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For marketers competing in the business-to-business arena, Web sites have become the single most important channel of communication for sharing information about their products and services. Prospects shopping around for business solutions typically go to competing web-sites to learn about product benefits and features--but the impact of these visits on purchase decisions can be influenced by a host of other factors that most business people don't even take into consideration.

Just as with any other media, Web visitors form impressions about your company based on the totality of the experience they have navigating through your site.

On a rational level, they are looking for facts and information about your products. But on an emotional level, they are influenced by other relevant cues: the impact of strategic messaging, logic of content architecture, ease of navigation, clarity of writing, quality of customer service and professional visual presentation of material.

Substandard delivery on any of these measures can have a significantly negative effect on how prospects rate your company against competition. In fact, comparatively weak websites can actually drive prospects to competitors who make a more professional, compelling or relevant case for choosing their products and services.

But I Assumed…

In this tough economy, marketers focused on cutting costs and driving business growth with minimal spending don't view Web site updates as a critical element of their already reduced budgets. The prevailing assumption is that company Web sites are adequate for the time being and resources are dedicated to what are considered to be more direct sales channels.

But the risks of being wrong about this assertion are high! How do you really know, objectively speaking, how your company comes across on the Web compared to the competition? Are you certain that the long silences between telephone rings isn't because your Website is driving prospects away? How diligent are you about monitoring what your competitors are doing on the Web?

If You Don't Measure It…

The following is a partial list of key Web elements that should be monitored periodically in order to stay ahead of the competition. Since the Web environment is dynamic, you need to be aware of what your competition is doing and should be proactive about staying ahead of the curve.

  • Strategic Messaging
    • Clear articulation of what you do and for whom
    • Powerful value proposition
    • Key points of differentiation
  • Content
    • Intuitive content architecture
    • Clarity
    • Conciseness
    • Logical flow
    • Customer focus
  • Products & Services
    • Selection
    • Organization
    • Clarity of Descriptions
    • Description of Benefits
    • Relevant graphic support
    • Demos
  • Visual Presentation
    • Relevancy to audience
    • Uncluttered
    • Professional-looking
    • Engaging
    • Consistency of look and feel
    • Cohesiveness
    • Branding
  • Customer Service
    • Technical support
    • Personalization
    • FAQ
    • Product manuals

No Room for Complacency

In order to eliminate the biased subjectivity of comparative assessments conducted internally, you should consider retaining the services of an experienced Web consulting firm. Experienced analysts will conduct a rigorous head-to-head comparison that will serve as a reality check for those within your company who have a vested interesting the existing site. During your search for an assessment service, make certain that you understand the experience of the analysts reviewing the sites, determine the criteria they will be reviewing, and learn about the tools that will be used to assign metrics to the process.

Companies that understand the need to look at their communications “from the outside look-ing” will enjoy all of the benefits of having larger phone bills.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Phil Poirier Phil Poirier is Vice President of Crossbow Group (www.crossbowgroup.com), a full ser-vice integrated marketing and communications agency in Westport, CT. Phil can be reached at ppoirier@crossbowgroup.com or 203-222-2244