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Business-to-Business Marketing and the World Wide Web: Planning, Managing, and Assessing Web Sites

Joel R. Evans Vanessa E. King


Despite the enormous growth of the World Wide Web and the media attention to it, little has appeared in the literature with regard to the role of marketing in developing and administering business-to-business Web sites. This article examines the opportunities and obstacles inherent with business-to-business Web sites and discusses the process for devising, overseeing, and evaluating such sites. A detailed original Web Site AsAddress correspondence to Joel R. Evans, Hofstra University, Department of Marketing and International Business, 222 Weller Hall, Hempstead, NY 11549. E-mail: mktjre@hofstra.edu

sessment Tool is introduced, which focuses on five categories: the home page, overall site design and performance, text content, audio-visual elements, and interaction and involvement. The scoring mechanism is explained, as is the percentile score per category. Two case studies are used to apply this tool to the PC industryone to show how various audiences would weight Web site elements differently based on their particular characteristics and needs and the other to show how the Web sites of 10 leading PC makers could be comparatively evaluated. The article ends with a series of managerial implications. 1999 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.

Industrial Marketing Management 28, 343358 (1999) 1999 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved. 655 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10010

0019-8501/99/$see front matter PII S0019-8501(98)00013-3

INTRODUCTION Based on the extensive media coverage of the final consumer segment of the World Wide Web, a strong impression has been fostered that this is where most electronic commerce occurs. Yet, in 1996, according to Forester Research, final consumer revenues from the Web were $530 million compared with $600 million from business-to-business Web marketing. Forester projects that by the year 2000, final consumer Web revenues will be $7.2 billion annually, whereas business-to-business Web revenues will reach $66.5 billion [24, p. 41]. This means the Webs potential for business-to-business marketers is vastas long as it is properly used. Yet, many experts feel business-to-business Web marketing is not used effectively enough. Spar and Bussgang [38, p. 125] offer this blunt comment: By bringing companies and customers together, the Internet thus promises to widen markets, increase efficiencies, and lower costs. Those are radical promises, and on their strength, thousands of companies have already joined a massive scramble to cyberspace. For many of those companies, however, the Internet has yet to deliver on its promises. Although doing business in cyberspace may be novel and exhilarating, it can also be frustrating, confusing, and even unprofitable. Honeycutt, Flaherty, and Benassi [19, p. 65] state that downsides include dull Web sites, unreliable technology, and, one of the biggest concerns, security issues. The Gartner Group [12, p. 1] even says that 75% of business Web sites do not meet customers requirements and will need to be redesigned. What these sites lack is good information designthe organization and presentation of information so customers can easily locate what they want to find. With the preceding in mind, in this paper, these business-to-business topics are discussed: the opportunities and obstacles associated with planning, managing, and

assessing a Web site; the steps in planning and managing a marketing-oriented Web site, and a Web site assessment tool. Managerial implications are also provided.

BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS WEB SITES: OPPORTUNITIES AND OBSTACLES The World Wide Web offers an array of opportunities and obstacles for business-to-business marketers and their customers [10, 17]. In planning, managing, and assessing Web sites, both must be considered for the potential of the Web to be better realized. Opportunities MULTIPLE MARKETING USES. The Web provides business-to-business marketers with numerous tools that aid in planning, organization, and control; research and intelligence; and marketing mix management. For example, more firms are building intranets, whereby employees access information quickly and in real-time [9]. The Business Research Group estimates that 80% of Web sites will soon be intranets; and Zona Research says intranet server revenue surpasses Internet revenue, with 1998 intranet revenues expected to hit $8 billion [30]. ACCESS TO COMMERCIAL RESEARCH. Many firms realize the Web is an excellent way to obtain marketing data. With online search engines, they retrieve primary and secondary data on a host of subjects including consumers, industries, products, and technology. One of the most aggressive efforts is from Lexis-Nexis, which has a huge information archive. The firm is making its entire library of more than one billion documents (10 times larger than all of the data on the Internet combined, according to a company press release) available on the Web to paying subscribers. The firm has 500 computer servers that manage data from 18,300 sources [5]. COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE. By visiting other sites, firms keep tabs on competitors, thereby gaining extensive product and service information, as well as public news on competitors current and future strategies [43]. CUSTOMER SERVICE. Firms find the Web quite helpful for customer support. Sites often have a technical area so users get answers to questions; access documents; download software, drivers, and patches; e-mail to the proper party; and communicate with online discussion groups. As a result, companies such as Sun Microsystems report that customer phone calls to the technical service area have dropped by 20% [28].

JOEL R. EVANS, Ph.D. is the RMI Distinguished Professor of Business at Hofstra University. He is widely published, serves on three editorial boards (including Industrial Marketing Management), and was co-chair of the American Marketing Associations 1995 Faculty Consortium. VANESSA E. KING, M.B.A., is Access Product Manager for AppliedTheory Communications, a business-to-business Internet Service Provider. She is responsible for overall product development, marketing, and management for the access product line.

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B-to-B Web revenues far exceed final consumer revenues.


