B2B Websites: Are You Talking to Your Customers or at Them?
As the co-founder of a 100-person integrated communications marketing firm, I am bombarded with calls, e-mails and voice mails from vendors, suppliers, and firms who want to be my strategic adviser. Generally these inquiries can be categorized in one of two ways:
- Salespeople who talk at me
- Those who ask to listen to my issues, and then provide a solution
I pride myself on the latter when engaging with clients and prospects, so I thought I’d examine three separate categories of suppliers to review their taglines and compare those words with my actual, online experience at their websites. I wanted to know if they were listening to, or speaking at, me.
I get countless enquiries from the likes of Cushman & Wakefield, CB Richard Ellis, and S.L. Green (Disclosure: we’ve previously leased space in two S.L. Green properties).
S.L. Green’s tagline is: "Demanding quality. Delivering Value." That’s a fairly imperious statement and, true to form, the website reflects that--it’s cold and impassive. Vainly searching for some sort of tab or icon that would provide an entrepreneur like me with leasing information, I clicked on a "Space Search" tool. I was asked to enter my per square foot, budget, and Manhattan location needs. I tried to enter the information three separate times, and was denied three separate times. Green may demand quality, but they sure don’t deliver value.
CB Richard Ellis doesn’t have a tagline, but I’d suggest something like, "Everything under the sun." It’s full of wild visuals, strange exotic colors, global landscapes, and photographs of old white men. Like Green’s site, this one features a space search function that was so complicated I stopped trying to enter my information.
Cushman & Wakefield gets me. The site is user friendly, inviting, and easy to navigate. It’s also the only site that features different types of people from all walks of life. And, in their small business section, Cushman told me all the different things they could do for me, the entrepreneur. Cushman is also going sans tagline, but I have a suggestion: "Room with a You." They listen to me.
The W.B. Mason website is worth checking out just to experience a living, breathing worst practice. What a mess. The tagline, "Who but W.B. Mason?" is ironic to the max, considering their sensory overload of a website experience. When I tried to connect, I found a detailed form that first had to be filled out before I could get basic info. Sorry, guys, but no sale.
Staples tagline is: "That was easy." Their website experience is, in fact, simple. Critically, Staples also has a special section for small business owners. They have an Amazon-like feature that shows what products and supplies are trending (who knew manila folders could trend?) and a section that tells me what products customers liked most. You are easy, Staples. Let’s set a meeting.
The Office Max website experience is a close second to Staples. The site provides a business resource center which, for a start-up entrepreneur, would be a life-saver; you can order everything necessary to hang up a shingle. Office Max even publishes its own thought leadership content section. That’s very cool because it enables me to learn from other entrepreneurs and to uncover best practices. I’m sure someone else already owns it, but I’d suggest Office Max’s tagline should be: "Your Source On Day One, and Beyond."
Messenger services vie with overnight delivery companies for the dubious distinction of sending me the most spam (as well as the most outrageously over-the-top and unsolicited direct mail sales packages).
FedEx’s tagline is: “It’s easy to ship and save with FedEx.” OK. That’s not exactly inspirational, but it’s direct nonetheless. And, the website reflects FedEx’s simplicity. It gets right to the point. They’ll get my business.
UPS may own the color brown and air some very interesting TV commercials, but the website does not deliver on the company’s “We love logistics” tagline. Why not? Because, it’s a mess and doesn’t even allow me to obtain basic information in order to set up an account. UPS may love logistics, but their web site lost me.
DHL is the W.B. Mason of shipping. Their tagline is pretty boastful, to say the least: “Excellence. Simply delivered.” The problem with boasting about excellence is the reality of having to deliver on that brand promise. And, trust me, the web site isn’t excellent. Nor is the information simply delivered. It begins with a cartoon of a truck cruising through Europe on the home page that should contain a reader warning: headaches possible. Most importantly, I couldn’t find anything pertinent to a small US entrepreneur on this autobahn of an online destination.
Every business relationship is built on trust. But small business relationships depend entirely on trust. Entrepreneurs need to know their vendors, suppliers, and strategic partners. And if I’m searching for new ones, I need to have an easy, accessible website that contains a section that listens to me, and which includes examples of similar challenges faced by my peers. Last but not least, I need a vendor, supplier, or strategic partner with a credible tagline.
In short, don’t tell me you’re excellent. Have your customers say it on your behalf.
STEVE CODY | Columnist
I'm a climber, comedian and dog lover. But not necessarily in that order. I also happen to be co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm, a strategic communications firm headquartered in NYC, and with offices in San Francisco and London. I publish RepMan, a daily blog, and have had the opportunity to appear on CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, and a host of other top tier media over the years. firstname.lastname@example.org