Business to Mobile...to Business: The Stakes are High
One edge that very few B2B companies are ‘pushing’ at the present time is that which is gained by deploying a mobile website - this despite the fact that it is an edge which is getting sharper, deeper and in all respects more important with each week that passes.
So what exactly is a mobile website? A mobile website is a dedicated site developed for mobile, meaning it is optimised so it can be displayed on any internet-enabled device – from the latest smartphones to tablets and low-end feature phones. And in today’s world, where mobile internet use is skyrocketing and people are increasingly turning to their phones for quick information on the go, providing this material in an easily accessible format can be the difference between a prospect browsing the site for more information, or leaving for a potential competitor’s easier-to-browse site.
The increasing importance of having a separate mobile website that is not just a carbon copy of your traditional website has come about due to the convergence of a number of trends. First amongst these trends is the rise of ‘remote working’; while the phrase is primarily used to refer to the practice of working outside of the office via a laptop rather than on a handheld mobile device, the trend has brought about a cultural shift amongst business people so that the office is no longer seen as the only place to work and/or make important decisions. Another, more obvious reason, for the increasing importance of mobile websites to B2B companies is the rapid take-up of smartphones amongst the general population and business-people in particular – rapid take-up which has partly been driven by companies proactively provisioning their employees with smartphone devices – and also by employees using their own devices for work. Finally, mobile websites have become a necessity as the mobile technologies surrounding them have become increasingly fragmented; with employees, customers and partners using a wide range of devices, platforms and operating systems to do business, offering a mobile website has become the easiest and most cost-effective approach for a B2B company to reach the widest number of people over mobile (compared to developing an app, for example).
The significance of these converging trends is strikingly conveyed by research conducted by Google/Forbes released earlier this year. The research, which polled 300+ executives at companies with turnovers of >$500m, found that 59 per cent of respondents would rather make a business-related purchase over the mobile web than over the phone, 65 per cent are comfortable making a business-related purchase on a mobile device and 79 per cent are comfortable providing business contact information to a mobile website. Crucially, 44 per cent of executives told researchers that they expected a smartphone or a tablet to be their primary device for business by 2013. These numbers demonstrate the kind of competitive edge that B2B marketers are giving up if they continue to operate without a mobile website or put off the development of one. And yet, the most cursory of research is enough to reveal that, unlike B2C brands with well-established mobile offerings, most B2B companies are indeed not capitalising on this opportunity.
This is all the more surprising when you consider that it is not difficult to envisage situations in which a B2B company would benefit from having a mobile website: potential customers could investigate (and eventually make) purchases, investors could look up company information and job seekers could search for new positions.
Needless to say, for companies who don’t want to be left behind by what we’re calling ‘the big flip’ (to mobile), simply having a mobile website will not be enough. That mobile website must also get the job—whatever it is—done. Research recently conducted by Jakob Nielsen, probably the world’s foremost website usability expert, led him to conclude that “the user experience of mobile websites and apps has improved...but we still have far to go.” For B2B companies thinking of launching their own mobile websites this is a salutary warning that they must do more than simply extend their existing sites – they must enhance them as well. Enhancement means understanding the site’s prospective users and their needs, and building the site around the content those users want and expect. It also means shaping the user journey through the site , so that users’ patience is not exhausted by having to spend many minutes jumping around trying to find whatever it is they are after. For the same reasons text needs to be concise and graphics used sparingly.
Equally importantly, B2B companies looking to benefit from mobile need to make sure it is seamlessly integrated with their other systems and activities (e.g. alluded to in their other marketing materials). A key part of this is making sure the site is hosted on a good platform so it is easy for marketers to update with new information regularly (from product specs to case studies) and most importantly, easy for potential customers to use.
This list of challenges is by no means exhaustive. However, if I have demonstrated that building a mobile website is a potentially complex undertaking, I hope I have also shown that it is an extremely necessary one and an essential part of an organization’s overall mobile strategy.
Earlier on I spoke about a mobile website as a business ‘edge’. However, in a year’s time I predict it will be so commonplace to have one that it will no longer be just an edge – it will be the price of admission—the ante—to get into the game at all. When that happens, business-to-mobile-to-business will be the new business-to-business.