You may have believed that running a poorly designed B2B site only has bad implications for your customers because they don’t get what they’re looking for. As a result, they’re inconvenienced and go somewhere else.
However, according to Japanese business statistician Genichi Taguchi, you really need to rethink that in the worst way possible. It’s already known that it is the manufacturer (read: your B2B company) that comes up as the big loser when your B2B site is of low quality. Think it ends there?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Society as a whole is also negatively impacted when your product (read: your B2B site) is of low quality.
Taguchi even came up with a graphical depiction to make the point that society (read: both consumer and manufacturer) suffers when products deviate from their target value.
Today, we know it as the Taguchi Quality Loss Function.
The exciting news is that this function has major implications for your B2B site. Major. You’re involved, your customer’s involved, and basically everyone else is involved, too. Bet you didn’t think that all those consequences could result from a poor B2B site design, did you?
We suggest you strongly revisit what it takes to create an effective B2B site…and learn more about what Taguchi’s Function means for your B2B site.
A Short Introduction to Genichi Taguchi
Genichi Taguchi was a statistician and engineer who started to develop his famous methodology back in the 1950s. To this day, his approaches—collectively referred to as the Taguchi methods—have been met with both acceptance and some scepticism, particularly in the West.
His Quality Loss Function is an example of the application of statistics to better the quality of manufactured goods.
Even though his calculation is specific to manufacturers, you can take it to the bank that you can also apply it to the quality of your B2B site.
He actually started his adult life by studying textile engineering at Kiryu Technical College, but a stint, during World War II, in the Astronomical Department of the Navigation Institute of Japan’s Imperial Navy changed his life course. After the war, he developed an interest in the design of experiments, and that led to a 12-year stint at the Electrical Communications Laboratory in the 1950s.
From there, his authority as a business statistician began to increase, along with the popularity of his ideas. He eventually began consulting in all areas of the Japanese industry, spent some time at Bell Labs, and was named professor of engineering at Tokyo’s Aoyama Gakuin University.
He racked up a number of honors throughout his career—including the Indigo Ribbon from the Emperor of Japan and a membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He died recently, in 2012.
With such a prolific career and many achievements to his credit, it’s no wonder that Taguchi’s ideas on quality, the manufacturer, the consumer and greater society have a ripple effect down to even your B2B site.
We’ll look at that next.
What Exactly Is the Taguchi Quality Loss Function?
The Taguchi Quality Loss Function is all about evaluating the quality of a product. When Taguchi debuted his function, it was highly controversial since it suggested a radically new way to evaluate the quality of a product.
Whereas everything to that point had defined product quality as the correlation between market size for the product and loss, Taguchi’s calculation went way beyond that narrow definition and looked to the customer and society in general.
We can understand his function even better when we look at how Taguchi himself defined quality. According to him, the quality of a product is associated with the losses resulting from it. This was in stark contrast to the old-fashioned definition of quality, which said quality is fitness for use. Taguchi’s definition added more depth and complexity to the definition, though, thereby making it more meaningful to understanding.
"According to Taguchi, the quality of a product is associated with the losses resulting from it."
“Quality is the loss a product causes to society after being shipped, other than losses caused by its intrinsic functions.”
He refined his definition further, adding that any losses in his definition have to be restricted to two, distinct categories. They are:
Loss caused by variability of function
Loss caused by harmful side effects
A good-quality product or service would be one that satisfies its intended functions without variability (diverting from the intended use) and causes little loss via harmful side effects including operating costs.
Remember always that Taguchi’s main concern was the improvement of products and services. His breakthrough was the recognition that, in any industrial process, it’s necessary to continually produce products or services on target.
When products or services failed to be on target, poor manufactured quality would result, which would then incur extra costs on manufacturers, consumers and society at large.
Let’s look at a specific example of what Taguchi meant when he defined quality in this way. Keep in mind that losses associated with the variability of function include:
- Lost money: the amount you’d have to spend, as a consumer, to fix a product by buying replacement parts
- Lost energy/time: how long it takes you to fix the problem with a product
Let’s say that you buy a horrible lemon of a car. You, as the consumer, and the manufacturer who made the car both suffer negative outcomes. After buying a low-quality car, you’d have to spend a good deal of money on maintenance and replacement parts. After selling this low-quality car, the manufacturer would inevitably suffer a loss of reputation and negative customer feedback, both of which would reduce the market share of the manufacturer.
