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A recent Knowledge@Wharton article highlights a report titled “Discovering ‘WOW’ — A Study of Great Retail Shopping Experiences in North America,” pointing to five major areas that contribute to a great shopping experience:

  • Engagement: being polite, genuinely caring and interested in helping, acknowledging and listening.
  • Executional Excellence: patiently explaining and advising, checking stock, helping to find products, having product knowledge and providing unexpected product quality.
  • Brand Experience: exciting store design and atmosphere, consistently great product quality,making customers feel they’re special and that they always get a deal.
  • Expediting: being sensitive to customers’ time on long check-out lines, being proactive in helpingspeed the shopping process.
  • Problem Recovery: helping resolve and compensate for problems, upgrading quality and ensuring complete satisfaction.

As I read the article, it struck me that B2B companies need to hit upon some of these same areas (which I’ve highlighted in red above) to impress their prospects. Here’s how they can do just that.

  1. Understand their concerns – Get to know your prospects so you can engage them on a personal level. This requires some behind-the-scenes work to develop buyer personas. You can then create a library of content that addresses each persona’s challenges or goals. TechTarget’s 2009 Media Consumption Report provides insight into the types of content that technology buyers seek through the buying cycle; you can see the chart in this blog post. Instead of making this content product- or service-focused, produce useful – and entertaining – information that the prospect can use whether or not she chooses your solution. (See Problem Recovery below.)
  2. Educate them – Make it easy for prospects to learn about your products or services by walking them through your Web site in a way that aligns with their role and place in the buying cycle. Offer product information in a variety of formats, such as via online content, downloadable materials, podcasts, and videos. And provide tools that help prospects visualize how your offering might help them. If you’re promising lower costs, perhaps you offer an ROI calculator so the prospect can plug in her own numbers.
  3. Focus on them – While the look and feel of your Web site, downloadable materials, and other content should be similar, your copy doesn’t have to be all about your company and its offerings. One of the easiest ways for B2B companies to make a prospect feel special is by engaging with them in a one-to-one manner that shows a deep understanding of that person’s concerns. When they arrive at your Web site, prospects should see language that reflects the way they think about their issues and should be guided down a path to the content that interests them. The content – no matter what the form – should continue speaking to the prospect in a way that mirrors that person’s concerns and objectives.
  4. Guide them – Make it easy for prospects to find information on your Web site that aligns with where they are in the buying cycle. This ties back to developing buyer personas. Once you understand your ideal prospects and what type of information they’re seeking at each stage in the buying cycle, you can walk them through your Web site in a logical manner. On your home page, display the types of issues your prospects are grappling with. Once they’ve chosen the issue of most concern to them, they should be led to content that helps them better understand the issue and ways to address it. Put all relevant content in one place and present it in a logical fashion so the prospect knows the order in which it makes sense to consume it.
  5. Solve their problems – In this area, B2B companies need to find ways to help prospects solve their problems. Resist the urge to hit prospects over the head with your pitch at every turn. Instead take the time to understand their issues and concerns – and then offer suggestions for resolving them. In addition to the datasheet describing your product’s features and benefits, perhaps you create a matrix that helps prospects compare options for solving their problem. Rather than putting out another white paper that ends up discussing your offering, maybe you can produce a guide or eBook that focuses solely on how your prospects can tackle a pressing issue – and makes no mention whatsoever of your solution.

Dow Jones published an eBook called “The Taxonomy Folksonomy Cookbook: The Right Recipe for Organizing Enterprise Metadata” that walks information professionals through the ways that social tagging can help them manage content. It’s an entertaining read for a complex topic, and last I heard, it had been downloaded over 1,600 times and resulted in more than 50 solid leads. Chances are, if you publish an informative, entertaining eBook or guide like this, your company will stick out in the prospect’s mind when she’s making a short list of potential vendors.