JUST-IN-TIME INVENTORY PLANNING. The use of the Web often enables firms to lower inventory investments and generate faster turnover. Intel and SAP recently created Pandesic to aid firms in fully integrated Web fulfillment (http://www.pandesic.com/info/inventory) [21]. THE WEB AS A SALES CHANNEL. The Web is an alternate selling channel for a growing number of firms. According to Business Marketings NetMarketing, among the publications top 50-rated business-to-business Web sites, 46% take orders and payments on online, 52% take orders without payments, and 96% generate databases, leads, and partners [35]. SUPPORT FOR CHANNEL PARTNERS. For firms with indirect channels, the Web is an information source, a hotline, and a promotional outlet aimed at channel members. Sites can use a secure area for channel partners entered by password. In that area, programs and incentives may be posted. This strengthens the relationship with channel members by providing two-way, current information. Sites with advanced capabilities let distributors search databases to check order status and conduct other inquiries. Some sites also let distributors place orders; and some incorporate hot inks to key distributors Web sites as an additional cooperative marketing tool. IMAGE ENHANCEMENT. Many business-to-business firms use sites to enhance branding, image, and loyalty. RAPID GROWTH. PC use is increasing worldwide; and network computers will facilitate Internet access. By the year 2000, registered host computers will exceed 120 million [4]. Thus, the potential is enormous. GLOBAL REACH. Marketers can reach users around the world and access information globally [34, 36]. The Web has virtually no spatial limits. HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE NEUTRALITY. The Web crosses all platforms and is non-software specific. Anyone can access and offer data from anywhere using any type of computer equipment. AROUND-THE-CLOCK PRESENCE. The Web operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Information is available to marketers at a moments notice. ABILITY TO NARROWLY TARGET MARKETING EFFORTS. Firms can target audiences with tailored strategies. AMP, the electronics components supplier, allows large customers to use a password to get customized product and pricing data. Small customers can access AMPs catalog, browse articles on the firm, obtain customer support, and learn about the firms preferred customer program [3]. COST-EFFECTIVENESS: A site can be built and kept fairly inexpensively, and its cost-saving abilities are many. Postage and printing costs are saved if users download/ print data. Questions can be answered, cutting back on personnel and phone charges. Advertising can be presented quickly and at low cost. UP-TO-THE-MINUTE INFORMATION. The Web is a dynamic medium. Information can be changed instantly, easily, and cheaply; so users can obtain the latest data available. LINKAGE. The hyperlinks connecting Web site to Web site maximize the reach and frequency of the marketing communications between sites. INTERACTIVE, MULTIMEDIA VEHICLE. The user can be engaged with a mix of text, graphics, audio, video, and interactivity. Thus, sales can be made directly, results and feedback reviewed immediately, and repeat site visits encouragedwhich enhances customer loyalty. The Pall Corporation, a maker of fluid filtrations and purifications systems, has won high marks for the userfriendly, interactive nature of its site [23]. Obstacles TRANSMISSION SPEED. For a business user with a typical modem connection, waiting several seconds for a single page to appear is common. Downloading a picture can take up to a minute or more, and a short video clip even longer. This may limit creativity and try users patience. Telecommunications firms are researching and enacting bandwidth-boosting options like ISDN and cable modems to improve Web speed and performance. SITE CONGESTION. The Webs hyperactive growth has caused the most popular sites to be so full of visitors 345

that entry may be denied or access cut off right in the middle of browsing a page. LACK OF ORGANIZATION. The Webs lack of organization can mean wasted time for userswho may be so entangled in hyperlinks that departure and destination points are unclear [38]. WEB CULTURE. Because the Web culture is somewhat advertising/marketing averse, there is a challenge to marketers, who must cleverly convey messages without being too promotional. LACK OF SECURITY. The Web is not policed adequately. Messages and credit card numbers can sometimes be intercepted. Though firewalls may protect internal data from theft, Web users have less recourse. Visa, MasterCard, and others are working to devise a better way to secure payments based on encryption technology. SUB-OPTIMAL CONTROL BY INFORMATION PROVIDERS. Although firms control their sites contents, users control their look (by adjusting color, contrast, and so forth), as well as whether to enter and explore the site. UNWIELDY URLS. Site URLs can be long and unmemorable, impeding Web visits. HTML PROGRAMMING LIMITATIONS. HTML is not hard to master, but it is tedious, especially for designers who like the ease and flexibility of Macintosh publishing software. Java is reducing this problem. GLOBAL DIFFERENCES. Although a Web site can reach business-to-business customers around the world, there can be complexities in completing transactions. Millipore, a U.S. manufacturer of filtration products for purifying water and detecting contaminated gases, has different prices outside the United States. Thus, it has opted not to include price information at its Web site [11]. SKEPTICAL BUYERS. Web sales are a fraction of business-to-business revenues, as many users are not yet inclined to buy. Security issues, a desire for personal attention, and the Webs newness are behind the hesitation. RESISTANCE TO PAYMENT FOR WEB SERVICES. The Web was devised as a way to communicate for free. Firms charging fees for site entry or for other services are often met with a poor response by Web users. MEASUREMENT CHALLENGES. Unlike other media with regular, outside audits, the Web has not faced such reviews. It is hard to determine the audience reached and what effect given Web sites have on the audience. For example, although a 1997 study of the Internets cost effectiveness by Penton Research Services, the publisher of specialty business magazines, found that the cost per business-to-business contact was $0.98 on the Internet 346

(compared with $277 for an industrial sales call, $162 for a trade show, $1.68 for direct mail, and $0.32 for a specialized business publication) [33], these figures are not widely accepted.

