Providers: Stop giving Deb Kops a headache and sort out your websites

Deborah Kops, HfS Research Fellow

Deborah Kops, Research Fellow, HfS Research (after a couple of aspirin)

Not many people have marketed for providers, bought from providers and negotiated with providers as much as Deb Kops over the last 50 years or so.  She has heard more vernacular, more puff and fluff than anyone… and now it’s time to answer her plea:

I’m dreaming of a great provider website

When I’m trying to keep up with the latest sourcing trend, I take a look at provider websites. While I always learn a thing or two, and get a good sense for where the industry is going, I generally come away with a headache, not only trying to read what’s on the page, but more important,  grasping the message. I’d like to think I have at least an average intellect, but when some of these sites are written to try to impress someone with three PhDs in applied logic, I move onto the next search. And that’s not good.  

It bollixes me that the best thing to hit outsourcing marketing since offshore locations is the advent of the website — inexpensive, flexible, interactive, data-rich, with worldwide reach, and offering the potential for clear differentiation. Yet why are outsourcing providers’ websites such an abysmal lot when, for many, they are buyers’ first introduction to a provider?

After a casual perusal of a variety of websites, and a blinking headache, I’d thought I’d share the website sins against mankind that our industry regularly commits. They are such simple-to-fix transgressions that they are almost comical. But when a website is the front door for many buyers, it’s a serious matter. Read my list of most egregious transgressions:

Plain English. No, you don’t get extra credit for sentences that ramble on for ten lines, with a liberal sprinkling of every word ending in “tion” that’s currently found in the dictionary. And this is not just a diatribe against websites written in so-called Indian English. Many other sites — British, American, you name it — are equally guilty.

Speaking of plain English, if as a provider you have global aspirations, the lingua franca is American English spelling and syntax, just as it is for most global businesses. I know it’s hard to give up s for z, and use the term batch for class, or know more in place of learn more, but Americans are a parochial lot. If you are putting up only one website, it should be targeted to American readers. After all, rumor has it that we are the most aggressive outsourcers.

And since we’re on the topic of plain English, please don’t coin new words. I cannot find re-devising in the dictionary — or thoughtsharing, for that matter.

No jargon. If I were queen, I’d make it a criminal offense to use the following words:  enhance, enable, transform, partner, passion, and innovation. They are used so liberally, they either become meaningless or the reader automatically redacts them. Whatever happened to simple words such as improve, fix, change, speed, deliver? Do the writers of these sites really believe that the use of big words impresses the reader?

Many provider sites also manufacture acronyms as code for new nomenclature in order to appear more sophisticated. Does the reader take the time to understand an alphabet soup that is best used internally?

Fewer adjectives. As a corollary to the use of big words, look at the majority of outsourcing sites and you’ll see a liberal sprinkling of adjectives in an effort to impress. Please understand that all firsts are pioneering by nature, or that a 14-year continuous period is by its very nature sustained, or that if you are committed to excellence, then truly should go without saying. Marketers pushing pioneering firsts, sustained continuity and truly committed should truly be committed.

Unsubstantiated boasts. How many sites start out with “[company] is the leader in outsourcing?” And then the reader hunts through the site to find that mysterious third party that says it’s so. Suffice it to say, leadership is something that is not self-proclaimed, but recognized by the industry. If a third party says you are a leader, or superior to the industry in any way, it holds water. If there’s no independent attribution or accolade, tread very lightly. Braggadocio (an unfortunate big word) does not go down well with good clients.

Parity across offerings. Ok, 50 percent of your revenue is in utilities, while most of your solutions revolve around finance and accounting. But you want the world to know that you also have expertise in banking, higher education and retail; visitors should also be aware that you have an HR gig or two, and that you know your way around a trading platform. But your site is overwhelmingly devoted to your strengths, with a full complement of solution descriptions, white papers, customer accolades, webinar podcasts and other artifacts, often on a microsite, while the other industry or service solutions have a scant one or two paragraph description.

Convince me that you are serious about growing other verticals or horizontals by taking the time to invest in putting something of import on the site: some thought leadership or perhaps a webinar. Let me know you have some insight, or at least a point of view into the industry’s challenge — that if it’s important enough to invest in the target market, you’ve taken the time to invest in solutions and opinions.

“Lopsided” sites persuade no one. Don’t purport to be a full service, multi-industry provider when your website reads, to paraphrase the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” like “Four Hobbies and a Business.”

