One fact of life for most B2B companies is that their customers and potential customers are now firmly in control of the buying process.  From a marketing perspective, "buyer control" means that prospective customers now have the ability to determine when and how they will access and obtain information about the products and services they may be interested in purchasing.  The Internet has put an enormous amount of information about almost every product and service at the fingertips of prospective buyers on a 24-7-365 basis.  This means that B2B buyers no longer need to depend primarily on salespeople for product/service information.

And it's becoming more and more clear that business buyers are taking advantange of their growing independence and power.  Several recent research studies have demonstrated that the Internet has arguably become the single most important source of information for business executives and managers when considering potential purchases.

In today's environment, your company's website becomes an absolutely critical component of your marketing and sales effort.  Prospective customers are probably visiting your website almost every day.  If they're not, well, that's a subject for another post.  These prospects may visit your site because they heard about your company from a colleague, or because they met one of your managers at a social function, or because they found you via a Google search.  Many of these prospects know little, if anything, about your company, and you don't know who most of these potential customers are.  But they are forming an impression of your company - and making at least a preliminary decision about whether you're worth talking to - based on the content they see on your website.  So, the content of your website will either help you sell . . . or not.

If you are repositioning your printing company as a marketing services firm, an effective website is especially critical.  For one thing, you are building a new "brand identity" for your company, and your website will play a huge role in defining that new identity.  In addition, this repositioning almost certainly means that you are trying to attract customers that you have not worked with in the past, and these are the kinds of prospects who are most likely to visit your website to learn more about your company.

So, what does it take to make your website an effective selling tool?  Well, obviously, the website needs to function correctly.  If I click on a "Contact Us" button, I need to be taken to a page with contact information/functionality.  Your website also needs to employ reasonably good design principles and ideas.  Beyond these basics, though, the effectiveness of your website as a selling tool depends mostly on the content.  There are several ways to talk about content, but I'll focus on three.

First, does your website describe the business you are becoming or the business you used to be.  If you are making the "printer to MSP" transition, your website should emphasize the marketing services you provide.  I've had several managers tell me that they had transformed  their printing company into a marketing service provider.  But when I visit their website, the overall impression I come away with is "printing company" or perhaps "direct mail company."

The second important characteristic of website content is that it must "speak" from the customer's perspective.  By this I mean that your content needs to make it easy for your target prospects to identify with your company.  How do you do that?  By having your content talk about how your work with businesses like theirs to solve the problems they must deal with.

My final point is that your website should provide content that has inherent value to prospective customers.  For example, you can provide white papers or recorded webinars or webcasts that address the marketing issues that your prospects are facing.  This kind of content helps to establish the credibility and expertise of your company and provides site visitors a reason to engage with you further.

The right content can turn your website into a powerful selling tool.  And if you are a marketing services firm, the good news is that these same ideas also apply to your prospective clients.  In other words, you can help your clients implement these ideas and get paid in the process.  Just make sure that you're eating your own dog food.