Most B-to-B Web sites fail when it comes to selling

Even though there is substantially more money to be made through business-to-business (B-to-B) Web sites compared to business-to-consumer Web sites, most B-to-B sites offer a far worse user experience than consumer sites, according to the Nielsen Norman Group.

In fact, people using B-to-B sites accomplish what they set out to do only 58 percent of the time, compared to a significantly higher 66 percent success rate for consumer e-commerce sites, according to a report by the research firm.

"Most of the B-to-B sites we tested have an attitude toward users [that] is medieval, which is not how the Web has been evolving last two years, which is much more responsive and much more research oriented," said Jakob Nielsen, one of the authors of the report. "B-to-B sites have a very old-fashioned sense of marketing, which is we are the high priests of our product and we will carefully dole out the information we want you to have. They have vaporous slogans and almost no product information - they don't give you prices. Their Web sites are based on their view of the world, not what customers want."

B-to-B firms haven't yet realized that the Web has reversed the relationship between companies and their customers, where most interactions are demand-driven and you either give people what they want or see them abandon your site for the competition, Nielsen said.

Nielsen Norman Group said it used a variety of research methods to understand the complex issues involved in B-to-B Web sites, including conducting 12 focus groups to understand the range of purchase processes that businesses use and what they want from B-to-B sites. Nielsen also observed 55 business professionals using nearly 200 B-to-B sites to see what users did on the sites and what they expected to find.

The report found that:

  • Bad Web site design, including incomplete product descriptions, causes people to think less of a company;

  • Overwhelming and convoluted content creates confusion for users;

  • A complicated navigational structure causes prospects to lose patience;

  • And pushy marketing tactics can lead to annoyance and distrust.
Lack of any kind of pricing information is a major problem, the report said. The most user-hostile element of many B-to-B Web sites is a lack of pricing. It is the one thing that customers say they want the most and get the least. At a minimum, providing pricing levels, if not exact prices, would help move the sales process forward.

The B-to-B tactic of requiring people to fill out registration forms can also be a lead killer. Companies need to build up credibility before people are willing to give out contact information, Nielsen said.

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