PLANNING AND MANAGING A MARKETING-ORIENTED WEB SITE The Internet boom has caused firms worldwide to race to set up shop on the Web. In their haste to do so, Web site planning has often suffered, although site development tends to be uncharted water. Inadequate time may be given to learning about this mediumits unique traits, current audience, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; its future potential; and its swift changesand to marry the site to specific goals [8]. By 1996, two million firms had Web sites, with one-half of the total signing on in 19951996 [25]. According to the Yankee Group, by 1998, nearly 90% of Fortune 100 firms would be using the Web in some form [2]. Successful site implementation comprises four major steps, each with major marketing implications. The first is Web planning, which includes determining whether and to what degree a Web site makes sense for a given firm, and setting proper goals. This step drives everything that follows. Second, the firm decides how it wants to gain Web entry. Third, site components are designed and placed on the Web. Fourth, the site is managedincluding ongoing site promotion, site maintenance and updates, and evaluating performance.

Step 1: Web Planning This begins with recognition that the Web complements traditional strategic marketing tools and is another weapon in a firms arsenal [32]. The degree to which the Web succeeds, as well as the format it takes, depends on the firms industry, goals, marketing strategy, and target market. Each firm needs to answer these questions: To what degree do other companies in the industry use Web marketing? What do their sites look like? How can the unique characteristics of the Web help the firm achieve its established marketing goals? In what ways can the Web complement the firms current marketing strategy? Who are the companys target markets and to what extent can they be reached via the Web?

Web sites need to be carefully planned, managed, and monitored.


Once these questions are addressed, Web goals can be setrelating to customer service, new customer acquisition, niche marketing, dissemination of information, online sales, channel support, promotion, and so forth. Executive commitment (from both funding and human resource perspectives) is critical. Firms housing Web ownership and accountability in the marketing department generally report better results, as long as a crossdiscipline committee from all major functions has a voice in developing and managing a site [27]. Companies with proper staffing for site maintenance, including a Webmaster to spearhead the effort, enjoy the most success. A Web site integrated with marketing, sales, and service activities usually works best [13]. Excellent online sources with information on Web planning are Business Marketings NetMarketing site (http://www.netb2b.com) and Nanyang Technical Universitys site (http://www.ntu.edu.sg/library/advrtise.htm). Step 2: Web Access A firm has various options for Web entry, from a lowlevel information service to a cybermall to its own site. The first option is the least costly and means offering information via a service such as the World Wide Yellow Pages. It lists business names, addresses, phone and fax numbers, e-mail addresses, business headings, and brief descriptions of firms for a yearly fee of $100 or so. Popular cybermalls include the Internet Shopping Network, Downtown Anywhere, and AOLs Marketplace. Such malls are generally geared to final consumers. The most ambitious, and potentially most profitable, option is for a firm to have its own Web site. An outside party can create and maintain the site; or the firm can set up its own Web server and maintain the site. First-year costs for an internally-developed site are $60,000 to $120,000; for an externally-created one, first-year costs are $5,000 to $10,000 for a simple site up to $100,000 for a site with 80 to 100 pages [7, 15, 29]. Costs cover hardware, software, communications links, site design and implementation, and site management. Firms with individual sites must register them with unique URLs (uniform resource locators). The basic system requirements for a Web site, which may already be on-hand, are a hardware server with enough storage, memory, and processing power, and a software server to handle Web interaction. It is typical for a site to be entered thousands of times a month, therefore the system must support requests with rapid response time. Many firms have multiple servers; an internal one may update Web pages, and an external one is used for public access. Besides hardware and connections, a site needs server software and, if design is done internally, HTML authoring tools. Commercial packages are available, but the job can also be done via a text editor. For security, firewall software may prevent external access to proprietary documents and fend off computer viruses. Step 3: Site Design and Implementation Design is critical. In most cases, a user makes a proactive decision to go to a given site [16]. Thus, if it is not compelling, there may be a quick exit with little hope of return. Not only does the user control where to go, he/she also controls what is seen. This is driven by how the users browser is configured. Some use text-only browsers to speed up surfing. Those with graphical browsers often configure fonts, colors, and other features to their tastes; and different browsers interpret formatting differently. Because the Web is a dynamic, real-time, interactive multimedia mechanism, it has attributes unlike other mass medianotably, direct interaction and involvement. Thus, a core design element is for the user to easily and effectively interact with the firm. When a user enters via a home page, there should be an overview of the site, where the firm is located, the contact name, and what activities can be done through the Web site (such as whether there is online ordering). These data should be in the first several lines. Complex graphics, video, and audio enhance a sites look, but may take time to download, trying users patience [1]. Standard netiquette requires that site operators reveal 347

file size, so users (especially business-to-business ones) can make an informed decision about downloading. Text should be kept at a reasonable level, with exceptions depending on the good/service. Users may want detailed data in certain cases. Due to the Webs nonlinear nature, the order of information received is in the users hands. This lets the writer do summaries at the top of a document to brief the user, who can then choose to go further into the site. Hot links enhance a users visit and maximize a site providers business efforts. Yet, poor links lead to dead-ends, reflecting poorly on the firm. Links need planning and testingand regular check-ups. Internal links are controllable by the firm and easily updated. External links are more apt to be out of date. Good design is necessary through the entire site [18]. General recommendations include: (1) Keep popular information close to the home page; (2) create organized, easy-to-navigate pages; (3) given the Webs real-time nature, update material regularly; (4) consider the tradeoffs between graphics and speed; and (4) test the site with as many browsers and platforms as possible to assure that commands work well and hot links are correct. Step 4: Site Promotion, Management, and Evaluation A user may stumble onto a firms site, but the odds are against it. Site promotion is critical. One way is to register the URL with search engines such as Yahoo and directory services like the World Wide Yellow Pages. A firm can also announce its site via an electronic release to news sites like PR Newswire, to specialized directories keyed to its business, and to relevant Usenet newsgroups. Some Web servers list home pages for a small fee. Others list URLs if theirs are listed in return. Hot links to one site from another are also a way to bring users to a site. Many firms cite their URLs on everything from ads to stationery. One excellent site for business-to-business marketers is the Product News Network (http://www. productnews.com) by Thomas Publishing. Data on 5,000 firms and 50,000 products are listedwith URLs and e-mail addresses [41]. Once a site goes live, Web management begins. Firms must respond quickly to users who send e-mail, complete forms, and participate in other interactive ways. Site content (and hardware and software) must be reviewed and updated regularly. In addition, if users complain that they cannot access the site or are being logged out during a visit, a more powerful server may be in order [22]. 348

