Building Business Relationships

Are you struggling to create and keep profitable customers? Columns for Sales and Marketing Management who wants to build business relationships.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

What are you assuming your website visitors already know

Never assume -- as Felix from the 1960's The Odd Couple television series said, "Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME."  This applies to both intranet's and websites used to communicate with customers. When you think you know what your website visitors want, you'll always be wrong, build your website to segment visitors.

We make too many assumptions when we meet new people, and those assumptions hurt prospective business relationships and weaken existing ones. Consider this, the same website often serves several segments of customer, prospects, employees, news media, and possibly even vendors. For your B2B website to talk to each of these individuals one-to-one (after all, it's just your visitor and your website at the point of interaction) you need to segment your website navigation accordingly.

Here are some strategies to limit assumptions and improve visitor relationships:

  1. Each web page should have a main objective based on the wants of a visiting segment, two elements that further qualify the individual, and a place for a visitor to go for help. We too often assume we know exactly what our website visitors want, but more often than not we confuse them with every visit. Too many options is as bad as too few, or event the wrong options.
  2. Never assume your visit knows anything about your topic, how to navigate your site, or even what your company does. Seek to help them reach an understanding in a way that segments visitors and guides them to the part of a site they would find of greatest value.
  3. Start first by thinking of your website as a traditional organization chart (the ones with one box on the top, with three delegates under each, three deep.)  The majority of your traffic will come in on your home page, that box at the top. Each link represents another series of pages under the home page.
  4. Advance to seeing your website as a large sphere of concentric layers. While this is a simplistic description of a website, it is important to know that every action a visitor takes on your website should qualify them for something. You should be able to watch the path a visitor traverses down your website and know exactly how they are segmented.
  5. Define each visitors desired objective, use it to identify them as individuals. Is the visitor a customer interested in a certain product?  Maybe a prospective employee looking for a new career?  The navigational behavior of a visitor should even point out competitors who frequently monitor your news and products.
  6. The secret is to make desired content no more than three clicks away from any point within that segment of information. This may sound complex, but move from the flat model of a organizational chart to a sphere of connected cubes. This three-dimensional model more accurately represents true web navigation.
  7. Your external pages (those on the outermost part of your sphere) are landing pages, as a visitor moves toward inner layers of your site, they get more specific information. Three clicks from anything keeps their attention and focuses your website around specific segments of visitors.

Stay tuned, I'll cover more on this topic later as I put together more materials for Developing business to business Websites for Cultivating Relationships and Sales and it's accompanying book.

Justin Hitt helps executive build stronger relationships that can increase profits and create loyal customers. For more information visit Inside Strategic Relations or call +1 (877) 207-3798

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Strategies for mixed foreign or problematic relationships

Offshore company captures online military vote. record, a close business relationship with Dick Cheney's Halliburton, and 2,500 partners of which more than half are not U.S. citizens. Since 2001. [Daypop Search - business relationship]

The above article is a startling example of how business relationships can come back to haunt you. Giving all parties a benefit of doubt, extremely large companies can technically be involved in millions of relationships of which a few can stand out. Growing relationships in this type of environment become regulated more by culture than rule.

Culture governs how people are expected to act in specific situations. What culture does your company have in regards to establishing new relationships?  Is it okay for one division to work with foreign nationals while another federal contracts?

How your relationship is viewed by outsiders is just as important as the composition of the relationship.  I've said it time and time again, if it would embarrass you in the news, you probably should not do it. However in this global market place, what is a company to do.

Strategies for mixed foreign or problematic relationships:

