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I've spent about 3 years trying to answer this question myself, so I thought I'd give you guys a go.

Here's the situation:

  • My company provides training services.
  • You can either (i) book a course for your org/business etc. or (ii) you can attend a public course on one of the available dates
  • I want to funnel users so that the information is tailored to them e.g a business would look for a more formal page, whereas an individual would prefer something more friendly/personal

My current approach:

  • The site is essentially a pretty directory of course pages.
  • On the course page, a button says 'book now!' and takes you to an enquiry form.
  • We get enquiries from business & individuals, often confused about whether we are a public or private course company.

How/at what point I should I try to differentiate the users? What happens to e.g an individual who wants to attend a public course but also has a business and could be persuaded to book a private course in future. An example site that does this well would be great.

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Depending on your set up and business objectives this may not be the best solution, hence why I haven't listed it as an answer. But... Could you possibly offer the different services via separate marketing sites? The benefit here is that you can build a brand around that specific arm of the business. Whether to the consumer or not. It also removes an confusion for the user as to which service they require. –  Daniel Meade Nov 5 '12 at 21:40
    
Thanks. This is an interesting answer. I suppose it would mean sacrificing the brand equity that I have built up (at least for half the business). And there are edge-cases who kind of blur between the two arms of the business, see the q. But thanks for the idea. –  Chris M Nov 5 '12 at 22:13
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1 Answer

I would explain the differences right up front, the first thing on your page they see. Have two big buttons, one for public classes, and one for private classes. Funnel them, as you said.

http://jsfiddle.net/pMTRD/

Make both pages friendly, personal, and modern. Business or not, it's still a person looking at the page and so the page should be friendly and easy to use.

Once the user has already specified the type of classes they'll be interested in from the very beginning, keep a fairly prominent button on every page that gives them the option to switch! Someone signing their employees up for group classes can switch directions and easily navigate to the page where they sign up for a public course just for themselves. I would make it look something like the big "Ask Question" button in the top right of this page.

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Yep I like this approach, have you seen this done in the field at all? Is this the sort of thing that should be stored in cookies? How should search engines treat this? –  Chris M Nov 5 '12 at 22:14
    
@ChrisM: If the pages are substantially different, search engines will see them as different pages. If the pages are largely the same, search engines will see them as duplicate content (this is bad), unless you use a canonical link tag, in which case search engines will tend to only offer one of the two paired pages per search (this may also be bad). SEO isn't really a UX topic, so for further elaboration you may be better off asking on webmasters.SE. –  Brian Nov 5 '12 at 22:32
    
Even google has two buttons on the front page. Brian is right though, SEO starts to get into a different topic. I will say, I would consider using two different domains. Much the same way stackoverflow.com differs from stackexchange.com –  hillsons Nov 7 '12 at 4:14
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