Site usage must be tracked to measure success, get feedback, improve the site, and justify its existence. The most common way providers measure Web performance is by the number of hits a site generates. However, there are accuracy problems with this. When a user accesses a page from a Web server, that counts as one hit. If the user reads a page with ten graphics, each graphic is counted as a separate item; thus one HTML page may record dozens of hits from a user accessing it. Likewise, the Webs disorganized nature may cause users to inadvertently check out before they are done, requiring them to re-enter the site (which counts as another hit). The total hits, therefore, do not reflect the number of visits, but grossly inflates them [26]. On the plus side, each time a user clicks an icon or a highlighted word, the server records which files are sent. Software packages can provide data on the number of visits, where users log on from, the popularity of certain pages over others, and a visits path and length. By learning which pages are popular, a firm can modify a site to reflect usage patterns. Web operators with an interactive mechanism at their site can evaluate user characteristics and areas of interest first-hand. For firms with online ordering at the site, sales can also be used to indicate performance.

A BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS WEB SITE ASSESSMENT TOOL Because the Web is becoming such a key tool for business-to-business marketers, both internally to develop strategy and communicate with employees and externally to interact with customers, mechanisms to assess site effectiveness are vital. Yet, as Buchanan and Lukaszewski (6, p. xiii) note, companies now find themselves trying to manage Web sites without proper yardsticks. Besides counting hits and trying to monitor Web-generated revenues; companies can evaluate their sites by conducting consumer surveys, reviewing e-mail correspondence, and compiling expert ratings. In 1997, for example, the editors of Business Marketing compiled a list of the 200 best business-to-business Web sites, including top ten and top fifty groupings. These experts reviewed the size of each firms Web staff, how the site was advertised, and site functionality (e.g., customer support, ability to order, and so forth) [31]. Sun Microsystems has a feedback button on many of its Web pages so visitors can critique specific pages via professionally constructed surveys [20]. 3Com uses software from Time Direct to re-

A structured B-to-B Web Site Assessment Tool offers great promise.


view the performance of online ads and change banners, e-mail, and Web sites [39]. Nonetheless, a comprehensive mechanism for systematically assessing the various components of a Web site (the home page, overall site design and performance, text content, audio-visual elements, and interaction and involvement) has not yet been introduced. That is why we devised an original Web Site Assessment Tool that lets a firm objectively and quantitatively measure the cumulative effect of the features of its Web site. BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE FOR THE WEB SITE ASSESSMENT TOOL To develop an assessment tool with broad businessto-business Web site validity, it is necessary to get down to the basics of Web usage. Business-to-business users generally turn to the Web for information, education (training), channel support/customer service, and/or online ordering [40, 42]. A Web site fulfills these needs by using a mixture of text, graphics, video, and audio in an interactive environment. The site must be designed to perform wellstarting with the home page and continuing throughout. Any assessment tool has five components: categories (broad areas to be investigated); factors (specific elements comprising each category); weights (importance placed on each category and factor); ratings (scores assigned to each category and factor); and total score (an overall compilation based on both weights and ratings). The first step is to identify the broad categories, and the factors within them, that are critical to a Web sites effectiveness. The categories and factors are then weighted (in this instance, based on a total of 100 points); the greater the number of points, the more important the category/factor. Weighting depends on certain conditions, which are discussed shortly. After weighting is completed, assessors review a site and rate the factors. (In this instance, factors are rated from 0 to 10, with 10 being excellent). Ratings are multiplied by the points (weights) assigned to the factor for a factor score, and factor scores are summed to get category scores and a total score. To measure the site in percentage terms, the actual score is divided by the maximum score. (In this instance, the maximum score is 100%; the lowest score is 0%, and an average score is 50%). The measurement methodology is derived from the Fishbein attitude model [14]: Total score =

Rating of factor i Weight of factor i


i=1

Based on a detailed literature review, the tool devised for this paper used five broad categories as the basis for a successful Web site: home page, overall site design and performance, text content, audio-visual elements, and interaction and involvement. Also based on the literature review, the key factors within each category were then enumerated to measure each category. The result is the Web Site Assessment Tool shown in Table 1. Because assessment is situational in nature, weighting each category and factor should be keyed to four main elements: Web site goals, the target market, the Web-related hardware and telecommunications available to the target, and the goods/services involved. These are some questions to address to correctly weight the tool: Web site goals: Which of these goals are set for the site: awareness of the company and its products, customer service, online sales, channel support, repeat visits, compelling format, feedback, and so forth? Target market: Is the business-to-business target market a large corporate user or a small business user? Is it customers or channel partners? What are the major demographic and behavioral/usage factors for the target? Web-related hardware/telecommunications available to the target: What equipment is available to the target? Does it limit speed, visuals, and response time? Is Web access at the users fingertips or does he or she have to actively seek it (i.e., use a colleagues PC, etc.)? Good/service: What product is involved? This drives content, especially whether it is information-, education-, 349

