Most of the copywriting work I do is in the world of B2B (Business To Business) - marketing on behalf of companies selling products and services to other companies, as compared to companies selling to private consumers (B2C).
Emerging B2B companies tend to make very similar mistakes in their marketing, and for very similar reasons. For instance, they overly focus their messages on the nature and features of their products, rather than on the motivations that business owners have for considering. These marketers elaborate mainly upon what they themselves value in their own product, rather than on what their customers actually value, need, or want. And since there's a disconnect, the resulting marketing campaign ends up far less effective than it could be.
When I sit down with a B2B client for the first time, we begin with an interview. I always digitally record it for future reference; the recorder has a much better memory than I do, and offers us both the freedom to really discuss the client's needs without the constant "wait a minute" interruptions of note taking. As we talk and really begin penetrating what the company does, I work to reduce this mass of information to the answers to three basic questions.
I call these questions the "holy trinity" of B2B marketing - the three points that have to be addressed in order to make a solid business case. If we don't address any of them, the sale is doomed; one point gives us a chance, if followed up with a solid in-person presentation that addresses the other two points. Two of the three means a real fighting chance even before the meeting. If we can nail all three points effectively, the sale is almost a lock.
What customer risks are we mitigating with our product?
Risk is the reason business exists, a basic value that every businessperson understands and appreciates. We all take risks every day in order to grow; we accept risks in order to survive. And every healthy aspect of a business is meant to mitigate and manage risk. So what risks are we mitigating or managing for the customer?
Let's say that your business makes paper shredders. Your shredders cut more thinly, cost slightly less and are generally better built than other comparable portable commercial shredders being sold in the same market; up until this point, your sales materials have been written around these direct selling points, which have proven to be an effective talking agenda in face-to-face sales meetings. But on paper, they haven't been as effective as you want them to be. What's wrong?
The problem: when your customer reads a brochure, website or other piece of marketing collateral about your business, they are approaching the subject cold. They came to the table with their own concerns and values, rather than yours. And so they're more concerned about their own problems than your wonderful qualities.
The solution: instead of talking up the product features, think instead about risk. What risks are your paper shredders mitigating for this customer? Your machine's thinner cuts mean more effective shredding - the paper is harder to piece back together, making the customer's business more secure in its confidential papers. That means less chance of industrial espionage, less chance that an accidental data theft or loss could lead to lawsuits or worse. Your product makes business less risky for the customer, takes pressure off their bottom line, and allows them to make better and clearer business decisions as a result.
How are we saving the customer money (in a directly quantifiable way)?
It's not enough to simply save the customer from risk, because business risks tend to be balanced against each other. A serious risk may often be considered acceptable, if the cost of mitigating it is prohibitive; the risk of financial loss outweighs the serious risk at hand. If we're going to sell this customer on our paper shredders, we need to do more than make their business safer - we need to save them money while we're at it.
There are many ways to do this, even if our shredder happens to cost more than competing products. How much money would a lawsuit, data loss/theft or company security breach cost your customer? Looking closely at your product, even if they're more expensive than competitors, how do they pay for themselves? How do they ultimately save the customer money - over competing products, as well as whatever they are doing currently?
What opportunities will our product help develop for the customer?
The third point is about vision. Every growing business is going somewhere, is chasing some long term goal. Now that we've cut some risk for the customer and demonstrated that we can save them money in the process, what's the ultimate point? What can the customer do with your product that they can't do without it?
This can be a hard point to quantify, since so many products and services don't directly impact the global strategic vision of the company. But there's always an opportunity there somewhere, and we need to know where it is.
At this point we've now demonstrated that our paper shredder cuts thinner, relieving a business of some of the risk of handling confidential documents - thinner cuts mean less chance of data loss, industrial espionage, etc. We can offer this technology at lower prices than comparable quality shredders, and at prices competitive with lower quality machines. That puts high end shredding technology into the hands of businesses that otherwise couldn't afford it.
Customers who purchase our shredder are now more powerful than they were before; they can do things that they couldn't do before. They can reliably take on more confidential work, for instance, opening up opportunities in more lucrative and established customer industries. Buyers can compete more aggressively in their own markets. Ultimately, smart purchasing decisions will make more money for the customer, bringing them closer to their long term business goals.
Power and business goals are what B2B marketing is all about. A powerless business is one that won't grow; it can't compete, loses more money every year, and will ultimately fail. It can't achieve its goals.
How does your product or service make your customer more powerful as a business?
Answer that question first, and then talk about your product. Three points and a final answer, and you'll rapidly bring your prospect closer to what they truly want - and your own business closer to another satisfied customer.