Things you must do before letting a designer loose on your web project

Too many B2B companies think that all they really need is a facelift for their website. They think that that’s all it takes to get better leads and, ultimately, more people who move down the sales funnel and become actual buyers. In fact, it’s not uncommon to want to rush into design without taking into account all that has to happen before the actual design so that the site is effective.

Your B2B site is actually an untapped gold mine. Your site isn’t just a piece of code that shows your company logo and contact information online; your site needs to be part of your sales strategy.

Regardless if you have a product or service that is self service and that buyers just buy directly on your site, or you sell multi-million £ consulting or software projects, your buyers are still doing their research online.

B2B site goals are substantially more complex than those on the typical B2C site. This is the one excuse B2B sites have for their bad usability. In reality, however, the more complex the scenario, the higher the need for supportive user interfaces.

Thus, B2B sites ought to emphasise usability more, not less, because they must help users accomplish more advanced tasks and research more specialised products or services.

Rushing straight to the design of the B2B site and neglecting everything else is therefore a recipe for disaster. While design is important, it’s not going to lead to an effective lead generation machine if you don’t make your site easy for the user to do what he needs to do and find the information he wants.

This means that your site has to be crystal clear about how your company will solve the buyer’s problem, or even in some cases (depending on what you sell) provide frameworks to better define their problem and evaluate possible solutions.

Your website, has to clearly state what you can do at different stages of your buyers’ buying process:

  • What it’s about
  • Who is it for
  • What’s included
  • What makes it good
  • Answers your buyer’s most common questions
  • Explain why you vs. your competitor

The things that must come before the design:

1. Ask the End Customer

The end customer is the person who will be buying the product or service from your website. It stands to reason, therefore, that you should take his concerns and opinions into consideration before even starting the design of your B2B site. You are selling to him, so you have to have his user experience in mind at all times.

For instance, it’s vital that you understand if he was able to find the solutions to his business problems by navigating your site. It’s just as vital to determine if his experience on your site was easy and pleasant.

You do this by directly asking your buyers open ended questions such as:

  • What’s the core problem were you trying to solve with our product?
  • How well is the product or service performing for you?
  • What reasons contributed to your decision to purchase from us?
  • What mattered the most when evaluating options?
  • Describe in detail your buying process?
  • Who was involved in the decision?

2. Ask Your Sales & Marketing Teams too

Involving your sales & marketing teams is necessary as well.

To get this balancing act just right, it’s important to ask your team key questions like:

  • How do you want your brand to be perceived?
  • Why your customers chose you and not your competitor?
  • What are some your unique advantages?
  • What is the problem that your product/service solves?
  • What are some of your bragging rights? Known big customers, market share, #of customers served, awards and recognitions, etc?
  • What are the primary goals that your new website needs to accomplish in order for you to consider it a success?

Once you get these answers you can start your analysis contrasting the buyer’s point of view with your company’s point of view. This is the beginning of understanding what is it that your site is supposed to do: how it will help your buyers and how it will help your business.

3. Map The B2B Customer’s Buying Process

Understanding your B2B buyers’ buying process is extremely crucial for any successful B2B company. Effectively selling to your buyers depends on precisely understanding how they move through this buying process.

In the awareness stage the buyer is either unaware of the problem, or he is still formulating it, or has defined the problem but has not made it a priority to fix it.  Then in the evaluation stage, the problem has already been defined, and the decision made to fix it. Lastly in the decision stage, the buyer is already leaning towards one particular choice, either yours or the competitors, and are just looking for ways to justify the decision they already made.

Only doing this kind of analysis you can start thinking about a content and site architecture that will work for you and your buyers. These are the kinds of questions that you’ll need to figure out before going into the site architecture phase, let alone the design phase:

  • What will be the role of your site to support each one of the 3 stages of your buyer’s buying process?
  • What questions should  be answered, where?
  • How do we structure the site so that we make the critical information easily accessible?
  • How many questions do you need to answer? What’s the flow in which those questions need to be answered?
  • What content should be pushed out through web pages or other type of content: blog articles, ebooks, webinars, etc.?
  • How do you make that decision specifically for your company?

4. Audit your current website

Essentially, a site and content audit simply means that you’ll be figuring out what is working and what isn’t, and what are your buyers looking at when they visit your site. The factors to consider in such an audit include clarity, distraction, user confidence and, of course, the good, old FUD or fear, uncertainty and doubt.

One of the most vital reasons for an audit like this is  content marketing To succeed in B2B, you have to draw visitors to your site with stunning content, whether that’s a blog, videos or anything else that features great value. Naturally, if your site is full of broken links and pages, stock images and a layout from the late 90s, you’re not going to do well at all.

5. Clarify User Flows

This relates to specifically what you want your buyers to do when they come to your site. The goal of your B2B site is always going to be to make site visitors convert, whether that conversion is just signing up for a free white paper or to actually buy something. It will greatly payoff to be 100% clear on this.

The user flow can be defined as the path a user will follow on your site in order to accomplish whatever he wants to accomplish. To ensure that your buyers enjoy a good user experience, you have to be very knowledge about what those exact steps should be. At the end of the process, your user has to believe that your company really understands him, almost to the point of reading his mind.

This is how a typical user flow might look:

b2b website design-User Flow chart 1

That’s not the end of it, though. After each of the user-flow steps is defined, you have to define a wireframe for every step.

In the wireframe’s layout structure, it’s necessary to be able to:

  • Explain what the page is all about
  • Answer all of the key questions for that step
  • Debunk any and all fears, uncertainties and doubts
  • Clarify precisely what the next step or wireframe will be

6. Create and Test Wireframes

A wireframe is where all of the previous points come together and start giving shape to the website pages. You need to create and test wireframes for, at a minimum, all of the key pages in the user flows.

First step is to define what is the goal of the page you are designing; i.e. what do you want the users to know after reading the page, and what do you want them to do next.

A wireframe is a blueprint that defines the following for every page:

  1. Information that goes in it
  2. Layout
  3. Key messaging & flow
  4. Call to action placement
  5. Navigation
  6. UI notes (what kind of images to use, what kind of interactivity or other functionality)

A wireframe allows you to look at all these elements without the noise of the look & feel.  If you were to decide on all of these elements directly on the design stage without wireframing first it would be extremely confusing and soon you would start spending a lot of time discussing with your team whether the icon in the social media icon in the footer should be square or round instead of focusing on what the page is supposed to do.  So don’t do that.  Work in black & white first, design will come in later.

Everything you’ve read up to now is the customer centric-websites approach. Note the sheer contrast between this very attentive and careful approach and the typical freelance-designer job or template job. With the customer centric-website approach, though, you get a targeted site as well as a design that makes a lot of sense for your buyers, instead of just beautiful-yet-empty visuals.

The moral of the story here is that you have to really put a lot of thought into your B2B website before you can jump ahead to its actual design. While that is tempting nothing good can come of it. You simply cannot take any shortcuts when it comes to building a successful, effective and attractive B2B site that will give your buyers exactly what they’re looking for in an easy fashion.