TABLE 1 A Business-to-Business Web Site Assessment Tool* Weighting Points Actual Score Maximum Score Percentile Score

Categories/Factors Home Page Clear, quick snapshot of the company, points of contact Clear indication of sites contents Attractive, compelling audio-visual elements Total points (score) for the category Overall Site Design and Performance Clean, organized, easy-to-navigate pages Speed and response time, low congestion Easy access to customer inquiry mechanism/home page throughout site Security and protection measures Total points (score) for the category Text Content Up-to-date information Clearly written, easy to understand, and well-organized content Informational value Educational/training value Material presented in a compelling manner Total points (score) for the category Audio-Visual Elements Graphical elements Video elements Audio elements Response time/speed of audio-visual elements Level to which audio-visual elements enhance the site Total points (score) for the category Interaction and Involvement Ability to e-mail firm from the site and responsiveness of reply Customer inquiry mechanism/customer service Channel support Real-time online interactive elements (i.e., chat rooms) Interactive survey or program resulting in customized end user info Online product demonstration Online product delivery Online ordering Total points (score) for the category TOTAL SCORE

Rating

*For every Web site, rate each factor on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being excellent. Weighting Points The share of 100 points assigned to each factor and category; Rating The number from 0 to 10 assigned to each factor; Actual Score Weighting Points Rating for each factor, then summed for the category; Maximum Score Weighting Points 10 for each factor; then summed for the category; Percentile Score Actual Score/Maximum Score for each factor and category.

support-/service-, and/or online ordering-based and whether it has a lot of text or visuals. These examples further clarify how the preceding elements affect the category weighting: A marketing communications manager for a networking manufacturer seeks Web-based data on potential ad agency candidates. The focus of the content to this user is information. Audio-visual elements play a critical role, as the manager will want to view a creative 350

portfolio. From an interaction perspective, a customer inquiry mechanism, customized surveys, and e-mail are essential. Home page and design/performance are also important. This user probably has outstanding access to the Web. A purchasing agent at a financial services company wants to buy new PCs for the sales department. For this user, the information value of content is critical. Educational value is important if the agent is not savvy about PCs as they relate to selling. The buyer probably

wants to see what products look like, but it is unlikely audio and video are major factors. E-mail, customer inquiries, and surveys are helpful. Site design/performance and the home page play a key role. Equipment can run the gamutfrom a PC with limited RAM and POTS access to a T1 connection with a RAM-heavy PC. From the above, it is clear that hardware/telecommunications varies greatly, reinforcing the need to do all possible to maximize speed. The home page, overall site design and performance, text content, audio-visual elements, and interaction and involvement are all target marketand goods/services-dependent. Thus, their features could fluctuate considerably by firm and situation. The Assessment Tool has a mechanism for converting each categorys raw score to a percentile score, as with the total scoring system. It is the Actual Category Score/ Maximum Category Score. This provides category scores that can be compared with a sites overall score; and categories requiring improvement are indicated.

able or confidential information is exchanged. In that instance, a firewall is a must.

Text Content A site must have content that satisfies user needs and it should be updated at least monthly. Content should be easy to understand for a user to get its full benefits. Even though a Web site can combine text, graphics, video, and audio in an attractive way, for many users, text content is still king since current telecommunications and computer hardware limit speed. Compared to graphics, video, and audio Web files, text files download quicker. In addition, the Internet was initially developed to exchange information using the written word. That mindset is still pervasive. Thus, the weight for text content tends to be higher than audio-visuals.

Audio-Visual Elements DISCUSSION OF ASSESSMENT TOOL CATEGORIES AND FACTORS Home Page Web surfing often begins with the home page. To maximize effectiveness, this page should offer a snapshot of the firm, along with points of contact. It should also note the sites major componentsusing icons with text captions. The page should compel users to check out the rest of the site. Attractive audio-visual elements help. Site Design and Performance Access speed and response time are very significant. Although some Web users have the best equipment available, time is always critical. The more quickly a user gets to the features sought, the more satisfied he/she will be. Clean, organized, easy-to-navigate pages enhance this time element. So does a low level of congestion. Entree to the home page and a customer inquiry mechanism should be easy to locate throughout a site because users may find themselves at a place that does not give them the information sought. Quick access to the home page, and to a customer inquiry mechanism is critical, and will heighten user satisfaction. Finally, data security is a significant design element. A site must secure user privacy if online ordering is availAlthough text content remains key, graphics, audio, and video are ways to enhance such content. The value of audio-visuals depends on the target market, the goods/ services, and the targets equipment. Graphics tend to be assigned greater weight as photos, diagrams, and illustrations are sought by more users. However, video and audio hardware may not be resident in a users PC, further minimizing their weights. Software that compresses audio-visual files decreases downloading time.

Interaction/Involvement This category is greatly influenced by the target market and type of good/service. The ability to send e-mail to the firm and get a quick response is expected. Weightings for these factors tend to be more consistent than for others. Chat rooms and interactive surveys are more important to certain markets than to others. Depending on the firm, higher levels of interaction may exist. Online ordering is an example. Although the Web is not generally used much for this purpose today, more users are buying online. As security improves, so will ordering. Another form of higher level of interaction is demonstrations. Some items lend themselves to this; software, CDs, and publications are ideal. The ultimate Web interaction is online product delivery. To date, this option is limited to a few goods/services (such as computer software and ticketless airline reservations). 351

Web sites must be assessed by each target audience.


