Tl;dr - When it comes to manufacturing company presidents, the inclination for micro-management of website projects is a major impediment to business success! Sites must be built for users, not to satisfy the whims of executives. That means the right team, tools and mindsets.
Who is Your Website Built For?
Not the people paying for it!
The biggest problem with websites for most industrial distributors and manufacturers is that the people who make decisions regarding appearance and content aren't the audience.
I've sat in many meetings with a company president focused inordinately on the home page (maybe only 5-10% of website entrances) and rendering opinions on colors (beyond brand compliance) and layout that reflect their personal preference.
Just as the map is not the territory, a CEO's website preference is not that of the users. The users are there to meet their needs, and the president's (understandably) biased view of the company focuses on moments and achievements in company history that are meaningful to them. And rarely are they familiar with best practices in various technical domains that determine site effectiveness.
Part of the obsession, though, is a concern about getting it right. Too often, business leaders think of a website project as building a new facility. They have many choices, but once the concrete is poured and steel is up, it's pretty hard to change.
Well, that's not a website. The days of website "projects" are generally over (at least if you work with a responsible developer.) Instead, there is continuous development (features & capability - not just new pages) punctuated by occasional overhauls to accommodate step changes in buyer expectations and technology. Yes, that means you need to budget for ongoing website development work (a process increasingly known as GDD, or Growth Driven Design), albeit a relatively small amount quarterly.
But, back to the question of who a website is for?
- Folks who don't know about you but should - e.g. suspects
- Others who know about you and are trying to learn more about how your products/services might improve their business - e.g. leads
- Those who are actively engaged in procurement - e.g. prospects
- Current customers looking for support, tips, documentation, upgrades, etc.
- Employees who turn to your site as the fastest way to find the info they need
- Your manufacturing marketing and industrial sales teams
- Job candidates
- Community members, including press, local politicians, other businesses
- Vendors who want to know how best to support you
Nowhere on this list is the CEO, president or GM trying to micromanage the project!
Building an Industrial B2B Website that Works for Everyone
Once you understand the range of people your site needs to support, you can design it accordingly. (How many of the above are likely to be interested in the page describing how many square feet you have in your facility and the range of machinery you run? Hint....none!)
That means various capabilities:
- information across the entire buying journey (prefunnel, awareness, research decision, and ongoing customer support)
- intuitive and easy navigation and search - your navigation may actually hurt the user experience! Emphasize journey mapping, site search, and chatbots to aid in navigation
- information for each type of user, by buying team and customer role, at each stage in the buying journey - this means downloadable drawings for engineers, financial frameworks, maintenance guidelines, portal access to history and documentation, list of open positions, description of culture and philosophy, notes on community engagement, etc.
This requires a huge mindset change from the view informing traditional industrial website design, which includes company history, about, contact, and product and service info (perhaps with a bit of industry and/or application info thrown in.)
It also requires a commitment to integrate marketing and sales in a cohesive revenue growth function that maps to buyer behaviors and journeys.
Design & Function Considerations
Understanding the various users not only helps to define the required information but also lets you prioritize functions and considerations.
Everything should be viewed through the lens of your user. But remember that your user is not the company president, nor is it a monolithic projection of one type of prospect. Your "user" is any of the folks listed above, trying to access information efficiently.
They may have arrived there directly (typing your URL or company name into the search or nav bar), or via a web search, a referral link, a social media post, or an email.
In many cases they won't arrive on your homepage! They'll land on a page specifically matching their question or interest. So, every layout and page needs to consider navigation and information requirements.
After user experience (which is built on the capabilities below), your site must:
- have rock-solid technical SEO (architecture, security, speed, page load, images, on-page optimization, etc.)
- emphasize conversion - make it easy for visitors to take the next step, often sharing some information, but at least diving deeper into their engagement with you
- navigation - a couple levels of header nav can help orient users quickly. Footer nav can provide additional rich links and also minimize click depth for less frequently used resources. Submenus in sections can orient users to options and ease their site journey. Even RSS feeds of content related to topics will help them find "also asked" questions.
