Turning the e-Commerce Model into a Lead Generation Tool
More and more I come across companies that want to drive business online, but aren’t sure how to make it work. This is especially tough for B2B sales companies that rely on quote calculations that vary based on product, order quantity, shipping destination, etc. For these types of businesses, the shift to internet driven sales has been a slow and often experimental process. I have found that B2B companies in particular tend to be more deeply rooted in doing things “how they’ve always been done”. For some of those that have been brave enough to venture out into the vast unknown of the web, though, the reward has been great. So, how can a B2B company drive sales online without offering a full checkout feature? The answer for some B2B companies is taking the e-Commerce site model and turning it into a lead generation tool.
What does this mean? E-Commerce sites work well because they allow customers to do a broad internet search and quickly drill down to the exact product they’re looking for. Consumer based companies have found that the best way to make sure their products are found is to group them into categories and subcategories, but also create a special page for each individual product. The result is a full and well organized site that is easy for search engines to read. Because this structure works so well, it only makes sense to use it for our B2B sites too. The only difference is, instead of displaying prices and letting customers add items to their cart, we give them ways to contact us for a price quote. Here’s how I’ve helped some companies do it…
Use Your Company Domain… and a Designer
If your company already has an existing website, I recommend you use that domain name. Your existing customers will be looking for your company there, and if your site has been around a while, it will have built up some legitimacy in the eyes of search engines. This site strength will come in handy when you have products you want people to find. If you have a lot of information on your site already, think about how you can organize your layout so it’s easy to navigate for shoppers. Unless you have an in-house design team, this is where an outside hire web designer or consultant comes in handy. Spending the time and resources on creating a solid and well-functioning sales site in the beginning will save you a lot of time, money, and headache down the road.
e-Commerce Site Structure
Like I said, the structure of a B2B site can be just like that of a standard e-Commerce site. Check out this B2B site example. At first glance, it looks just like a consumer site. Look closer though, and you won’t find any prices or shopping cart. Instead there are a number of prompts guiding people to their quote request form. The site is broken up into eleven main categories, all with subcategory dropdowns. To create these categories and subcategories for your own store, you’ll want to think about how businesses in your industry shop. Do research on search terms they use, and consider which products are your best sellers and most profitable. These should all be easy to locate on your new site.
Make Your Product Pretty
When it comes to actually displaying your product on the site, you can think of them just like consumer products. Use pictures and detailed descriptions on each product page, and if your products are customizable be sure to list those options too. Look at this product page from the example site. Besides the quote button, it looks just like a consumer site page. It’s a good idea to include those popular search terms on these pages, especially if those include series or model numbers specific to that product. Including those will help search engines find your page if someone searches by product.
Lead capturing on your site can be done a few ways. Usually it’s a good idea to have your phone number prominently displayed on the site, but you can also request that customers call for a quote on each individual product page. Since they are shopping online, however, it’s also a good idea to give them an email or contact form option. This will also help you catch any potential quotes that come in after your sales people go home. You’ll notice on the example site there is a quote button on each product page, but also a stationary quote button in the right column, a link in the top navigation, AND a contact number on the top and right side of the site. The point here is not to be obnoxious, but to make sure your shoppers aren’t searching around for more than a second or two if they are trying to contact you.
Invest in Search
Last, but most definitely not least, I recommend new sites invest in search engine optimization and advertised search. Having a site that works with search engines is imperative to getting good traffic, and a nice new site isn’t going to do any good if no one can find it. Consider hiring an SEO consultant and look into advertising opportunities like Google Ads. Building up a strong site with steady traffic takes time, so be patient. Don’t expect to show up on the first search page immediately. If you put in the research and resources, though, you will see results. Yes, that means sales!
Most of these points are things I might also say to a consumer e-Commerce business owner. There are a number of reasons this model works just as well for B2B. For one, consumer sites have been doing this longer. They’ve been through the trial and error process and have found out what works online and what doesn’t. This makes the job a little easier for B2B folks. Similarly, internet users have gotten used to how e-Commerce sites function. They are trained in narrowing down their selection using categories and subcategories, and they like to see that descriptive product page. Plus, search engines like Google are used to working with these site structures, too.
Not all consumer e-Commerce techniques transfer to B2B, so it will take a certain degree of trial and error. This gives you an opportunity to use your knowledge of your particular industry and apply it to your online strategy. Through experimentation you can take the e-Commerce model and use it as a great launching point for your customized B2B site. The result should be a site that is easy to navigate, is accessible through search, and most importantly, drives those online sales you’re looking for.
[author ]The author of this article, Amanda Hill, is know affectionately as the “PVC Queen.” As the content manager for PVC Pipe supplier, Commercial Industrial Supply, Amanda knows pipe and how to market CIS effectively to other businesses. If you have any questions feel free to contact Amanda on Twitter @amandablogspvc. [/author]