APPLYING THE WEB SITE ASSESSMENT TOOL What follows is a case study format to demonstrate how the Web Site Assessment Tool can be applied. Two business-to-business marketing scenarios were constructed. The first one recognizes that a typical businessto-business Web site is geared toward multiple audiences. The second one looks at how competitive sites may be compared with one another. Scenario 1: Assessing a Web Site from the Perspective of Multiple Audiences XYZ Associates is a hypothetical consultant specializing in Web assessment for the computer industry. It has been hired to evaluate the site of the ABC company (a PC manufacturer) from the perspective of four key target markets: (1) MIS managers who buy desktop PCs and systems equipment. The target is not industry-specific; buyers represent both service- and goods-oriented firms. Although current computer capabilities within the purchasing firms vary greatly, members of this segment do tend to have the latest equipment for their own personal use. (2) Buyers who purchase PCs for computer resellers (channel partners of ABC). They are expert in PCs and Web site navigation. Channel support and customer service are most important. (3) Sales managers who buy notebook PCs for field salespeople. This segment is not industry-specific; buyers represent both service- and goods-oriented firms. The managers are most interested in the audio-visual capabilities of the PCs, as well as modem speed, for use in presentations to customers. (4) Small business owners who buy desktop PCs for use in running their businesses. This segment is not industry-specific; buyers represent both service- and goods-oriented firms. Users have limited PC experience and are looking to upgrade from 486 PCs to newer Pentium models. Usually, one to three PCs are bought at a time. User-friendliness at the Web site is imperative. Although the Web site categories/factors shown in Table 1 are appropriate for measuring the quality of ABCs site from the perspective of each of these target markets, 352 the weighting points differbased upon the characteristics and needs of the target markets. This is shown in Table 2. MIS MANAGERS. Due to their experience and goals, MIS managers are likely to place the least emphasis on ABCs home page and audio-visual elements, and the greatest emphasis on overall site design, text content, and interaction and involvement. Online delivery of software has some value to this group. BUYERS FOR RESELLERS. Such buyers are also apt to place the least emphasis on ABCs home page and audio-visual elements. Interaction and involvement are critical. Given their role in the distribution process, these buyers consider security measures, up-to-date information, and the quality of information to be important. Among the four groups, this segment places the greatest value on channel support and online ordering. SALES MANAGERS. Based on their background and goals, these sales managers are likely to place the most emphasis on the audio-visual, site design, and online product demonstration elements of the Web site. SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS. Due to their relative inexperience, they are apt to place the greatest value on site elements that are easy-to-ease, attractive, and informative. Online ordering is desirable for its convenience. The way to handle the multiple audience issue through a single company Web site is addressed in the managerial implications section at the end of the paper. Scenario 2: Assessing Competitive Web Sites XYZ Associates is a hypothetical consultant specializing in Web assessment for the computer industry. It has been hired by the ABC company (a PC maker) to evaluate the Web sites of competing PC makers from the perspective of the key target market of MIS managers who buy PCs and information systems equipment. A weighted version of the Web Site Assessment Tool was used to rate the sites of 10 real PC makers that sell to the indicated target market. Due to the rapid changes in Web sites, the firms were disguised and designated as Company A

TABLE 2 Weighting Assessment Categories/Factors by Target User: A Hypothetical Example of a PC Makers Web Site Weighting Points MIS Managers 5 5 2 12 7 9 4 5 25 5 7 7 4 2 25 4 2 2 4 1 13 6 6 0 2 3 4 1 3 25 100 Buyers for Resellers 4 4 2 10 3 5 4 8 20 7 5 7 3 3 25 5 2 2 5 1 15 6 6 6 2 2 2 0 6 30 100 Sales Managers 5 4 6 15 6 6 6 2 20 4 4 4 4 4 20 7 7 3 3 5 25 4 4 0 3 2 5 0 2 20 100 Small Business Owners 8 7 5 20 7 6 6 1 20 2 5 5 4 4 20 5 5 5 5 5 25 3 3 0 1 1 3 0 4 15 100

Categories/Factors Home Page Clear, quick snapshot of the company, points of contact Clear indication of sites contents Attractive, compelling audio-visual elements Total points for the category Overall Site Design and Performance Clean, organized, easy-to-navigate pages Speed and response time, low congestion Easy access to customer inquiry mechanism/home page throughout site Security and protection measures Total points for the category Text Content Up-to-date information Clearly written, easy to understand, and well-organized content Informational value Educational/training value Material presented in a compelling manner Total points for the category Audio-Visual Elements Graphical elements Video elements Audio elements Response time/speed of audio-visual elements Level to which audio-visual elements enhance the site Total points for the category Interaction and Involvement Ability to e-mail firm from the site and responsiveness of reply Customer inquiry mechanism/customer service Channel support Real-time online interactive elements (i.e., chat rooms) Interactive survey or program resulting in customized end user info Online product demonstration Online product delivery Online ordering Total points (score) for the category TOTAL WEIGHTING

through Company J. A form was completed by the authors (serving as the consultant) for each PC firm, along with a synopsis of the pros and cons about its Web site. Total scores and category scores were summarized. In weighting the Web Site Assessment Tool for this application (using the same weights shown in Table 2 for MIS managers), overall site design and performance, text content, and interaction and involvement are assigned 25 points each, followed by audio-visuals with 13 points and home page with 12 points. First and foremost in the mind of this target is the desire to gather data quickly and efficiently. Specifications, costs, and dealer descriptions must be available. Text content is critical, as is the ability

of the site to access and deliver information. Interaction and involvement is vital because customer service, e-mail, and demonstrations can aid MIS managers in decision making, and interactive options are helpful for post-sale support. From an audio-visual perspective, the user will want to see what a product looks like and perhaps view set-up diagrams. Because of the background and interests of this group, the home page has value but is ranked last in importance. Speed/response time/low congestion receives the highest weight in site design and performance since this maximizes user productivity. Navigation rates high for the same reason. Access to and responsiveness from a cus353

