Fix Your Web Page Or Lose Business
I'm shocked by how shortsighted some VARs and systems integrators can be. In particular, I'm talking about how little effort they put into developing their Web sites. For channel companies with more than, say, $20 million in annual revenue, the quality of their Web sites isn't an issue. They have slick-looking home pages with Flash graphics and multimedia — all maintained by a Webmaster who actually has a degree in Web design. In contrast, the companies with less than $20 million in annual revenue frequently have Web sites with few pages, outdated information, and static home pages that have scarce graphics aside from the obligatory waving American flag. And if these sites are maintained, it is usually by someone at the company who lists 'Web site development/maintenance' at the bottom of their to-do list.
After being involved in the design/redesign process of four Web sites, I know this can be a stressful, time-consuming, and costly task. But, if done right, it's worth it. VARs and integrators have lamented to me for years about increased competition in the channel, yet many of them have done little to improve their face to the world — their Web sites. What they're not taking into consideration is the number of potential clients who have passed them over due to an amateurish-looking Web site. Let's face it; that's the reality of business these days. A customer's first impression of your company is often through your Web site, so don't put all of your faith in that waving American flag; get some Web design help.
Whether you hire a new internal Webmaster, contract with an outside Web design firm, or decide to attempt the design yourself, first come up with a plan. Review what your competition is doing. Ask your existing clients what they look for in a Web site. Determine what best exemplifies your company's expertise (e.g. products, service), and make that message loud on your home page. Avoid platitudes like "Our service sets us apart from the competition," because no customer believes it, and every VAR says it. I recommend before you plan your Web page, review the Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines (www.usability.gov/pdfs/guidelines.html) document from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It's long, but you can skim through it and get some great tips (e.g. "Treat your home page as the key to conveying the quality of your site.") on Web design that are supported by research.
And don't forget, if you use a distributor, you probably can get some Web site help there, too. Many distributors offer professional services such as the development of Web storefronts that include product 'configurators' and direct links to a distributor's inventory. Using distributors' Web-related professional services can reduce the amount of time you spend on maintaining your Web site, improve the look of the site, and enable e-commerce.
I remember in 2000, one of the first VARs I interviewed for Business Solutions had no Web site, and I was shocked then! I recently searched for the company on the Web and found its site. I was greeted by a white home page with no photos or navigation bars/buttons. The text was black and basic, and the only links opened PDFs, which according to the HHS document, is not the type of user experience you want to offer. Some would argue that a Web page like this is sufficient, and that a good salesperson making cold calls will do more than even the slickest-looking Web site. I agree with the latter point, but I disagree that this kind of minimalist Web site is sufficient. If you improve the look of your Web site, then you're making it easier for a good salesperson to close the deal.