Get Clients Online
Does Your Website Make This Critical Mistake?
Back in the late 1990s I had one of those “duh” moments.
I was attending a workshop on selling consulting services run by my employer, Gemini Consulting. One of the core lessons from the workshop was the observation that your sales processes should be based on how your buyers buy, not on how you want to sell.
Simple. Obvious. Yet I hadn't thought of it like that at all.
Fast forward to today and that simple observation still applies to sales processes both offline and online.
But does your website really match how your buyers buy? In particular:
- What phases do they go through in their decision-making process?
- What do they look for at each stage?
- Have you made it incredibly easy for them to find what they're looking for on your website at each stage?
From a hard-nosed commercial perspective, you want the visitors to your website to do what you want them to do. But in the real world, they're only going to do what you want them to do if it matches what they want and need to do.
Or to use Zig Ziglar's more positive version, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”
In the current frenzy of excitement about designing complex “marketing funnels” to maximise our sales we seem to have lost sight of the fact that your clients have their own objectives. And if your website doesn't help them achieve those objectives then they won't stick around, no matter how clever your funnels are.
So what is it that our clients want when they visit our site?
You need to start with their buying journey.
I was at the CEB's 2017 Marketing & Sales Thought Leader Workshop a couple of week's ago and one of the latest research pieces they shared was into the business to business buying journey and the key tasks buyers carry out at each stage.
The buyer tasks per stage are summarised below with the key digital tasks highlighted:
(Note: there are also critical tasks for your website that happen before the buying process formally begins. This is where you have a chance to help clients understand their problems and establish yourself as an authority by sharing valuable content to help shape their perceptions. But in this case, the model focuses on the formal buying process itself after the client has identified the problem they need a solution for).
How important is your website in each stage, as opposed to information your potential client might find on social media or industry sites?
Pretty darned important, as the following graph shows.
According to buyers, supplier websites are the #1 most used online channel throughout the buying process.
Worth thinking about before you start posting more on social media or investing heavily in influencer marketing to get mentions on other sites.
But back to the stages model. What, specifically, are clients looking for in each stage?
In the Early Stages of Buying, Clients are in Learning Mode
In the early stages of buying, business-to-business buyers focus primarily on learning about the different solutions available for resolving their problem and then on compiling a shortlist of potential suppliers.
In other words, they initially arrive thinking about problems – not solutions. So your website needs to make it easy to find information about those problems, and then show them the potential solutions for those problems.
The more you're able to show you understand their problems and the more you're able to teach them about the different solutions they might be able to use, the more you're likely to be shortlisted as a potential supplier.
Website Sanity Check #1: Does your home page mention the problems you help clients with, not just your products and services? And is it easy to navigate through to find more details of those problems and the different solutions for them?
In the Middle Stages of Buying, Clients are in Comparison Mode
In the middle stage, the emphasis switches to learning more about specific supplier solutions, comparing them, checking prices, and checking references and case studies to be sure the supplier really can deliver.
Usually, our websites are pretty good at providing the details of our own solutions. But how often do sites of service providers make it easy to compare their solutions with others?
It's common practice for product suppliers to feature comparison tables between their solutions and their competitors. And you've probably noticed that as a buyer, those charts are really helpful (unless the chart is blatantly biased).
Direct comparisons aren't so easy for service providers where the service is often tailored to the needs of the individual client. But what you can do is compare different types of solution.
So, for example, if you provide coaching to help clients improve their leadership, then the first decision a client has to make is whether to choose a coaching, training, mentoring or other solution. The choice of which coach (or trainer or mentor) comes second.
A comparison table with the pros and cons of coaching vs mentoring vs training will help them make that decision. It can also let you highlight important and favourable criteria that the client might not have thought about unprompted.
This is especially valuable if you have a unique and different way of solving a client's problem. The chances are it will be difficult for a client to evaluate two or three very different solutions.
For example, my main focus is on helping clients become seen as authorities in their field. But clients don't have “authority problems” – they have “I don't have enough clients” problems and “I'm always forced to compete on price” problems.