B-to-B web sites are often lacking in audio, video, and online ordering.
tomer inquiry/home page is also key for MIS managers, who often need instant communication. Security/protection measures are meaningful since confidential information may be exchanged. Regarding the factors in the text content category, the need for clarity and information are most important. Education/training rates higher than compelling presentation, as the manager may need to learn about new technical features in more detail to make a better decision. Timeliness of information also rates high. In the interaction and involvement category, the e-mail, customer inquiry mechanism, and online product demonstration factors are given a high amount of points: MIS managers often need in-depth information about products, and these factors are often used for technical support after purchase. With e-mail, customers send specific messages to the firm with regard to product requirements or technical issues. A customer inquiry mechanism lets the user do the same, but is limited to the questions posed. Responsiveness to e-mail and customer inquiries is a major indicator of how well a site is performing in this category. Chat rooms may be useful for technical and product data, but are weighted lower because the open forum format is not geared toward the needs of this business-to-business customer. Online demonstrations that allow potential buyers to see product features make decisions easier. Online ordering is critical to some large customers and is assigned three points for that reason. Online delivery is not an option for this type of good (except for software). Within the audio-visual category, the graphical elements and response time factors are assigned the greatest amount of points. Photos and diagrams are more useful to this customer than audio and video. As always, response time plays a critical role, and the main goal of visuals should be to enhance and clarify text content. Because the home page is often the front door to the site, it must provide a synopsis of the firm along with points of contact; some users may want to call the company and must be given the phone numbers to do so. It 354 should also be no mystery as to where the user goes to get the information desired. Using the Assessment Tool, the Web sites of Companies A through J were evaluated, based on an 11-point scale. A number from 0 to 10 was assigned to each factor in Table 1 (10 excellent performance, 5 average performance, and 0 total nonperformance) and summary scores were computed. Total percentile scores for the sites ranged from 52.0 for Company A to 85.5 for Company H. The average total score was 70.8. See Table 3. The mean category scores shed even more light than total scores. Average percentile scores were: (1) Home Page, 79.5; (2) Text Content, 77.5; (3) Overall Site Design and Performance, 76.0; (4) Interaction and Involvement, 61.5; and (5) Audio-Visual Elements, 57.7. Most of the firms did a very good job with the first three categories. Their home pages set the stage in a comprehensive, user-friendly way; text content was detailed and clear; and the sites were easy to navigate and relatively fast. However, few of the sites separated their intra-Web links into business-to-business and final consumer segments. The focus was too final consumer-oriented. Most sites were average to just-above-average with audio-visuals, and interaction and involvement. This was surprising given the firms reputations for innovativeness and their presence in the PC industry. In fact, Only one firm had an audio feature at its site (and that was quite limited). Although a few firms used a small amount of moving graphics as video, none of them offered an online video feature at their Web sites. Although six firms offered some online ordering, only four let a customer buy a broad assortment of current items. Most ordering also better served final consumers than business-to-business consumers. Please note: (a) Every one of the 10 sites reviewed here improved significantly from the time this article was initially prepared until submission of the final draft. This indicates the dynamic and rapidly evolving nature of the

TABLE 3 Using the Web Site Assessment Tool for a Case Study of Competitive PC MakersFrom the Perspective of MIS Managers Web Site Scoring (in Percentiles) Overall Site Design and Performance 69.6 74.0 78.4 83.6 83.6 65.2 67.6 91.6 79.2 66.8 76.0 Interaction and Involvement 37.2 49.2 53.6 67.6 83.6 69.2 65.2 83.6 58.8 47.2 61.5 Weighted Total Score 52.0 69.4 68.5 78.9 83.3 67.0 71.3 85.5 68.9 63.1 70.8

Company A B C D E F G H I J Average

Home Page 50.0 81.7 77.5 88.3 96.7 70.0 95.0 78.3 77.5 80.0 79.5

Text Content 56.4 88.8 80.4 89.6 85.6 68.0 76.4 90.4 68.8 70.8 77.5

Audio-Visual Elements 40.0 50.8 46.9 62.3 65.4 61.5 58.8 74.6 60.8 56.2 57.7

Web. (b) The top two sites in our analysis were also ranked among the top 10 business-to-business sites in 1997 by Business Marketings NetMarketing [37], indicating the applicability of the Assessment Tool. MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS Considerations in Planning a Web Site When planning a Web site, a business-to-business marketer needs to keep these points in mind: Specific goals must be set and the site designed on the basis of these objectives. The goals need to reflect both the firms and the Web site users perspectives. The site must be worthwhile and apropos for each target audience attracted to it. The best way to do this is to plan different entry links for each party from the home page. Thus, the needs of each audience are properly addressed. This is an application of differentiated marketing (whereby distinct marketing offerings are tailored to different target markets). The site must be easy to navigate and make it simple to return to the home page. Links to the components within the site should be available from throughout the site. Security must also be appropriate for the interactions conducted at the site. The special needs of the business-to-business audience must be incorporated into the site. This means there should be less emphasis on entertainment and more emphasis on product specifications, customer support, business applications (e.g., case studies), and so on. Firms need to research business customers to learn

what Web site features and how much online ordering they desire, and the format for them. The site needs to be as flexible as possible to accommodate different browsers, different PC configurations, and different connections. By allowing the user to click onto various formats (for example, Windows 3.1, NT, 95, and 98) at the site, a firm can better customize the site to its audience. Feedback mechanisms must be planned, whether they be surveys, e-mail, or comment forms. Tradeoffs need to be planned: speed vs. graphics and audio-visuals, a clean look vs. the amount of text on a page, the availability of online ordering vs. strong reseller relationships, and so on. One way to handle this is to plan intra-site links so certain features are selfcontained. Thus, a user interested in a video demonstration of a PC could click onto a specific link, learn how long the download will take when he/she enters the link, and not be slowed down if he/she is disinterested in a video demonstration. Business-to-business marketers should use more glitz; they just need to be creative in doing so.

