For anyone selling software solutions, a strong and well-crafted web presence is de rigueur for connecting with potential customers or with the “Customer as Buyer”. More and more purchasing of various software solutions is becoming an online event, fueled by the growing success of SaaS, cloud and open source options. SMB / Mid-Market buyers, who don’t have a lot of time for purchase cycles, want to do business with vendors who make it much easier to reach a decision.

According to Forrester’s Megan Burns, Web Sites That Don't Support Customers' Goals Waste Millions:

Results show that the vast majority of people switch to more expensive channels…Others give up and go to a competitor, while still others abandon their goals entirely. …for an average retailer the result is millions of dollars in lost revenue and unnecessary costs. Firms should use the data and models in this report to understand their own exposure to these failures and make a strong case for fixing usability problems that drive consumers away from the site.
(Forrester 2010)

While the Forrester study focuses on online retail, the implications are highly relevant to software vendors targeting SMB and Mid-Market companies, since these B2B buyers primarily use the internet as the gateway to software purchases. These buyers also encounter similar difficulties trying to navigate software vendor websites to find relevant content and support to help them make buying decisions.

With buyers focused on the web as a purchasing gateway, B2B software vendors are no longer the sole owners of influencing brand perception -- many online venues now play significant roles for influencing buyers, and many of these online venues are not controlled by the vendor. However, the vendor still has control of providing a high quality web presence through its corporate website and the power to increase findability for the right “customers as buyers”. While buyers reference other influencer sites, software vendors can contribute greatly to attracting and persuading buyers if buyers can easily find well-crafted and useful content on the vendor website.

Vendors should exercise all necessary resources to exceed the buyer expectations and needs when visiting the vendor website. Not being highly findable as a web presence for the right buyer content will put into motion the potential for buyers to turn to other sites, many of which lead to competitors.

Editor's Note: Read What is Web Engagement Management (WEM)?

Website Findablity, Usability, User Experience – They Really Matter

If buyers can’t find, via the internet, what a vendor has to offer, then the vendor is plain old losing real prospects and sales every day. Findability addresses the importance of websites being quickly found, easily accessed and distinctly identifiable with the B2B software vendor’s offerings. With the mercurial nature of the internet and individual vendor web presence, findability requires constant attention and fine-tuning. 

Unfortunately many B2B software vendor websites are built from the vendor’s perspective to support its own processes for marketing and sales -- instead of from the perspective of the “customer as buyer”. And most of these vendor websites have failed to provide easy access to high quality content that helps buyers make purchase decisions about the vendor offerings. B2B software vendors have a great opportunity to establish a more integrated and interactive web presence that pulls together people, tools, services and content.

There are lots of methods and tools to increase website findability: SEO optimization, recommendations / social search, Google marketing offerings, Web Standards and so on. But the right kind of content, including social media, is key to attracting and keeping buyers on the software vendor website because these buyers have a list of items (and expectations) deemed necessary for deciding if the vendor’s software solutions are what they need. As the quality and diversity of content on the vendor website increases, so does the findability -- as well as potential buyer interest.

(Editor's Note: Read Engagement via Findability - Driving Traffic, Improving Conversions)

Social media venues (communities, forums, blogs, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), both on the vendor’s website and other well-visited sites, can be used with dual purpose: first to provide quality content, user interaction and collaboration experiences that draw buyers to the vendor; and then, to provide dynamic research sources for better understanding the SMB / Mid-Market buyers that the vendor is targeting. Ongoing vendor participation should take place on the vendor’s social sites and on external social sites that are strategic to connecting with target customers.

This post from Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter Group) provides timely insight into creating a buyer/customer-centric web presence that integrates with social media and why this matters. There are two very useful charts: one covers feature/benefits of integrating social networking sites, and the other details the integrations available from popular social networking sites.

Roadmap: Make Your Corporate Websites Relevant: Integrate Social Network Features

OK – Buyers have found the software vendor’s website…

Now -- are there content and user experience worth finding? -- How easily can buyers tap into what the website offers? Buyers come to a software vendor’s website with expectations. Creating and structuring the website from the usability perspective of the buyer (or buyers if targeting multiple buyer types) will greatly support ease of finding relevant content and will generate positive user experiences.

SMB / Mid-Market buyers of B2B software generally want a wide variety of information about the products and solutions, input from communities and forums, clear pricing and other information that will guide them to making a buying decision. They would like this content in easy-to-download formats -- without having to answer lots of questions to enable the download.

There is an increasing buyer sentiment that vendor websites should not require any information from the buyer for any content downloads. After all, the sales engagement is buyer-driven, with the buyer deciding when and if next steps will be taken.

Follow up with -- Part 2: Content Sought Out by SMB / Mid-Market Buyers of Software Solutions