  1. Document everything, including who is responsible for each specific part of the engagement. By documenting the relationships to which you are involved you provide coverage for your own actions in the event of unknown circumstances.
  2. Swiftly and internally handle all inappropriate behavior as soon as it comes to light. Never let anyone do anything that could embarrass you or the company later. Wash your dirty laundry regularly.
  3. If you think you need to hide a situation, it's better to lose money now than be shutdown by a regulatory agency. Often the worst problems were those that someone didn't have the guts to face when it was first noticed. Take responsibility for the actions of your people.
  4. Practice internal checks and balances, self-regulate your actions against current laws. Utilize regulators inside your company who are under non-financial measures. Sometimes you have to check on your auditors.
  5. Don't award those who use questionable practices to "meet the numbers" -- punish them quickly. Turning a blind eye is as bad as breaking the law yourself. In the same vein, praise those who are honest and forthright.
  6. You may be under pressure to perform, but remember you always have to live with yourself. Don't do anything that compromises your own legal standing or personal beliefs. Practice your personal ethics in the business environment -- most people know what is right and wrong.
  7. Practice the rules your company has already.  Often companies have policies in place to prevent fraud and waste, actually enforcing these rules can significantly improve relationships. Make sure everyone practices written rules, no unwritten-rules should be accepted.
  8. Dispose of quick win managers with seemingly overnight successes.  If it's too good to be true, then check things over. Investors will always praise you for successes, and come down hard on you for any failures. Most likely things will check out, but be sure before you praise.
  9. Organize your public relations campaigns to promote a realistic messages. In the past, I might have said a positive message, but now people see right through biased messages. It's better to give bad news today, than end up the star of your own investigation tomorrow.

Justin Hitt teaches executives how to create strong business relationships that can increase profits while improving customer loyalty. To learn more about business relationships visit Inside Strategic Relations or call +1 (877) 207-3798

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Top Sites' User Experience Teams and Their Challenge (Abstract)

Top Sites' User Experience Teams and Their Challenge. Common issues faced by some of the heaviest visited websites on-line. Including a checklist for focusing on improving your own site. [Good Experience][Boyink Interactive, LLC]

According to Mark Hurst, founder and host of the Good Experience Live (GEL) conference, shares the common issues found in major traffic holding websites based on a 10-day tour and interviews with over a dozen companies. This abstract includes a summary of the original article with commentary from a relationship building prospectives.

These challenges were common across business models, team capacity, and on-line goals. Your own company is facing these same problems, and it's hurting customer, employee, and vendor relationships.

  1. Any interaction with a customer is an interaction with your company.  Your customer or prospective customer doesn't care if they are served by your "Web Commerce Division" or "Advanced Development Team", all they know is your company name. In fact, that's all they really care about, your internal corporate structure should be transparent to the customers desires.
  2. It is critical your organization develop a standard style guide for the website.  This function is the responsibility of corporate communications in conjunction with content providers -- you wouldn't let your engineers write all of your marketing materials, then why are they publishing new materials on your website. This also protects legal aspects of near real-time information dissemination.
  3. You must have a company common model for measuring the lifetime value of a customer.  This model should cover acquisition costs and methods of maintaining the customer relationship. Gone of the days of single transaction through a static channel, today customers can buy in a 101 ways.  You must measure their lifetime value accordingly.
  4. Have a single company-wide group who mandates changes to improve the customers experience.  Along the lines of style, someone must measure and test customer experience (or the rate in which the site produces a positive customer interaction.)  This group can be composed of representatives from each business unit, or a separate group connected with sales, marketing, and customer service.
  5. A document objective/mandate for web interactions with customers is a must.  Define why, how, and when you communicate with customers over the web. What experience they desire, and how you seek to achieve it. Focus on the companies strategic business objectives and how the website can bring you closer to them.
  6. Your corporate-wide customer experience group must represent the expertise necessary to produce results.  As alluded to earlier, choose people with more than tactical usability: choose expertise in corporate strategy, marketing, financial modeling, data analysis, and political savvy to bring everything together. Treat your website as a functional part of your business, as you would any other corporate communications.
  7. Develop buy-in from other business units early in the web initiative.  A website is more diverse and has a greater number of usages than most other business communications. You want everyones feedback early to develop a useful product around customers desires. Don't just toss a website together -- it creates more harm than good.
  8. Seek support from management by sharing financial gain.  Make sure your management knows on-line technical support can save your company money, that 24 customer orders reduces costs, and be specific about the value a website brings the company. Share with them the facts and figures that help the website pay for itself -- but be honest and produce something measurable.

You don't have to separate your website from other customer communications channels, just give it the attention it deserves.

If your website looks hodge-podge, your customer will think your company operates the same way. For a website to support a customer relationship, it must present an organized picture of your company and facilitate positive interactions with buyers. There is more to web usability than what is presented here, but consider this a quick overview for those who haven't consider these issues in the past.

Justin Hitt teaches executives strategies to improve business relationships that can increase revenues while reducing costs of service. Publisher of Inside Strategic Relations, a twice-monthly newsletter.

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