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How to lose a B2B sale in 4 ways… and how not to!

Like all relationships between people, B2B relationships require trust and credibility to work.

In fact, we could liken a prospective B2B buyer to a sophisticated partner who is well-educated, has high expectations and is generally intolerant of mistakes. And like in all relationships, there are certain behaviours that strengthen bonds, and critical mistakes that turn people off.

Take your website, for example. In B2B, missteps can sow enough seeds of doubt in the minds of potential or existing customers to make them lose faith in your brand, question your professionalism, or simply click away from your site. Once you lose that credibility, it can be as hard to get back as convincing a cheated-on lover to trust you again. And the result of lost credibility? Lost sales.

So what can you do to make sure you hang onto B2B prospects?

Does your website leave the right impression, or lose you sales?

One of the most common B2B oversights is a sub-standard website that promotes a high bounce rate and less-than-hoped-for sales conversions. Since “sub-standard” is subjective, we’ve put together an inventory of 4 main types of shortcomings that frequently damage website credibility… and lose B2B sales.

If your site doesn’t seem to be generating enough love, ask yourself whether any of these problems might be affecting its appeal:

1.  Poor language and too many typos

Every morning, my inbox features B2B spam emails purportedly from professionals in China. Such emails distinguish themselves with spectacular language curiosities – including offensive or bizarre mistakes, or overly informal phrases, like the wish expressed by “Jarry” to “be one of [my] friends from now on”. They’re entertaining messages, but I wouldn’t order products from a firm that comes across as so unprofessional. The inappropriate language instantly ruins its credibility.

The same can go with B2B websites. Spelling and grammar need to be professional in order for customers to commit to your offerings. One wrong word can create an entirely different meaning to what was intended, so it confuses people, or signals a lack of attention to detail… like the guy who turns up to a first date wearing a stained tie and unpolished shoes. And let’s not forget that B2B customers tend to expect more for their money than their B2C equivalents, on top of being generally well-researched because they’ll be accountable for their purchasing decisions. So coherency and credibility are key.

Recently I’ve worked with three different companies (in the offshore, food manufacturing and mechanical industries) to edit their websites. And it’s made a difference. They’ve gone from clunky to sharp and ship-shape. For readers this means clarity, and sites that are easier to navigate and understand because the text is accurate, flows better and gets quickly to the point.

Spotted something odd lately?

There’s still, however, an abundance of sites out there that are plagued by typos and peculiarities. Sometimes they take an eagle’s eye to spot, other times they’re hard not to notice. But a B2B prospect who encounters them might have trouble trusting that a company that slaps together its website will take enough care with his or her firm’s multi-million (insert your currency) order. Consider, for example:

“We represent and cooperate with the leading foundries and forgemasters in Europe, benefiting of their specific knowledge and strenghts”.

At the very least, it should be, benefiting “from” not “of”, and “strenghts” should be “strengths”. Ok, not a total disaster, but not great. On another site:

“The staff have experience both in [company] and from former carriers. … the staff has combined more than 100 years of experience in the technical management marked of especially Offshore vessel, but also container feeders and small passenger vessel. … Our Project and Technical support department is taken care of all the task that are time limited.”

The glaring mistakes here are “careers” (“carriers” is incorrectly used) and “market” (the Danish word “marked” creeps in), and “taken care” (which should be “taking care”) but there are many others, too.

Odd or unexpected capitalization can also raise eyebrows, such as:

“We bring Flexible and Reliable High Quality Fabrication and Engineering to both topside and subsea structures and process equipment.”

What you can do right now

  • Run a critical eye over your website and check it for mistakes (see common English mistakes here).
  • Even grab the text and dump it into a word document for a spellcheck (although be aware that Mr. Microsoft is not always right!).
  • Have someone else proofread your site – especially a native-English speaker, or a professional from your industry.
  • Even better, see if you can get some feedback from an actual customer on what looks good and what’s not so agreeable. Then, if there are mistakes, get them fixed ASAP!

2.  Confusing structure & inconsistencies

In this age of instant gratification, frustrated readers who can’t find what they’re looking for will be quick to click away from a confusing homepage so it’s important that navigation is logical and easy. Don’t make people guess!

If your target audiences speak different languages, make it easy for them to find the info they need in their language. Mixing languages on your site, other than for stylistic reasons, is a no-go. For example, I recently came across a machinery sales website where there was a whole section still in Danish on the “UK” version of the site. It stuck out like a sore thumb. To avoid this, make sure all of the text on your English website is translated so as to avoid giving your international customers meaningless information.