Okay, now you see what Taguchi’s Quality Loss Function is all about. Now, we show you how that relates very intimately to a poor B2B web design.
Relating Taguchi’s Quality Loss Function to B2B Web Design
The B2B process usually starts like this: Your buyer has a problem, and he’s looking for a solution. If your B2B website has been planned thoughtfully, then your B2B website should be the starting point for solving his problem.
Unfortunately, if your B2B website is a joke, then it sets the wheels in motion for what will be a negative ripple effect throughout all of society.
Sound extreme? It’s actually not, and here’s why.
In an ideal world, a buyer would find the B2B site that shows him how to solve his problem, and as a result, choose the vendor that can ease his pain points. Having a lousy B2B site cripples this ideal situation where loss is kept to a minimum. If the buyer happens to find a sub-par B2B site through Google, it immediately turns into a communication problem in several ways that costs you and the buyer (and society at large).
"Having a lousy B2B site cripples this ideal situation where loss is kept to a minimum."
Aspects of Problematic B2B Site Design: The Culprits
1. Bad Site Navigation
Site navigation is all about the user experience, first and foremost. It’s the difference between your buyer finding what he wants to on your site easily and quickly and your buyer wasting a lot of time searching on your site for information that should be readily at hand. When bad site navigation enters the picture, your buyer won’t be able to determine what pages on your site he’s already visited, where the most important information is located, and, of course, the solution to his problem that your site should provide him with.
Site navigation is so important to a B2B site that it’s been studied forever, as in authoritative studies by usability gurus like Jakob Nielsen. It’s so vital that your B2B site lives and dies by it.
The Cost of Bad Site Navigation to You, Your Buyer and Society
You may think that bad site navigation just means that your buyer goes somewhere else, and that’s the end of it. Wrong.
You, your would-be buyer and society as a whole suffer additional costs.
Let’s first tackle your B2B company’s loss. Naturally, you lose a buyer if your site navigation is so wretched that he refuses to do business with you because he can’t find what he’s looking for, but your costs go beyond just losing a sale.
Look at it like this: Your B2B company will lose all of the possible recommendations that your would-be buyer could have given you if he decided to stay on your site because your navigation was top-notch.
When you lose those very important word-of-mouth recommendations, you lose new leads, some of whom may end up converting into actual buyers. As a result, you lose the sale from your initial would-be buyer, and you also lose revenue from the potential conversions you could have had.
Now that that’s out of the way, we’ll look at how your buyer is also hurt by your bad site. The cost to your buyer is represented in how he won’t find the solution that he’s looking for. This means lost time and productivity for him as he has to waste time getting in touch with you by phone or email to make sure that he hasn’t overlooked something on your site in his search for a solution.
Finally, society as a whole suffers because everyone’s productivity takes a hit.
Your B2B company now needs to find new buyers, your would-be buyer wasted time dealing with you and still has to look elsewhere for his solution, and both of your respective customers/partners/etc. will be slowed down because the pairing (buyer and vendor) didn’t work out.
2. Bad Site Copy
We’ve stressed many times how important site copy is to a B2B website. Web design would be absolutely nothing without copy: text, call to action buttons, persuasive content, etc.
Bad site copy on your B2B site is another way to incur a massive cost on society, besides causing unnecessary costs to both you and your buyer.
Site copy is how you communicate with your buyer by making sure that he understands what your product or service is and how it solves his problem. If your site copy is abysmal, your buyer won’t understand what your product or service does, how it’s better than your competitors, and why he should pick your B2B as his vendor.
"Site copy is how you communicate with your buyer by making sure that he understands what your product or service is and how it solves his problem."
To make sure you don’t waste the time of your buyer, the site copy has to be stellar…or else.