My solution of becoming seen as an authority isn't the only way to get more clients or to get premium prices. How can a client evaluate my solution of becoming seen as an authority vs improving their selling skills vs hiring a marketing agency vs investing in online advertising vs a myriad of other options?
So I need to help them by showing clearly why my approach is better to other approaches – and in what circumstances. It's simply not credible to argue that my approach or your approach is universally better. Different solutions will work best in different situations, and you need to help your buyers by spelling out which situations your solution will work best in.
(For the record, becoming seen as an authority is the best approach to win clients for people who are experts in their field and would prefer to focus on that rather than on becoming world-class marketers or professional salespeople. And it works best for high-value services rather than commodities).
You also need to make it easy for buyers to learn about pricing too.
Yes, that might mean you need to put indicative prices on your website. The old days of expecting clients to call to find out the price so you get a chance to speak to them first are fading fast. The truth is that unless they can see immediately that your prices are in the right ballpark, most clients will simply cross you off their shortlist and you won't get that call.
And finally, you need to make it easy for potential clients to “check you out” to confirm you really are as good as you say. That means plenty of testimonials (click here for the best way to get more testimonials), case studies – even the logos of clients you've worked for.
And crucially, make it easy for potential clients to check up on your references. Don't make them jump through hoops – provide a button or link next to your case studies and testimonials where they can contact you directly to get in touch with your references.
Website Sanity Check #2: Have you made it easy for your potential clients to compare their different options? Can they easily find out about the work you've done and contact references?
In the Late Stages of Buying, Clients are “Filling in the Gaps”
It's tempting to assume that clients just don't visit your website after they've reached their initial decision.
By the time they're in the late stages of buying, the primary activities are internal. They're checking their budget, getting consensus amongst their stakeholders and talking directly to suppliers to finalise terms and conditions.
But the data shows that over 60% of buyers are still visiting your website, even at this late stage.
They're doing two things.
From a rational perspective, they're filling in any gaps in the information they need to finalise not just their decision, but their plans for implementing your solution.
That means that your website really needs a “Frequently Asked Questions” section or equivalent to provide answers to the questions buyers typically ask near the end of the process: How do we get started fast? What else do we need to make this work? How do I contact you in an emergency? etc.
The questions will be unique to you, but they should be familiar. They're the questions your clients have typically asked you face to face before “sealing the deal”.
And there's another sort of information your buyers are looking for too. More emotional than rational.
It's the reason most of us read reviews of products we've already bought.
We want reassurance we've made the right decision.
Think about the content on your website. What would someone who's 90% decided to hire you read? What would reassure them they've made the right decision?
How about a section on “How to get the most from working with me”. Or interviews with your clients about their stories (not just singing your praises, but genuinely interesting stories about their business and their achievements that happen to get across the message that your clients get great results). And simply seeing the logos of other businesses you've worked for will reassure them that others have made the same decision too. There's safety in numbers.
Again, this information will be unique to you. But by thinking through what would reassure buyers they've made the right decision you should be able to identify and highlight content that will do the job for you.
Website Sanity Check #3: Do you have a Frequently Asked Questions section and other content designed to help fill in the final gaps and reassure buyers they've made a great decision?
How Did You Do?
I'm going to be brutally honest here: I didn't do that well.
After running through the CEB's research in detail I recognised that despite learning 20 years ago that your sales process should mirror your client's buying process, I haven't fully implemented that on my website.
I'm great in the early stages and beforehand. I have a ton of information about client problems and their options for solving them – that's how I attract potential clients in the first place.
And I have plenty of detail about my solutions.
But not that much about how the solutions I recommend compare to others. Or at least not clearly laid out.
And I do very little in the late stages to reassure clients they've made the right decision.
By asking myself those 3 simple questions, I've now got a plan now for how I'm going to make improvements to my site to be a better match for my buyers' journey.
Many thanks to the CEB and in particular to Brent Adamson and Kelly Blum for inviting me over to the Roundtable and for hosting such a great and insightful couple of days. You can find out more about the CEB/Gartner and their research here.