Website Usability Testing Boosts Profitability for B-to-Bs

The obvious difference between business-to-business and consumer websites is the immediacy of conversion. B-to-b sales cycles are usually much longer, and often incorporate live salespeople and multiple decision makers.

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But the importance of good user experiences remains critical. While b-to-b firms may not be closing sales online, the website can be essential in getting prospects to take desired actions, such as obtaining more information through a whitepaper download or requesting a meeting.

For marketers, says Chris Hicken, vice president of marketing at, the key question is “Why aren’t people buying from me?” And the key problem is that when prospects interact with a company through its website but don’t buy, the marketer can’t ask what went wrong—at least, not directly.

But marketers may have some answers already at their disposal. For starters, Hicken suggests reviewing onsite chat transcripts, which can reveal the pages where visitors are encountering problems, as well as their questions and concerns. Support team answers, Hicken adds, can give insight into what works—especially if chats can be linked to conversions.

Similarly, surveys and logs from sales and support staff may offer clues as to the frustrations site visitors face. They can also reveal the language and terms prospects use when thinking about offerings—and that may differ from what they see the site itself.

Then there are walkthroughs of the site, both by conversion experts and by the marketers themselves. Marketers can also observe panels of site users navigating their sites remotely, through shared-site software. The problem is that while marketers can track a tester’s journey through the site, and record typed-in answers to questions, they lose facial and other non-verbal response, which can be key, especially among technically oriented b-to-b buyers who may not be as comfortable expressing themselves verbally.

Hicken’s recommends marketers conduct usability, or “think aloud” testing. Marketers using this tactic watch people in their target market give a stream-of-consciousness talk while they try to navigate a site and accomplish actions desired by the marketer.

This sort of test enables marketers to see where users get stuck and have problems, Hicken says. And they will give marketers a chance to avoid what he calls “the curse of knowledge” – the blinders that marketers suffer by being too close to the design of the site. This allows them to leapfrog over what non-insiders would encounter as problems.

One significant difference in conducting usability tests between b-to-b and consumer websites is that the professionals needed to evaluate b-to-b sites may be more expensive to recruit, Hicken says. This also means recruiting friends and family to go through the site isn’t as viable an option.

B-to-b marketers have to be “more sensitive about finding someone in their target market” Hicken adds. “They have to spend more time than average thinking about who they want to do a particular study.”

Next page: Things to Consider in Usability Testing

Things to Consider in Usability Testing

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• First impressions, in which subjects look at a web page for five seconds, then look away and are asked what they remember. Is the information the marketer wants to convey memorable? Is the progression to the next part of the sales cycle clear?

• Ease of search, which can be influenced by the various ways marketers can listen to customers. Is the site optimized to provide the information searchers are looking for (as opposed to that which marketers want to tout)? And does it use the terms searchers are looking for?

• Ease of navigation. Can a searcher get to product information, or relevance of offerings to specific verticals, without having to use the site’s search box?

• Is it easy for b-to-b prospects to obtain what they need, such as promised information downloads or product specs, and is their next step clear? Once they have the information they want, can they ask for an additional contact or follow-up? Are you presenting information more clearly than your competitors? This is equivalent to the checkout process on a consumer site, but in many ways it is more critical, because on a b-to-b site the transaction won’t necessarily be completed online.

• Does the site work on mobile devices? This is especially important for b-to-b products which might be researched and ordered while in the field, such as construction or maintenance supplies.

• Do referring pages and ads jump right to promised information, or do they require prospects to further search for desired topics? If the latter, and a b-to-b marketer is using pay-per-click services, is that marketer paying for a lot of prospects who are landing on the site and then abandoning their quests?

Richard H. Levey is a senior writer with Multichannel Merchant sister publication Chief Marketer.

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