Having a website is now a de facto practice for channel partners. In many cases, websites serve as the first and perhaps only face channel partners present to their clients and prospects. As SMBs increasingly turn to the internet to research and reach out to channel partners, a poorly designed website can negatively affect lead generation, client attraction and retention, and ultimately revenues. “A website is integral to the sales cycle,” says Jeremy Peang-Meth, director of visualization at Orange Line Studio, a digital media company in Raleigh, N.C. “It’s not just a sales validator; it’s a place where people do research.”
Dave Zwicker, founder of marketing consulting firm Virtual CMO of Yarmouth Port, Mass., agrees. As a sales facilitator, a website should provide deeper information about a channel partner’s value, strategic approach, and differentiating qualities. “Think of turning your website into a virtual version of your best salesperson,” Zwicker says. “A salesperson has an elevator pitch telling prospects who you are, why you’re different, and how you solve problems—and that is what a website should convey.”
Converting that ideal into a design and content strategy takes a concerted effort. While there is no recipe as far as website strategy goes, there are some general guidelines that apply to most businesses. First and foremost, content should be at the heart of any website strategy. As such, it’s important to understand that websites are dynamic; both the design and the content must evolve to reflect the changing nature of the IT market.
Unfortunately, many channel partners who built websites a few years ago neglected to view them as living, changeable entities, leaving content to grow stale and design to become dated. “Your website has to reflect what you want people to know about you,” says Addie Randall, content strategist at Orange Line. “If you don’t offer cutting-edge and updated design and content, visitors will conclude you don’t offer cutting-edge technology.”
As Peang-Meth sees it, website issues occur in three fundamental areas: navigation, content, and calls to action (CTAs). “There should be clarity in navigation so that visitors quickly find what they are looking for,” he says. In practical terms, this means ensuring that menus are clear and effective and drop-down menus function properly. Navigation should provide pathways for visitors at various stages of the sales process—whether they are existing clients, serious prospects, or those at the beginning stages of research. Navigation should also serve to showcase content, the lifeblood of any website. Therefore, great navigation without compelling content does not serve channel partners well.
Website Rule No. 1
As for content, one rule is paramount: Avoid clutter and keep the amount of text under control. Peang-Meth believes that websites should include basic information: company background, expertise, and contact information. The key, however, is to make the content “relatable” to the target audience. “All too often, companies look at what they have to offer rather than what their customers need,” he says. This shift in emphasis requires “stories about projects instead of a spec sheet about the things that the company does,” he adds. These stories should include real-world customer case studies, quotes, or testimonials, or at least evidence that the company’s approach has solved problems that may be top of mind for visitors with similar issues.
Content should also present a personalized face to the customer, says Zwicker, an especially important aspect given that managed services expands reach beyond a local geographic area. Biographies of top leaders can add some personalization while emphasizing what makes the IT provider different from the competition. Video is particularly effective for introducing leaders to website visitors since they are more personal, don’t require text, and lend themselves to mobile devices. When speaking to potential clients, says Zwicker, “Videos are a very effective way to engage the visitor, and a three- to five-minute video can be made with a $100 HD camera.”