Saturday, April 12, 2008

Site Design for Your Customer

Hopefully everyone has heard the adage “know your customers”. This saying predates the Internet but it especially applies to companies that utilize the web as a major component to their business. Let’s face it, the Internet created a marketplace that now allows consumers easy access to goods and services that were either very hard or impossible to find before the ‘90s. Everyone has heard of major online retailers, or e-tailers: eBay, Amazon, J.Crew, and Dell. For Joe and Jane consumer these retail sites, plus entertainment and banking fulfill 99% of their web needs.

However, many companies are utilizing the web to streamline interactions within their supply chain. These companies are the “man behind the man” or “woman behind the woman” or “woman behind the man” (I’ll stop now; I think you get the point). They are the manufacturers and distributors for the retailers we all know.

Yeah everyone wants their home page to be sexy and cool. For a large number of sites the objective is to provide wholesalers and distributors easy order and account management. It’s the productivity gains along with the timeliness and accuracy of processing the orders that provides the true ROI.

Many times these sites do not provide an optimal experience and this is a problem that is usually overlooked because it appears that all the orders are being placed. However, in reality the true reason the order was placed is because of the sheer will of individuals that place the order on the other end of the site. Do you really want the success of your business to be outside of your control? Yeah the order went through but maybe the employee on the other end really wanted to restock three SKUs not one.

To overcome this site design problem, first you need to determine if the site is for wholesalers or retail customers. If your site needs to serve both the wholesale and retail consumer, make sure you provide each “customer” with a site that fulfills their needs. Designing a site for wholesalers is completely different then creating a site for retail consumers. Making this separation will provide design clarity.

Second, start a dialog with the actual users on the other end of the site. Find out what they like and dislike about the site. Also, make sure not to overlook the physical location from where they access the site. You don’t want the site to rely on audio cues if the end users are accessing the site from a noise shop floor. Creating this dialog with your users can be achieved through numerous methodologies (surveys, field inspections, ethnographic studies, etc). Sometimes you can tease this information out via a few phone calls, but most of the time it requires a more scientific approach.

These simple principles will drive orders increase, efficiencies for you and your customers, and many times, build goodwill for your company.

Ty Allen
VP Product Development

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How do B2B Marketers take advantage of Social Networks?

Up to now, Social networks have predominantly focused on bringing consumers together in a social community. Social networks give people the ability to congregate around common needs, interests and lifestyles. It’s the closest thing to truly building a village of friends and support. So, where does this leave B2B marketers? Isn’t one of the greatest social verticals, business and customers? How can the B2B market get involved in Social Networking?

One way marketers can work with Social Networking sites is to get involved in the community. Social Networks are a great place to grow word of mouth, business development, PR, collaboration, and product feedback. One great benefit of these sites is the ability to create a two-way dialog. Jack Morton Worldwide concluded that word of mouth is the #1 influence on business purchase decisions and is best leveraged through face-to-face marketing efforts. B2B marketing can be limited and expensive. It's only natural that B2B marketers gravitate toward engaging their audience via an online community, keeping the people most important to them involved in relevant discussions. To be most effective, pick the Social Networking sites that best fit your product and service and join the communities. Expose your product and services to the community by opening up dialogues, writing blogs, and entrenching yourself in the community. Marketers should take the opportunity to create their own content for these sites. They should embrace negative comments about their brand, product, services, employees, business practices, etc., that is discovered on social networking sites. By honestly addressing each piece of negative content, explaining the steps being taken to fix or to improve, and doing so in a sensitive, factual, and non-promotional way, marketers can accomplish three important things: 1) they call their side of the story to the attention of their target community, 2) they demonstrate that they are human and are deserving of forgiveness and trust, and 3) they add neutral-to-positive content to the sites that contain negative criticism.(IProspect) Forrester Research sums it up neatly when it states, “To thrive in an era of Social Computing, companies must abandon top-down management and communication tactics, weave communities into their products and services, use employees and partners as marketers, and become part of a living fabric of brand loyalists.” As you build more content around your product and services, the greater exposure and awareness you will generate.

Branding is a key component to successful marketing strategies, but it can be expensive. An effective way to build brand is through Social Networks. MarketCharts conducted research and found that brands Adidas and Electronic Arts, which have run campaigns on MySpace, attributed more than 70% of their marketing return on investment to the "Momentum Effect" - a metric coined by Marketing Evolution to quantify the impact of a brand within a social network, going beyond traditional advertising impressions to encompass the "pass-along" power of consumer-to-consumer communication. The best way to drive this appeal is to create content that is interactive, awards prizes, and that is compelling. Use newsletters to keep content fresh and up to date. Create a reason for people to want to come back. This will drive people to spend more time in your social space where your objective is to drive brand.

Another growing trend in Social Networking is “applications” that provide a number of different ways to further communicate, participate, and enjoy the social networking scene. So, why can’t marketing applications be written that bring professionals and businesses together? Applications that can spotlight ideas, build brand, and further link the business community. How exciting would it be to create a brand application that gets adopted by many and provides marketers greater exposure and branding with every use. Somebody out there is developing these applications and they will be affective tool for marketers in the years to come.

In Summary, for Business-2-Business marketers to be effective they have to stay ahead of the trends. According to the Direct Marketing Association, by 2008 online marketing efforts will be the dominant media for business-to-business initiatives. Think about that: traditional direct mail, industry print, and events and promotions will take a back seat to more efficient and sophisticated online efforts. With the number of people using Social Networking sites, marketers in the B2B space are going to have to develop ways to take advantage of these communities. Online marketing is where dollars will be spent and discovering ways to capitalize on Social Networks will be large part of the strategy.