Considerations in Managing a Web Site When managing a Web site, a business-to-business marketer needs to keep these points in mind: Everything possible must be done to maintain the speed of downloading Web pages. This may mean adding servers and links, upgrading Java, using the latest releases of Real Player and Shockwave, etc. 355

The four Cs of assessment are consistency, company, competition, constituency.


Information must be as current as possible with regard to product specifications, prices, links, etc. This entails updating the site regularly. This is also a way to keep users coming back to visit the site. New Web site features should be added as soon as feasible. Given the huge strides being made with audio and video, these elements are utilized by too few business-to-business firms. Consider how effective it would be to answer FAQs (frequently asked questions) in an audio or video manner. Rapid response time is necessary for all e-mail, orders, and other customer queries. If a response will take more than a day, the user should at the very least receive an e-mail advising him/her as to when a full reply will be forthcoming. On a day-to-bay basis, business-to-business customers must be treated separately from final consumers. This is why intra-site links by target audience are so important. Dedicated company personnel should be assigned to key accounts and communicate with the accounts regularly. Web site activities must be integrated with the rest of the companys marketing program, especially inventory management, follow-up sales calls, price quotes, and special promotions. The site must be continually promoted, not just when it is first launched. Users must be reassured as to site security in placing orders and in providing confidential data. Considerations in Assessing a Web Site When assessing a Web site, a business-to-business marketer needs to keep these points in mind: Measures must be closely related to the goals and criteria for success set by the firm. Not only should companies look at the sales and hits generated by the Web site, they must also get feedback about the many elements of the Web site through consumer surveys and expert ratings. One way to get such feedback is by using the Web Site Assessment Tool described in this article. 356 Membership in a group such as the Institute for Business Studies Business Marketing Web Consortium (http://www.smeal.psu.edu/isbm/web) that exchanges information on Web sites would be helpful. Business-to-business Web site assessment should incorporate the 4 Cs: Consistency: A consistent tool should be used to track a sites performance longitudinally. Company: Firms should have their sites regularly rated in absolute terms against an overall standard of excellence. Competition: Firms should regularly benchmark their sites against those of competitors. Constituency: Firms should have their sites rated by each different constituency that is attracted. Outside parties should evaluate the site in an objective, systematic, and thorough manner. A process must be in place to react to the feedback gathered through site assessment. Considerations in Applying the Web Site Assessment Tool The Web Site Assessment Tool presented in this article is a valuable way to rate site effectiveness. It is a comprehensive, systematic evaluation technique that incorporates the major categories of Web sites, the factors within them, and a method for weighting, rating, and scoring these elements. The basic tool is easy to customize (as shown with the case examples noted); and due to its flexible design, the Assessment Tool has great potential for use by a variety of firms, regardless of size, industry, consumer type, good/service, or other characteristics. Category and factor weights can be adjusted to accommodate the varying goals and attributes of firms. The tool yields a total score and category scores (six scores per firm), and can accommodate many nuances. It has a built-in mechanism that assigns scores to each category and converts them to percentiles. This is particularly useful, as it instantly notes areas of excellence and areas for improvement. The broad categories identified in the

Web Site Assessment ToolHome Page, Site Design and Performance, Text Content, Audio-Visual Elements and Interaction/Involvementcover the key areas for Web site success. Factors in each category capture the critical data needed to evaluate that category. Subjectivity challenges do exist for such factors as graphics. What is attractive to one user may not be to another. Here are specific recommendations for further research on Web site assessment: The Web Site Assessment Tool offers a way to do evaluations among firms in a multitude of industries, as well as to assess Web sites within industries and between industries. A step towards this end would be to implement case studies similar to the ones in this paper by adjusting the weights accordingly. To enhance the quantitative nature of appraisals of Web sites using this tool, a large group of evaluators is needed. Furthermore, feedback must come from multiple audiences. An understanding of the type of equipment and Internet connection in force by the user group is critical in conducting assessments. Differences must be noted (such as different color and font settings). Before a formal evaluation is undertaken, the validity of the categories and factors in the Web Site Assessment Tool for the particular company, market, and industry should be tested, along with the weights assigned, perhaps with focus groups comprised of the particular markets whose usage will be the basis of the site evaluation. Fine-tuning should then be done. To minimize subjectivity, site evaluators should be given precise guidelines to rate each factor. For example, a guideline for the home page factor of clear, quick snapshot of the company and points of contact would be that the visitor can obtain a topline overview of the firms business and contact information such as phone numbers, addresses, and fax numbers either from the home page or not more than one click away from it. The clean, organized, easy-to-navigate pages factor for Overall Site Design and Performance could be further defined as the availability of help and search tools at the site. Text Content would be considered up-todate based on when the site was last updated. For the graphical elements under the Audio-Visual category, evaluators would be asked to rate the degree to which these elements enhance or detract from the content. Under Interaction and Involvement, the difference between e-mail and customer inquiry tools would be explained.

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