The Cost of Bad Site Copy to You, Your Buyer and Society
When your site copy is awful, your buyer won’t choose you as his vendor. Yup, that’s going to lead to a lost sale, but the cost to your B2B company goes beyond that, too. Because site copy is vital to communication, anyone visiting your site should be able to make heads and tails of what product or service you’re selling. If the site copy is extremely bad, others will notice.
Some may even choose to hold up your B2B site in a negative light by making an example of it in an article in a popular trade magazine or blog. As a result, loss of reputation and market share can follow.
Your would-be buyer also takes a loss because, assuming he doesn’t give up in frustration and just check out another B2B’s website, he’ll have to waste a lot of time in clarifying what your bad site copy really means. He’ll have to do this by looking for additional information.
This can include spending longer on your site than he wants to, picking up the phone to talk to one of your salespeople, and potentially even meeting you face-to-face…all because basic questions weren’t answered with the copy on your site.
Of course, the ripple effect through society also follows suit again. The loss of productivity for you and your would-be buyer, as you engage in unnecessary communication that could’ve been prevented by crystal clear site copy, will negatively impact your team, other buyers, partners, etc.
Even when something as seemingly benign as site copy is off…society in general will suffer additional costs in the form of lost productivity.
3. Lack of Clarity
Clarity is another ultra-important aspect of any good B2B site. Clarity is basically when your buyer can go on your site and understand exactly what the next step is on every single page. For instance, let’s look at a landing page. A landing page ends with a call to action button because you want to capture a lead’s personal information. Your landing page should be super-clear, so that your lead knows that what’s expected of him is to enter his personal information to get something in return.
Another prime example of clarity on your B2B site is in pages describing your product or service.
If you’re offering your buyers different price plans or points, then your buyer should know exactly where to click to get what he wants. Anything less than such basic straightforwardness will result in more loss to you, your customer and society at large.
Let’s see how that happens when clarity is absent.
The Cost of Lack of Clarity to You, Your Buyer and Society
Again, the cost of lack of clarity on your B2B site reaches well beyond your B2B. Sure, such a site where nothing’s clear and where the steps on every page aren’t spelled out will repel buyers, leading to a loss of a sale. However, there are other losses, too.
If your would-be buyer has to get in touch with you over the phone or in person, it will lead to a loss of productivity at your B2B, as you have to get entangled with clarifying things to a non-committed buyer instead of focusing on selling to buyers how they want to buy. It goes without saying that this leads to more lost revenue.
Now, your would-be buyer doesn’t just lose time and productivity by having to get in touch with you because your website’s lack of clarity fails to answer his questions from the get go. He will also continue to suffer the losses caused by his problem that your website could’ve solved for him (if only your website made everything clear on each page), until he finally finds the B2B that addresses his pain points clearly.
This means more lost revenue on his part, too.
The longer time it takes for him to find a solution also means that his clients suffer because he’s not operating as efficiently as he can.
Finally, society comes in for it, too. Basically, everyone else who’s dependent on you and your would-be buyers will suffer because of the lack of clarity on your site. The lack of clarity leads to more unproductive and inefficient communication between you two, which means that your customers and your would-be buyer’s customers get less of your time to deal with their issues. As a result, society as a whole suffers a ripple effect of less productivity from something as simple as the lack of clarity on your site.
B2B owners are usually motivated by increased conversions and revenue if they commit themselves to designing a site that makes it easy for their buyers to find what they want. After this look at Taguchi’s Quality Loss Function, we argue that they should also be motivated by the desire to avoid the additional and heavy costs that they, their buyers and society at large will suffer due to a bad site design.
Taguchi’s work is inspiring. It inspires us to create a B2B site that’s truly excellent because now you know that what’s at stake is much more than unhappy customers. The reputation, productivity, time and money of you and your customers are at stake. Beyond that, costs to society in the form of lost productivity are part of the consequences of a poor B2B site as well.
To avoid these losses, we suggest that you read the following articles to really become familiar with what it takes to build a sound B2B site:
What’s the worst thing that your B2B site does wrong right now?
What single aspect of your B2B site can you tackle immediately to improve its quality?
How would you define quality as it relates to a well-performing B2B site?