Two weeks ago, Pat Harpell CEO of Harpell, a marketing services firm that specializes in developing integrated online/offline initiatives for mid-sized B-to-B s, told us what big mistakes big companies are making online. This week she tells who's doing it right and how to drive traffic to your site:
Q: How can a company build a Web site their business customers will love?
Harpell: You have to do a sales cycle analysis in order to build an effective Web system. Figure out what are the challenges when you are in a sales situation, and then ok how do you get prospects through that online? How do you get the Web to squeeze out the most qualified prospects or get them to take a desired action?
It means you have to absolutely understand how they are thinking when they enter the site and how they want to navigate. Then you have to make it as intuitive as possible!
With some of the best sites, you're sucked in for a half hour ... you're ten pages down and you never know how you got there! A great example of that is VacationCoach.com. It's a site that helps you either find a vacation or validate that you're going to the right place. The interface is fantastic, it started to talk to me immediately. I put in my profile and the results were right on the money! I told others in the company, 'You've gotta go look at this." And because the site kept on delighting me, I stayed on it.
Q: Can a B-to-B site engage and delight customers?
Harpell: They'd better! We're all consumers at work or at home. You should be delighted to work with your vendors' and partners' sites. That's what brand affinity is. I think Lucent has probably done one of the best jobs I've seen, carrying their brand platform online.
Q: Ok, let's say I've built an engaging B-to-B site. Now how do I get traffic to it?
Harpell: You have to know where your people are looking. You ask them. You do research. You buy research. There are many, many ways to find out how your customer prefers to have their information fed to them. It's worth the small amount of money to find out as opposed to wasting dollars guessing. You'd be amazed how few people with multimillion dollar marketing budgets do the research prior to launching a campaign!
Q: What comes after research?
Harpell: You need a balance of media outlets. In general one strategy alone will never work. The other thing I urge people to do is to know how much they are willing to spend to acquire a client. A shrug is a really bad answer (particularly to give to a marketing company.) Retailers always know this, but few others do. It helps you decide how you'll spend on your media.
Q: Can PR drive traffic to a site?
Harpell: The foundation for any company is PR. You build on top of that foundation. To me PR is the last thing to go. You turn off the PR budget and then you turn out the lights. When you combine media relations with analyst relations with promotional PR -- it's so powerful!
But, when companies come to us and say, "we want to build awareness", we say, "yeah, so?" Awareness has nothing to do with creating customer loyalty. In this economy with this much noise, you could spend $5 million and they're only going to be aware of you for maybe a quarter.
You need to have a cycle in place for handling that response, dazzling that prospect. A lot of PR and marketing may actually kill your sales because your operations aren't set up to handle response. You could be making prospects all excited about something and then they go buy your competitor's product.
Our clients have to meet our mantra, which is: we want to build revenue every quarter and brand loyalty over time. I haven't seen a sustainable business model that works on awareness, or that honestly works just on sale, sale, sale, revenues, revenues, revenues, if you've done nothing to retain your customers or to delight them.
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