B2B Website Evolution Part 2: Inroads to Demand-Centered Websites

Corporate websites currently rank as the #1 online source of new leads for businesses according to the 2011 B2B Website Demand Generation Study.

However, according to this same study “the corporate website is not performing to its maximum lead-generation potential, as reported by 80% of overall respondents.” Opportunity knocks for corporations bold enough to redefine their corporate sites as demand generation hubs designed to embrace the complex sale. In my first B2B Website Evolution series post, I outlined several afflictions that have historically prevented demand generation teams from relying on their corporate websites for lead cultivation. If you haven’t read the first post, I suggest that you start there. To extend the conversation of how companies can effectively transition to a demand-centered websites, today I’ll share predictions from several peers.

Demand generation will dominate corporate web strategy

Moving into 2012, I believe that CMO’s will make the corporate website a top priority and that the demand generation team will be in the best position to support the transformation of websites into a demand generation hub. Demand generation marketers know B2B buyers are pushing sales out of the buying process more and more. Therefore, companies have to work harder to ensure buyers have the high-value content they need, when they need it in the buying cycle. In a recent study by the ITSMA, B2B buyers selected Solution Provider Websites as the #1 source of information during the early stages of the buying cycle. (In previous years, it had been “peers.” However, peer influence dipped down to #9 this year).

There are hundreds of additional data points that put the writing on the wall: Demand generation marketers will earn access to the Corporate Website in 2012!

Engagement will support buyer’s journey for the complex sale

Eric Wittlake, B2B blogger and Director of Media for Babcock & Jenkins has offered the following insight for addressing this challenge:  “Driving early stage demand generation isn’t about your products or services, but corporate websites tend to be about the corporation. Early stage demand generation requires providing an industry or category perspective and downplaying information that assumes someone is already focused on the company’s specific solutions. ”

However, as demand generation starts to take a more prominent role in setting corporate web objectives and vision, Jon Miller, VP of Marketing at marketing automation provider Marketo provides this sound advice ” Don’t get field happy.” Miller recently published an interesting case study based on the results of the company’s own lead-generation campaigns. In writing on the company’s blog, Miller described how the company had created three different forms: “short form” with five fields, “medium form” with seven fields, and “long form” with nine fields, and used these on three different versions of a landing page. Marketo’s experiment showed the following results:

  • Short Form: Conversion rate 13.4%, cost per conversion $31.24
  • Medium Form: Conversion rate 12.0%, cost per conversion $34.94
  • Long Form: Conversion rate 10.0%, cost per conversion $41.90

The impact of long forms on conversion rates has become well known among business marketers—and best practices call for web forms to have the absolute minimum number of input fields (usually 5 or 6)— but 68% of respondents still have five or more fields on website registration forms. Marketers understand that the best way to tailor sales strategies is to understand their customer but this approach of information retrieval is affecting their bottom line(s). If shorter forms are best, marketers must collect only crucial data that cannot be gleaned by other website optimization tools (company name, location, industry and size can be easily obtained by third parties). In addition, B2B marketers should leverage data appending services to augment missing fields or re-populate inaccurate data rather than route every lead to sales, regardless of quality.

Carmen Hill, Director of Content and Social Media for Babcock & Jenkins offers up her perspective on this challenge “Think about what you want them to DO while they’re there. Think about the hierarchy of the actions you want them to take and make it easy for them to do that.” Hill also emphasized the importance of knowing the buyer.

According to the 2011 Demandbase B2B Website Demand Generation Survey 37% of responders either moderately know their buyer or barely know their buyer. And, nearly HALF of those surveyed DO NOT KNOW where their users are most likely to abandon the website. While the website continues to be a top area for marketing investment made by B2B companies, both for dollar investment as well as resources across both marketing and IT, businesses aren’t paying close enough attention to what’s working and what’s not. These stats also point specifically to the benefit of truly understanding the buyer by developing out a set of buyer personas and aligning content to the buyer’s journey.

Site technology and governance will evolve to support demand gen

According to Ami Martin, Director of Marketing for Babcock & Jenkins (and long-time corporate website marketeer), “Technology is a key barrier to integrating demand generation digital destinations onto brand websites. Corporate sites are designed with set templates and distinct feature sets to serve the masses. Demand generation programs by nature break the mold and often require advanced functionality like dynamic testing, granular tracking and system integration—all beyond the bounds of  “routine” site administration. Developing new site features and processes to support demand generation means long planning cycles, technology adoption and training which can make the transition daunting for companies lacking executive sponsorship.”

Thankfully, CMOs in the savviest marketing organizations are taking the lead in insisting on demand generation websites as top down initiatives to cut through the politics and budgetary barriers. And, there are several new technology options that can address the needs of demand generation marketers with centralized web governance to streamline administration. If there is some interest in exploring the tools that exist, this may warrant a blog post of its own!

There is an incredible opportunity to maximize the effectiveness of the corporate website for demand generation for companies seeking a competitive edge. I’d love you to chime in with additional tools, insights and recommendations you have, as this topic is VERY ripe for best practices to emerge and for testing, testing, testing.

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