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“When a customer enters my store, forget me. They are king.”

John Wannamaker, one of America’s advertising pioneers, is quoted as saying “When a customer enters my store, forget me. He is king.” Well, this attitude is as true for early 20th-century American department stores as it is for website design today (apart from the out of date male pronoun bias ). The customer goes first. And yet, it is something many B2B organisations seem to get wrong. They make the mistake of building websites for the business, instead of building them for their customers – their Users.

If you are about to set off to commission a new website for your B2B business, then read on. This article talks you through a series of methods and steps that will help you better understand your audience, and develop an accurate sense of what your customers want from your new website.

There are two key parts to getting this right:

Step 1 – User Personas

Creating useful User Personas is vital to the success of any website. But getting inside the head of your audience is not always easy. Equally, digging too deep into the minutia can take too long – without necessarily delivering results commensurate with the effort. It is, therefore, essential to understand what you want to achieve from the process of profiling your Users before you begin.

Wikipedia describes User Personas as: “a fictional character created to represent a user type that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way. The term persona is used widely in online and technology applications as well as advertising, where other terms such as pen portraits may also be used”.

For B2B websites I recommend an approach similar to advertising’s pen portraits – because software user profiling is too focused on singular actions on the page, often ignoring more subtle emotions of selling. Your aim with a lead generating business website should be to create a design for real people. Pen Portraits focus on the softer side of personas and look at uncovering emotional hooks. I favour this because it enables focus on the human and avoids getting bogged down in segmentation and statistics. The numbers shouldn’t be ignored, of course. But at this point, you are not selling to a crowd. Imagine you are selling to one person at a time: “When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one.” – Meredith Hill

Step 2 – User Journeys

Mapping user journeys to create your new website is about building out the interactions and content that your users need to achieve their goals. Or in other words – helping them get to the information they are after. I find it helps to think of them being on your site looking for answers to questions they have. They are not there for idle browsing and entertainment. Not in our B2B world anyway. They are there because they have a job to do. Hence the simple need to answers their questions.

Also, it helps to consider the wider customer journey – how did this prospect arrive at your site? And what they will do afterwards? This way, you are more likely to create an experience for them that empathises – and therefore makes them feel more comfortable with the process.

Putting this thought into your project now will enable a web agency to build your site (structure, pages and content) so that your Users don’t have to think or search to get to their goal.

There are loads of great articles on the web about how to do this. By the very origin of the process, many of these guides are focused on planning User Journeys within applications. There is not much out there about working this out for B2B websites. The reason you need a different approach to software design is that app users typically take linear journeys and progress through a series of steps to a predefined goal. Whereas website users, and specifically B2B website users, can be fickle, flighty and distracted. Their second journey and goal are rarely the same as their first journey and goal. Also, the very nature of a B2B website needing to be all-things-to-all-prospects means the number of potential User Journeys is potentially infinite.

So, your prospects will probably make multiple visits; returning to learn more; measuring you against a competitor; carry out due diligence ahead of sending a Request for Proposal; etc. Therefore you have to consider what stage they might be at on their buying journey. For B2B websites, I found this breaks down into three distinct stages:

For each persona, for each of these stages, you need to consider:

Everything about your new website needs to be problem-solving and answering questions for your customer. Build your understanding of them as real people, with real questions. Then break down the resultant customer journeys into stages. Finally, align each step with a goal, and you will be in the best place to maximise the lead generation performance of your website.

Originally published here.

Andy Woods is the Design Director at Rouge Media, a web design and development agency based in Reading, Berkshire (UK). Andy is an experienced digital marketing problem solver, helping make the web work for B2B businesses for over 20 years (plus a little… View full profile ›