A few years ago, we were working with a client who had previously gone through a process with a marketing firm that didn’t work out. The client, a groovy Earth Mom and the consultant, a hardened marketer didn’t have so much a culture clash as they did a culture apocalypse. It didn’t last long, she wasn’t happy, he wasn’t happy, and we tried to help her pick up the pieces and happily worked with her on that project and various projects since. I’ve thought a lot about that marketer over the years, and one thing he said has stuck with me: in a heated debate about how the homepage of the website should look and function, he said “Do you want to inspire or do you want to sell?” It’s easy to write off the marketer as an abrasive jerk, but did he have a point? Take away how he said it – what was he trying to say? And, is there anything we can learn as small business owners about how we separate the selling of our products vs. how we feel about our business? Let’s find out!

What do visitors want?

Can we all agree that in 2016, people don’t magically appear on websites without any idea of how they got there? Can we also agree that people are generally savvy enough to know what they are looking for when they come to a website? Great! Now, think about your own business and why someone might be coming to your website. As tempting as it is to think that they’re there to “immerse themselves in [your] brand” or to “educate themselves about [your] area of expertise,” the vast majority of your website visitors are there with a mission, and that mission tends to be “can this website give me what I want quickly and without hassle.” So, if I’m visiting a t-shirt store I probably am (1) looking for a t-shirt and (2) want to see all of the t-shirts you have available for sale. If I’m a visitor of a small business blog, I want to quickly and easily figure out (1) what does this person have to say and (2) does she have anything of value for me and my business. To use some of our clients, people visit Shulmerich to buy handbells and car insurance executives visit Drivers History to determine if they can lower their MVR expenses by using the service. If you can’t buy a Schullie within a minute or can’t get a response from DH within an hour, something’s wrong.

Websites are Mirrors, Not Megaphones

The unsaid and under-appreciated reality is that your website has little to do with you. We all have healthy egos that need attention, and I’d like nothing more than to have people come to the [whitepenny] site to admire its beauty and the thinking behind it. They don’t, though, because they’re busy trying to figure out if our work is any good and how much we charge. Then they either contact us or move on to the next firm. And that’s true for every website out there – B2C, B2B, LMNOP, it’s your job to make sure that you’re enabling your visitors to achieve their goals. And many (most?) websites out there get this wrong, and this is especially true for Small to Medium size business websites.

Grumpier Old Designers

I’m going to give stodgy marketing guy some credit here: he conveyed, poorly, an important point. Generally in marketing and specifically in design, we can get wrapped around what we want rather than what our customers want. We forget that we serve at the pleasure of them, and we exist because they exist. At that age, I probably rolled my eyes at the thought of the man uttering the words and quipped something about how he “doesn’t understand the power of design” when, in reality, I didn’t understand a good sales process is inspiring in and of itself. Think your customers need some inspiration? Inspire them with with how quickly they were able to find something that they liked and how quickly you were able to help them move on with their day. Inspire them with the copy of your receipt emails. Inspire them with a personal note 7 days after purchase making sure that they love the item and that there’s nothing else you can do for them. And, ok, make sure that the visual design is appropriately inviting, uncluttered, and on-brand. But don’t make the mistake of confusing your needs with your customers’ needs.