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Sep 18, 2002
How To

How IBM Revamped its Site to Appeal to Customers

SUMMARY: When IBM conducted a survey in 2000 to find out how visitors liked its site, a solid 50% said they could not find what they were looking for. Ouch. How do you lead the world's ebusiness initiatives when your own site isn't working?

IBM Global Sales & Distribution VP Dave Bradley explains how they turned things around, and how you should consider revamping your own site.
IBM had a wake up call in August 2000, when research revealed that 50% of IBM's website visitors were not able to accomplish the task they came for.

"That's not a great customer satisfaction statement and it's not a great ebusiness leadership statement," admits Dave Bradley, VP Marketing Management for IBM Global Sales & Distribution. For the next two years IBM's site development team worked on a series of revamps to correct the problem.

Bradley says the most important lesson his team learned was it's not about IBM. It is about the customer.

"Customers didn't want the web site organized by department or by business unit, they didn't want to see all these proprietary product brand names, and most of all they want the site to communicate in their terms, industry standard language. Navigation had to be intuitive and designed around customer tasks and preferences rather than around our agenda."

Bradley continues, "The driving factor behind the redesign of our PC sites [now] has been identifying 'who' we should build the site for. We realized that 1/3 of customers are those for whom IT sites are their most important information medium in terms of reaching or making their most important buying decisions. By understanding the preferences and tastes for content of these more tech savvy or web savvy users we're able to better target them."

"It turns out that the 1/3 happened to control 75% of the IT budgets of the world. That's a good thing."

These users also turned out to have very specific desires about the site, none of which were 'show me an online brochure for IBM products or more photos from IBM's new ad campaign.' Instead they wanted, "sites that are built around shopping, learning and research tasks."

Whenever possible, customers wanted to see a personalized information. Not a site targeting their demographic, but a site just for them. "Personalization is better than anonymity, which goes against our traditional approaches to market segmentation," says Bradley.

This revelation lead to IBM's most popular site feature, their Call Me Now button.

"It turns out the prerequisite to truly doing seamless e- marketing is about connecting customers to the tasks they want to perform," explains Bradley. The ability to receive a quick phone call from an IBM expert, without having to wade through phone trees and voicemail, was instantly successful.

"They loved it," says Bradley. "It signaled this incredible level of responsiveness from IBM and it was startling to customers."

Bradley's advice for other companies considering a site revamp:

1. Pre-revamp research: Instead of looking at your competitor's sites and sites your designer thinks are neat, research what segments your customers fall into.

Do you have a segment that is more profitable than another? Do you serve more than one job type, or company-size? How can you design the home page and navigation so each of your most important segments see something that speaks directly to them right on the home page?

2. Pre-launch research: When you think you have got a pretty good revamp on your private development server, do not make it public before showing it to a few actual customers.

Their opinion of how useful, compelling and easy it is to use is far more important than your CEO's sign off.

3. Post-launch analysis: Before you launch, be sure your Web team has put tracking and analytics software in place that will allow you to measure how successful each of the key elements are (such as use of navigation bar and click paths).

Then request regular, easy-to-read, reports on exactly those new elements. Are they working? Is the site more useful than it was before?

Last but not least: Never assume this is your last revamp. IBM is now on version 12 of its main site.
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