Thank You For Clicking…Now, Please Get Out Of My Site

A lot of marketing myths have been grown and exploded over the last few years: The web levels the playing field. The web is the great disintermediator. The web is an inexpensive promotional tool…

But there’s one that’s still pretty strong out there – a big mythic balloon that I’d like to try and see if can pop with my little ClickZ pin.

Don’t let me blow the balloon up – let some of the best-respected (and deservedly so) web observers do it for me (in both quotations, the emphasis is mine).

First, this, taken from Larry Chase’s web site:

“What sort of things will make visitors delighted they came in the first place? Is it appropriate for them to smile or laugh out loud, or be intrigued by a juicy news abstract or idea? What will make them bookmark you so they can return again and again? How can you keep them in your sphere of influence? Ask these questions for every page you create on your Web site, not just the first page.

And now, Evan Schwartz, quoted by Tom Siebel and Pat House in Cyber Rules:

The most effective Web sites are not just billboards on the side of the road. They are more like a place where everybody knows your name – even if it’s not your real name. The information, or content, can become the centerpiece of their conversations. But it’s the total experience that compels people to return to that place again and again.

Caution: Sticky Sites Can Be Damaging To Your Resources

Both quotations are great examples of a resource-debilitating web virus – let’s call it siteus stickyitus. You know what I’m talking about. This notion that a really good web site – regardless of its purpose in life – is one that visitors should come back to repeatedly. That sticky is as important to web sites as it is to fly paper. That significant resources – time, money and energy – should be devoted to creating web sites that are so interesting that people will return to them again and again.

Now, there are certainly some sites where return visits are important, because the business model relies on it. For instance:

  1. Free online content sites such as ClickZ that rely on advertising revenue.

  2. Subscription sites like ESPN Insider Services.
  3. Some e-tail sites with a varied, continually changing stock.
  4. Portals (while they’re still around).

What these sites have in common is that they are all Business to Consumer sites, providing specific products to individual consumers (generally for free or for a low price point). And that’s a characterization that’s critical to our understanding of the minimal value of return visits to the Internet commerce universe at large.

Get The Job Done And Move On

The sites I mentioned above are B2C. But most of the commerce conducted on the web today is Business to Business. What characterizes the business-to-business process is the need to advance a sales cycle to the point where a deal is struck. That’s how the web works best for B2B – move the cycle from one phase to the next. A B2B site could care less whether you return, once it’s done its job by advancing the cycle – once the visitors have done what the site owners want them to do at the site.

Over the coming years it’s likely that B2B will increase its dominance over web commerce. Forrester says that 85 percent of online commerce today is B2B, and that by 2003 it will increase to 92 percent. If Forrester’s proportions prove true, sticky sites today have value to less than 15 percent of web commerce participants. And by 2003 that will be cut in half.

Consider Cisco. I don’t think the folks who built that pre-eminent online business venue spend much time sitting around wondering how to make it sticky. Nor do I think that the IT executive looking to find the best price/performance on 5000 routers is going to give a hoot about how compelling and attractive Cisco’s site is. I don’t think she’s going to go back to it again and again to surf its engaging, creative content once she’s instructed Purchasing to negotiate and make the buy.

Once the web has done its job for her – once it’s provided her the ability to configure and price the products that she needs – the next time she or someone else involved in the purchase of those routers is going to go back there is when they need something else. That might be customer support, add on sales, delivery information, documentation But you can bet your bottom dollar they aren’t heading back because it’s a “centerpiece of conversation.”

Your Business Is Not A Vaudeville Act

The web has work to do for business to business companies. B2B companies online are not in the business of entertaining. They don’t care whether people find their sites attractive or compelling or engaging. They care about whether people find the information they’re looking for, and that the web successfully performs its various roles within the sales and support cycles (see my earlier article titled Powered by the Web for a look at how I see the web integrating with B2B sales cycles).

Again check out Cisco – just the home page will do. What you see is a site that’s focused on effective navigation, not on presenting “a juicy news abstract or idea.”

So the real question is not how to make your site sticky. The real question is how to make your site do its job for you. A sales cycle where the prospect returns to the same phase again and again is a sales cycle that will never close. For B2B sites, where the web must be successfully integrated into the sales process, a sticky site is one where the sales process gets stuck.

Does that mean a visitor should never come to the site again? Of course not. In fact you should have a relationship with your visitors and customers where you invite them back, for a good reason, not to kill 10 minutes with more flash and flutter. And the more you know about your visitor, the less you want them coming back to the home page – or the basic set of content in general.

Once you know something about your visitors of value (that they’re architects or doctors or mechanics), you should direct them to focused “Profile Pages” that are geared toward their specific needs, interests and communities. And don’t expect them to “check in” to see how cool your site is becoming. When you post new information of interest, alert them through email.

The same applies to your customers. I can see no reason why a customer would ever need to come to your basic site again. Once they’re a customer, they should be going to an entirely different web site – one where they have control over the information presented, and where they conduct continuing business with you (bill payment, online ordering, account maintenance, service and support). In other words, you should be developing an online relationship with them that matches the one you have offline. That’s how you develop B2B follow-on sales – by determining how the customers are doing with your products, what other needs they may have, what problems they encounter – not by hoping they’ll check out the new brochures.

So, unless you’re in the entertainment business, stop trying to entertain people at your site. Unless you’re in the content business, stop worrying about providing dynamic, engaging content. Worry about putting your site to hard, aggressive business use for you – for your customers, prospects and your own back office.

Sticky for B2B? I don’t think so.

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