News I can actually use. Now I am very pleased that xx company won the Silver Pigeon award (which I’ve never heard of), and very happy that they have the dosh to exhibit at the upcoming Source to Us symposium. I’m also delighted to know that the chief executive looks smashing in cricket gear, or that the company is sponsoring the gold cup at the World Mud Wrestling Finals. But I’d much rather know about the fact that the provider found a way to link a retailer’s order to cash process with that of his supplier, cutting out 10 days of AR,  featured prominently on the home page, or that there is a corporate initiative to bring more diversity into the management ranks.

Original branding. While I’m banning jargon, I’d also like to ban the use of iStockPhoto. Yes, it’s easy to use and free, but when I see the same graphics over and over again (you know which ones I am referring to — the one with the flow chart drawn by a hand on a transparency, and those Gumby-like creatures that either hold hands or march in formation to scream “team,” or various iterations of a spreadsheet.) If your brand is worth promoting, it’s worth thinking through a graphic idiom and investing in iconography that really encapsulates the brand.

White space and large print. There are no extra points awarded for packing 10,000 words in a remarkably small font onto one web page. And given the fact that digital is an inexpensive and flexible way to communicate, the cost should never get in the way. Give our eyes a rest, and invest in a little white space that frankly highlights some of the words of wisdom on the page. Regarding fonts: it may be my advanced age, but I cannot fathom why providers are so attracted to fonts that require someone with 20/20 vision to take out a magnifying glass.  It detracts from the message.

Easy navigation. Less is more when it comes to navigation. It’s not uncommon for outsourcing sites to have such a complicated wireframe that has enough dropdowns to fill a small stadium. By the time one has clicked five times, they’re finished — and may be missing out on something you really want them to know.

About Us sections that actually are about you. Locating a page describing the leadership is sometimes like looking for a needle in a haystack. For the life of me, I cannot find a friendly face on many outsourcing websites.

Like most of us, I’d like to know more about the people I am dealing with — in addition to CEO, the CFO and the chief counsel. After all, it’s not executive management who do the work, it’s the business line leaders and the solution heads. And when the provider is of offshore heritage but purports to be global, I’d love to see a roster of leaders that does not look like an IIM yearbook, with a stray foreign exchange student or two. And for those of you who think your brand trumps all, and it’s not necessary to post pix and bios, think again: we learn a lot from the type of people you hire, their level of experience, and how they complement each other. Ultimately, propinquity (another sesquipedalian noun, sorry) rules: people do business with people who are like them, so we look to see if there are leaders we can relate to.

Dynamism and currency. Don’t think websites are just a “put ‘em up and forget about it” task. A good website must be managed each and every day. Take off the archives of events that features webinars back in 2007. Solvency II may be last year’s issue, not front and center this year. What the CFO thought about the future of finance and accounting outsourcing in 2009 is no longer of general interest. If Joe is no longer with the company, take his title off your artifacts. Keep it current, make sure it’s relevant.

The Bottom-line:  This is easily fixable.  Now fix, please

The good news is that all of this is easily fixable — if management starts thinking about how the reader perceives the site. A wise partner of mine once told me that it’s not enough to focus on what you are saying — it’s how the listener hears you. Taking a cue from him, it’s time for the industry to start looking at their websites as buyers do.

Deborah Kops is Research Fellow, HfS Research (click here for bio)

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16 Comments

  1. Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Nice article and one very relevant for a company that is 3 1/2 years old, in the out sourcing space,and just released our new website a week and a half ago. I sent your link to my marketing department to give them some additional perspective on how our site should look and read. I think they have done a great job, but web sites are like musical instruments. You have to tune them up regularly to ensure their relevancy. Thanks again and we would love your comments on our site http://www.onesourcevirtual.com

  2. Posted April 27, 2012 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    Suggestion : HfS should start an annual award for the best outsourcing website…
    would mean more headaches for you and your team !!

  3. Posted April 27, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    Michael, glad comments useful. Most OS companies think their websites are about them, but they are really about connecting with a client.

    Anup, great idea re websites. It certainly would make a change from spending weeks putting togehter award submissions!

  4. Posted April 30, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    “Like”

    Great summary and a nice prod to those of us who think we did a decent job – we can always improve.

  5. Posted April 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Steve, the best thing about the move to digital is that is a constant work in progress, and websites can flex as providers evolve. thanks for sharing.

  6. Posted May 2, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Marketing Leadership Council did a study last year finding that B2B buyers get 60% of the way through the buying process ON THEIR OWN using online tools like Google, Social Networks and company websites!

