Writing this column every two weeks typically takes me on a journey of discovery. I learn about innovations, find new technologies, and look at a wide diversity of products. Inevitably this involves a lot of web research to identify both core technologies and applications, and the different vendors offering solutions.
This week I want to address some of the vendors who are selling these solutions. Hoteliers who have searched for new technologies will likely have shared some of the frustrations I will describe.
For my last article, I looked at 61 different companies offering guest messaging solutions. My research involved, among other things, combing through 61 websites. I already knew some of these companies and that some of the products were very interesting, but I was astonished at how poorly some of their websites marketed them. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this by any means, but doing 61 in one week really drove home the issue. These companies are operating in a crowded field and are fighting for attention. Yet some of their really cool and innovative products are either poorly presented or, worse, totally invisible on the web.
To be sure, this is not a universal problem, and many of the websites are great. But it makes me sad when I find out later about a great product that had been hidden from my view when I was actively looking for it.
As a blogger, I may not be in the market to buy your technology, but I nevertheless look at it much like a buyer might. So, if your goal is to get more sales, you should know what you might be doing wrong. And even if you’re one of the ones doing it mostly right, you might get some helpful ideas for making your website more effective.
For the remainder of this article, I’ll put myself in the role of a prospective customer. If I’m looking for a particular product, I’m going to reach out to the companies I already know (typically a few market leaders plus maybe a few newer companies that I heard about). But I will also search the web for ones not already on my radar. If your product comes up in my web search, that’s step one. But then I’m going to look at your web page and decide whether you have something worth a closer look. This is where way too many companies, particularly smaller ones, will lose me – even if they may have a product that’s perfect for me.
I know that startups in particular are strapped for resources, are evolving their products quickly, and that the core application may seem more critical than keeping the website up to date. But that’s not true. There are probably thousands of buyers in the market for whatever product you are selling, and many of them are actively looking for new solutions or vendors in your category. How will they find you?
But wait, you say, isn’t Search Engine Optimization (SEO) supposed to handle this? We do SEO well, so what more is there to do? To be sure, SEO is important; it maximizes the likelihood that your page comes up when someone searches for a product in your category. Most companies, marketing executives, and web designers pay attention to SEO, and it’s not too hard to get it close enough to right. This generally isn’t the problem.
But SEO is at the very top of the sales funnel. You can do it well, but then have much bigger issues keeping my interest once I click the link. Far too many websites miss the core business need of capturing my attention long enough to get me to take a closer look. Of the 61 websites I looked at for my last article, I would estimate that half did this well, a quarter did only a mediocre job, and a quarter did it mostly wrong.
Perhaps the biggest turnoff is when the website doesn’t tell me what the company or product is or does. This should be obvious, and it shouldn’t be hard. But I find myself often puzzling my way through websites that talk about the company’s philosophy, its methodologies, its skills, its customers, its staff, its tech stack, its patents, and many other things, but without once telling me what the product or service is and (if it’s not obvious) what problem it solves. Or maybe it’s there, but it’s buried so deep within the website navigation structure that I lose patience before I find it. Or it uses technical terminology that assumes I already know a lot about the technology behind product. If I’m technical enough, that’s fine, but if I’m just a hotel operator looking for a solution to a problem, I may not know or care exactly what component technologies you used.
As for what problem you solve, saying “we improve guest satisfaction” expresses a desirable end business result. But there are thousands of ways of accomplishing that, and those words don’t tell me which ones your product improves or enables. If I’m looking for a guest messaging solution to improve guest satisfaction, I really don’t want to spend time looking at a product that lets me customize my stay on your website or that improves my Wi-Fi experience – both of which can improve guest satisfaction but neither of which has anything to do with what I want to buy right now.
If I can’t tell with a couple of clicks from your home page that your product meets the needs I’m trying to fill, I’m going to move on. So tell me, prominently and in clear language, what product you’re selling that I might be looking for. Use the terminologies a buyer might use for the product category (and there could be more than one). If you can’t establish this match, you’ll miss the opportunity completely.
This doesn’t just mean “tell your marketing person to make the website better.” Your product’s value proposition is based on product features and how they map to customer needs, and you may be better than your competition in some important ways that need to be communicated. Your product manager will need to focus some time with the marketing or website folks to clearly define the product and how it is the same or different from other products I’m already familiar with. I’m already looking at your category, now tell me why YOUR product deserves my attention just as much as the ones I’ve already identified. You can even be bold and mention a major competitor or two by name, just so I can’t miss what category you’re competing in – “functionally equivalent to XYZ at 40% less cost” or “like XYZ on steroids” tells me a lot about what you do and how you are different – and if XYZ was already on my short list, I’m absolutely going to take a closer look.
The second biggest turnoff is when your website hides product details behind a demo or sales meeting. Way too many websites, especially for startups, come up in search results, have an appealing home page, and may even give a clue of what the product does, but when you click the ‘get more info’ button to see if it’s really worth looking for, you find yourself signing up for a live demo – with no option to collect basic information any other way.
While I certainly understand the desire of a vendor to show their cool new product, it’s a simple fact that prospective customers want to know that the product might meet their needs BEFORE they invest an hour of their time in a demo. While you may have a great product, it may have nothing to do with my current need. And even if it does, there are just as many startups with similar websites which experience tells me are early-stage companies with products that are usually too simplistic for my needs. So, before you ask me to sign up for a demo, your website needs to convince me that I won’t be wasting my time. It should describe the product in enough detail to capture my attention, convince me of its relevance to my current needs (assuming it has any!), and show me that it deserves a closer look. If you force me to first sign up for demo, and I don’t already know who you are, I will likely never see your product. And if your product, however great, really isn’t right for what I need right now, both you and I will be wasting an hour of our lives on a demo that will never lead to a sale for you or a solution for me.
The third biggest turnoff is when the only mention of cost is to ‘contact us for a quote.’ To be sure, many products can’t be easily quoted without knowing configuration details, but you can always give SOME indication of relative cost and how it’s priced (subscription fee, license, revenue share, range of contract values, etc.). While the larger vendors in a category already have reputations around price and quality, smaller vendors and startups need to position themselves. Even saying something very basic like “complete solutions from as low as $2 per room per month” gives me an idea whether your solution is likely to be within my budget – and if it is, you’ll then get the opportunity to upsell me to your average package, which might be twice as much. But once I ask you for a quote, I know I will be subjecting myself to potentially interminable sales follow-ups, often from vendors that I ruled out as soon as I knew the price and that I now have zero interest in hearing from again.
Budget is an important factor in most technology acquisitions, and buyers generally have a sense of what cost range they might expect for a given quality of product. So, help us understand where your product fits on the continuum between a low-cost, bare-bones solution and one with higher-priced, rich functionality. As a buyer I know roughly where the products I am already considering fall on that spectrum, and I don’t want to waste time looking at products that are way out of my budget, or that don’t deliver my major requirements.
The bottom line is that your website is not about you telling prospective customers how you want to sell to them. It’s about them using the material to self-qualify for your product BEFORE they contact you. Your goal should be to get the maximum number of QUALIFIED customers contacting you, and the maximum number of UNQUALIFIED ones going elsewhere.
It’s time to make your great innovations visible!