We are no longer going online. We are living online. Today, every company must think of itself as being digital to some degree. To that end, many old-line businesses are actively engaged in digital transformation. They are re-imagining every facet of their operations. They are leveraging the latest technologies to build new processes, cultures, and experiences to compete in this new digital marketplace. They are creating entire digital ecosystems that encompass websites, social networking, digital media, communications and transaction processing in a way that transcends the traditional functions of sales, marketing and customer service.
For a staggering 71 percent of B2B buyers, the customer decision journey (CDJ) starts with a generic search. Google is the road most traveled. Without it, your website would be a billboard in the wilderness. Once people land on your site, 76 percent want it to be easy to find what they want. From there, 67 percent of the CDJ will remain digital and 57 percent of the journey will be done before ever engaging your sales department.
Nine out of ten B2B buyers said that online content influenced their purchasing decisions. No longer are they willing to start by listening to a sales pitch. They want to do their own homework, reach their own conclusions, and (perhaps) call you when they're all but ready to pull the trigger.
In order for you to control the journey, the customer must cross into the digital ecosystem through a single portal. Many established firms have all but abandoned other marcom entryways such as direct mail and toll-free numbers in favor of their websites. Even corporate apps now connect to the home page with a thumb click.
The post-sale phase is as important, if not more, than pre-sale. The website must serve as a one-stop shop for everything connected to your brand. By leveraging the latest technologies, such as chatbots, interactive FAQs, self-serve tools, experience-based eCommerce and AI, your site becomes all things to all people. One-site-for-all helps keep the messaging consistent and the decision journey on track.
The Center of the Digital Universe
Your website is the sun at the center of your company's digital solar system. This is where your customers, potential employees, investors and other important stakeholders are most likely to go to learn more about your brand and company, and it should be based on the same design and navigation system.
However, digital transformation shouldn't be seen as a destination, but as a path. It's about the digitized customer decision journey. Data, insights and a methodology are key components for building a successful corporate website that allows for the user to reach and consume the desired information as quickly as possible.
No longer is it advisable or tolerable to send prospects to one site and existing customers to another. Acquisition and retention are not separate siloes in the digital world. A powerful sales technique is to make the prospect feel like they've already purchased from you. Show them what their experience will be like after they've joined your happy family. Customers want to be wooed to the next level as though they're still sought-after leads. The same goes for your employees, both pre- and post-hire.
Optimize and adjust the user experience dynamically throughout these different phases. Post-acquisition is critical. It's where companies obtain their greatest Share of Life, yet it's often deprioritized within the digital ecosystem. On top of all the available technological tools, there are other critical elements for retaining customers while increasing their satisfaction, such as digital product performance information, industry benchmark assessments and individualized thought leadership content.
Relevancy and Interpreting Intent
Most platforms today are centered around the company's internal structure and existing market strategy, which most likely is not aligned with the CDJ. For instance, many companies are using naming conventions in their site navigation based on their lines of business (LOBs) rather than on how their customers think.
Today's user has gotten used to searching for what they want rather than using large drop-down menu structures. Since more and more engagements come from mobile devices, clicking on hamburger menus and thumbing through pages has become less and less desirable. Users want to type keywords and find information instantly. Otherwise, they move on to the next site. However, gone are the days when search was facilitated solely by keywords.
Obtaining Simplicity with Sophisticated Technology
That's why the best sites today combine artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) to enhance findability and create a better user experience. These sites understand intent. They present findings using storytelling to guide and empower users. They help them make better-informed critical decisions faster and faster.
In order to attain a successful value-adding online experience, we start by attaining zero degrees of separation between the customer and your brand. We analyze data and formulate insights on what customers and other stakeholders need to hear from the brand and company. This informs the content demand and content strategy for the site. Using that approach, we've created three paradigm shifts in website design:
Simplicity: Build a humanistic and intuitive UX/UI around your brand's content, accommodating the customer decision journey and ensuring that the user constantly progresses through that journey.
Findability: Implement an onsite search function that helps the user find information as quickly as possible using their own terminology. By not limiting them to a keyword list, we are able to glean data about how they think and what they need, helping draw them in to zero degrees of separation from the brand.
Usability: Create a content architecture that accommodates a circular user flow where the user never hits a dead end but is always presented with relevant content and information that advances them to the next phase of their journey. UX / UI simplicity is essential in designing an interface in which it's obvious where the user should begin their journey. Our patience has simply gone down over time. Prominently placing a search prompt on the home page, which allows the user to start their journey on the website just like they would on Google, is just one example. A key to success is that the search functionality has higher intelligence built in, demonstrating a deeper understanding of intent that can interpret needs or pains better than Google. This type of search further helps achieve individualization while delivering a unique content experience to a market segment of one, rather than personalized content to many.
In a Complex World, it Should Be Easier
The content architecture should be transformed from a linear experience into a circular one that keeps relevant content in front of the user throughout the decision journey. Amazon is the main driver behind this experience, setting expectations across B2C and B2B sites, where users are reaching their destinations in fewer and fewer clicks.
Aligning the content architecture and the implementation of functionalities has proven to significantly reduce bounce rates and increase conversion. Without this ability to find value-adding content through an intuitive UX, bounce rates will only increase, driving customers to other outlets for information, products and services.
In a complex world, the digital ecosystem should make it easier to do business with any company. Rethinking the website strategy is mission critical in an entirely new post-digital environment. If done correctly, it has the potential to shorten sales cycles, increase conversion and improve overall customer satisfaction at each stage of the decision journey.
Written by Sebastian Jespersen