    Shared your post with 3FORWARD’s outsourcing provider clients! Your advice will help us all do a better job of being more relevant and sounding more human when they (hopefully) find our sites. Thanks!

  7. Posted May 2, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Great number to share, Matt. Perhaps 60% will be more compelling than my rant!

  8. Posted May 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Good you weren’t talking about me inasmuch as I seek only to enhance myself and my relationships as a truly transformational partner through raw passion, and innovation as enabled througout my continous 15+ year career dedicated to the succint communication of supremely relevant ideas yet ever mindful of the terribly short attention span of our collective audience and the overriding intolerance for the typical blather that goes on and on as if the period is some evil form of punctuation and the instatement of a fresh sentence of such excessive effort that you wonder if it is done out of fear of losing the original thought before it is on paper. In the mean time I’ll be on the lookout for examples of the behavior you describe.

  9. Posted May 2, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Matt, you elegantly proved the point. had to read your comment 3x before i distilled it to its essence, which, as i read it as–if i don’t have something pithy to say, it’s best to say it in 10,000 words. thanks a bunch. you made my day.

  10. Posted May 2, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Deborah as always… great piece (nice to wake up to some business intelligence). I would also share with you and your readers a piece that we put together back in June 2010 entitled, “100 Mistakes the Companies Make”. This piece characterizes some of the things that providers do that is simply killing them both in terms of business opportunities and buyer respect. If you or any of the readers want a copy drop me a line at JDurant@Int-IOM.org

  11. Posted May 3, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Hi Deborah, very insightful advice served in nice bite sized chunks. Most of all, I admit agree that we providers have overused the “enhance, enable, transform,…”, etc. – although, if you do banish those words, I suppose many Advisors / bloggers would be at a loss for words too :-) . Speaking as someone whose day job is managing a provider website, clearly there’s a lot of scope for across-the-board improvement, but at the same time, let some changes be guided by metrics and data, and not on concepts alone. A page that’s content-heavy might also be ranked highly by Google for that very same reason – so removing jargon and adding white space might actually be counterproductive. But technicals aside, your suggestions to us providers are excellent (obviously stems from your understanding of the domain). And why limit it to just provider websites – the concepts apply to all other brand collateral. I’ll close by being an absolutely unapologetic web marketer and say to all hfs readers – VISIT http://www.wns.com.

  12. Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Sameer, for taking the time to comment.

  13. Bhuvana D. Chandar
    Posted May 7, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Kudos ! Very well said Deb.

  14. Nigel Edwards
    Posted May 13, 2012 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    Wonderful piece of writing, Deborah. Succinct, straightforward and to the point as ever. A breath of fresh air. Often, the dynamic to create website content is driven by C level, and top level marketeers who tend to be more distant from the business realities; who are often driven by the macho need to compete with the lexicon jargon of their competition; and who re driven to be ‘consistent’ with some other form of ‘global’ branding, whether or lot this relates to the specific services on offer. The result is that the pressure to be on ‘corporate message’ tends to filter out the nuance and that could make this efgort much lore relevant.

    I wonder that, if we gave this task to more mid-level and experienced execs, who ‘know’ the business environment in which they operate, and who know what their business has to offer, would we get a better outcome?

  15. Posted May 13, 2012 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    Oh, Nigel, if only…. Many of the execs you cite are not au fait with the importance of a website, and are not around when it comes to crafting a better message. Why? they don’t see websites as important as those damned PowerPoints; communicating only in bullets! When it’s time to work with the marketing team, they are too busy. What to do?

    Thanks for commenting.

  16. Thom Mead
    Posted May 16, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Good Article…and equally offensive are the countless vendors who submit propoals for anything and everything in the hope of winning something. In their penchant to never miss an opportunity, they have win rate in the low single digits. Be great at something, not mediocre at everything. Ferrari does not built Corvettes or Dump Truck. They build amazing sports cars and people pay a premium for them. McKinsey is not the biggest consulting firm, but their rates are the highest. By companies, and their corresponding websites, trying to be everything to everyone they in the end are nothing to anyone. Part of the problem is Marketing often does not command the respect and influence it deserves in most companies, and more often than not, it is treated as a necessary evil that the company wished it did not have to include in the budget at all. As a rsult, the website is driven by the various management disciplines and Marketing is left to merely execute their collective wisdom. The few that do it right are easy to spot…because they stick out like a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

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