consumer (B-to-C).
Last year a midwest safety products cataloger gleaned from its research that the lack of standards in web merchandising and navigation often made it hard for potential customers to even start the process of finding a product. (What’s up with those really small words on web sites that we are supposed to somehow read and click on.)
Another Cataloger noticed visitors had trouble getting around because there was too much explanatory text in the navigation path. Customers shopping for themselves or their company don’t like to read while they navigate.
The Business customer is just like the consumer in many important aspects. Business customers are more impatient than consumers and have less time because they are at work. Consumers looking to purchase from home have more time and will keep trying–to a point.
Myth 2 Business customers are already knowledgeable about what they are looking for.
Just like the B-to-C marketer, they assume that their prospects know way more than they do. In one research project using a purchasing manager as a subject, he was unable to make a purchase from a B-to-B site because he was unfamiliar with some industry terms. B-to-B Marketers look at the world from the inside-out–from the company’s perspective rather than the customer’s. The same people, who are responsible for marketing, emphasize how their B-to-B market is so different from the
B--C market. They are the same professionals who tend to assume their customers have knowledge that they do not possess. It’s an easy mistake and it clouds the real issues that need to be clarified and communicated to the customer.
Myth 3 Business customers make the most optimal choice when navigating a web site.
When we’re designing our web site we assume the user, when navigating the site, will choose the best option after considering all the possible ways to go. In reality, in most cases he will not choose the best option. He will choose the first reasonable option - a strategy known as satisficing1 (a cross between satisfying and sufficing). On finding a link that we think will take us where we want to go - there’s a very good chance we will take it.
Studies of firefighters’ choice of options, in life and death situations, where thought to be governed by the generally accepted model of rational decision making: faced with a problem, a person gathers information, identifies the possible solutions, and makes the best one. In reality, the firemen didn’t compare any options-they took the first plan they thought would work and did a quick mental check for possible problems with the plan.
Why don’t we make the best choice:
l We’re usually in a hurry.
l There’s not much penalty for guessing wrong.
l Weighing options may not improve our chances.
l Guessing is more fun.
True Lies and Just The Facts
Regardless of your company’s size there are two vital activities that B-to-B marketers can perform:
l Study Customer behavior early and often before and after launching a new site or major site revisions.
l Build a customer experience team.
These two efforts may sound esoteric and even a little like consultant B.S. I’m not suggesting that you spend $50K on a focus group. However, they can be done without a consultant and can be informally done inhouse, but they must be accountable. Otherwise there’s this overblown inhouse meeting with arm waving and hearsay with no hard facts to support the “we know our customers” type comments that are handed down from on high. Your in-house informal research teams should be from different departments, not just from customer service, and multi-disciplinary. The benefits of including heads that come at the problem from different angles is that it creates a company consensus on priorities. The people behind the web presence are now talking to each other. This results in wonderful comments like “if we put Joe’s stuff here, by my offset swivel plates, I will sell more too! There is great synergy in knowing and hearing these comments from different departments.
It is not uncommon in the big scheme of print catalogs, customer service centers, and web sites, to have over 100 change requests to modify the web site. The multi-disciplinary team can weed out the top five to implement that will have the greatest business impact.
Amazon.com created a bulletin board of customer comments early on and incorporated the number one suggestion, “Where’s my stuff?” right on the main page so the customer could go see the status of his order. All this is the good news. The bad news is most small companies don’t do this and just give it lip service. And finally, the few that do do their customer-research due diligence will have a significant advantage over the other companies holding on to the self serving myths.