Blog photo mix language

The word “og” means “and” in Danish, but nothing much in English!



Mad = food in Danish

Circular references are also poor form, or links that leave the reader in no-man’s land… or in foreign territory.

Admittedly this example is B2C, but recently an English website for a popular Danish restaurant referred me to the “food collection” and “lunch collection” for more details on meals… except that those parts of the page were in Danish! An English-speaker who didn’t know that “food collection” translates to “mad kollektion” wouldn’t have been able to find the reference. So much for recommending that restaurant to international friends – they’ll neither find nor be able to read the online menu!

Anyone in sales knows that it can be beneficial to foster a sense of urgency in order to bring a transaction to a swift close. But honesty is critical here. Like the boy who cried wolf, companies that repeatedly try to entice customers with “offers” or “last chances” to create a false sense of urgency will quickly test their customers’ patience. So, legalities aside, don’t claim deals are for a limited time unless they really are!

Do a quick check

  • Try standing in the shoes of a potential customer and click around on your site. Test the links out. Do they work? Is anything confusing, are there any parts not translated still, or can people quickly find what they might be looking for?
  • Think about how your different pages are labelled, or whether there are any areas that are hard to access. Generally, keeping things honest, clean and simple works well.
  • You’ll also need to choose whether you’re writing in UK or US English. For example, do you have a product “catalogue” or “catalog”?
  • And does your site follow the same style rules throughout, or vary in the use of symbols and punctuation? Is your exhibition on October 24th or 24 October? Give your site a little bit of the TLC it craves!

3.  Hard-to-read text and unattractive aesthetics

Minimalism is a particular Scandinavian characteristic, but low-contrast text like light grey on a dark grey background confuses your readers and makes them squint – especially those trying to use mobile devices outside in the sun.

Layout that’s ugly or aesthetically displeasing is also a turn-off. Text is important, but no amount of amazing prose will overcome the fact that your company has skimped on its graphic design. Fortunately we’ve come a long way since people first started making websites (check out these timeless eyesores just for fun – if you dare!), but there’s still plenty of refinement to be done.

Make it scan-friendly

Time-pressured professionals tend to scan websites for keywords. This means that it has to be easy for them to find what they’re looking for. And short, snappy text is easier to skim read than long-winded sentences.

A final word on graphics. Stylised icons look great, and can simplify the look and feel of a site, but question whether your audience will truly understand what they mean. For example, the commonly used “hamburger button”, popular on mobiles and tablets in particular, still confuses some people. But adding the word “menu” underneath it seems to help.

What to do?

  • Clean lines and simplicity are in, especially for mobile-friendly sites.
  • Keep things logical, and don’t write too much text.
  • Have a think about whether you could say what you need to say in less words, or use well-placed, elegant visuals to convey your message. A graphic designer I know warns that people can only focus on one thing at once, so having a central element in each frame – without distractions – is advisable.

4.  Assertions that are too bold, or seem dishonest

Consider your audience and any relevant cultural differences. For example, to a UK audience, assertions that are fine in the US might be too heavy-handed, too direct or place too much focus on selling. You might need to tone things down.

Maintaining the trust and goodwill built up through good personal relationships can be done via demonstrating engagement and integrity. According to Edelman, engagement includes communicating frequently and honestly on the state of your business, and integrity includes having transparent and open business practices.

Employer branding is a strategic weapon

But it’s also a balance. We’ve seen online press releases where companies are maybe a bit too honest, shooting themselves in the foot by implicitly blaming their customers for underperformance! Be careful as well about using content that might be subject to copyright rules – such as poaching someone else’s pictures.

What’s next?

Some of these areas involve easy fixes that, with a discerning eye, can be adjusted quickly and fuss-free. But for more complicated things like elegant marketing prose, it can pay to get a professional evaluation of your website.

As analytics tools become increasingly advanced, it’s likely you may even be able to measure whether your professional help delivered a real return on investment. I’m willing to bet it’ll be worth it…

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Mandy Chilcott

I’m a communications consultant with Melba Media – an Eye for Image Alliance Partner. I work with all kinds of content, but I’m particularly interested in the overlap between B2B marketing and ideas on innovation and creativity, and social responsibility. Since 2003, I’ve switched between roles in law and communications, and recently completed a Masters in Organisational Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Copenhagen Business School. Throughout my work and study, credibility through good storytelling has featured as a strong theme. Whether it’s drafting courtroom rhetoric, writing business plans, or marketing new technology in offshore drilling, a story only truly has value when it engages its audience. I’d like to share some of my ideas on how to do that on IntegratedB2B and hear what you think.