- include a knowledge base, customer portal (which in turn requires a robust marketing and sales tech stack with required custom objects), and e-commerce capability - these are now baseline expectations for consumers accustomed to convenience and access to information. Their absence can be seen as a petulant refusal to provide them or as indicative of a company that can't keep up.
- exude constantly evolving substance - it's not a brochure. Aesthetics are either an enabler or an impediment to user experience, not an end in itself. And it's not a project to be done once every seven years!
An Industrial B2B Website Team & Tools
Who should be on the website team, and what tools should they use?
The periodic refresh might be considered a project. The ongoing optimization is a continuous requirement like cycle counting inventory or conducting employee reviews.
You'll have the same team for both, although senior management will likely be more involved in the refresh because that's their habit.
The team should include members from the following functions:
- industrial sales team - folks who have demonstrated an aptitude for using website metrics and insights to boost their sales effectiveness and who exhibit a deep curiosity about customers and prospects, their challenges, and opportunities. Sales operations belong here too. But remember, the sales team's primary job is driving revenue. They must participate, but it's not an excuse for not selling.
- manufacturing marketing - your team likely incorporates many roles into a small team. Brand, demand generation, ABM, content, and marketing operations should all be represented.
- copywriters - while a middle market manufacturer should own its own publishing operation, in many cases, you'll use freelance journalists from your industry and copywriters. They may not sit in on all the meetings, but they'll be consistently involved.
- technical SEO - sometimes, the fundamental architecture can limit your SEO success, and design features can impact SEO. So technical SEO should inform site structure and architecture, site design, and the execution and content of every page. This constantly evolves, and these skills are probably best contracted.
- developer - rent these skills, don't buy them. A good firm will be constantly dealing with new capabilities and technologies and have a good sense of changing norms and expectations that inside folks couldn't maintain. Don't evaluate them based on the aesthetics of previous projects; ask about the details of traffic, rankings, conversion rates, time on site, bounce rates, repeat visits, mobile activity, page load speeds and other Core Web Vitals, etc., to gauge the functional impact.
- graphic design - most website work starts and largely ends here. That's a massive error. Great graphic design is important from a brand and user experience perspective and should be transparent. It enhances the experience without defining it.
- IT - BUT only for coordination. Involving IT deeply in a B2B website will slow the project and result in an inferior user experience. IT can certainly bring important perspectives and skills. Evaluating security, updating DNS, facilitating integration with other systems (e.g. ERP, email) are appropriate IT involvement. Creating a CMS (yes, I've seen mid-size manufacturing company IT departments do this), hosting your site locally, and owning the new page creation tasks (with cumbersome ticketing and wasteful back and forth) impedes progress. IT will want to control the project. The answer must be "No."
The most important tool for your site is the CMS (content management system.) This is an important fundamental decision that will impact your selection of a developer.
Your CMS must be:
- fast, and supported by a reliable content distribution network
- secure (consistently patched in the background, not relying on someone on your team to do so)
- intuitive so your own folks can quickly create new pages and templates and adjust existing ones
- built on a single database with marketing automation and sales technology to provide the best user, marketing and sales experience
- capable of multiple language versions
- capable of serving variable content (by what you know about visitors - stage in the customer journey, job function, geography, firmographics such as company size and industry, type of device being used, etc.)
Other tools will enable visitor preferences for communication (integrated SMS, chatbots) and help the team understand performance and behavior (e.g. site visit recording.)
The Executive's Role
So, what's the role of a manufacturing company president, CEO, or GM in the website? It's a nose-in, fingers-out approach.
Key leadership responsibilities include:
- establish the mindset - user experience, audience, objectives, KPIs, etc.
- resource allocation - team members, budget, timelines, constraints on participation (e.g. articulate IT role)
- infrastructure - participate in CMS decisions since these will dictate many decisions going forward
Of course, a company owner can ultimately dictate any aspect of the site's appearance and function. That's your prerogative.
But here's the question.
What's more important? That your site be a massively impactful and successful strategic business asset? Or that it reflect your personally preferred aesthetic?
I suggest you opt for the former.