Business-to-Business

Imagine you're writing two brochures to promote a new brand of house paint. The first targets homeowners, the second professional painting contractors. Would you write the second brochure in exactly the same way as the first? Probably not. The contractors will have a different set of needs and desires, as well as a more sophisticated knowledge of paint. While quaint descriptions of family dinners in a beautifully painted dining room might captivate a homeowner, a contractor will respond more to such technical facts as the square-foot-yield per gallon or the drying time required between coats.

The second brochure belongs to a category of marketing called business-to-business. As the term implies, this refers to businesses selling products and services to other businesses rather than to consumers. (As you've probably guessed, the other main category in marketing is business-to-consumer.)

Most of the general rules of effective copywriting apply to business-to-business communications. You need to explain the features carefully, bring the benefits to life, build belief — everything you learned in Chapter 3. However, you need to be aware of some crucial differences.

Business-to-business goes by many other terms and acronyms. The most frequently used are B-to-B, B2B, and business marketing. For some strange reason, even B@B is sometimes used. So when someone asks if you can write B2B copy, don't mistakenly think they mean for a bed-and-breakfast!

What Makes B2B So Different?

Business people tend to have split personalities. That doesn't mean they're psychotic. It's just an expression of the tug-of-war that goes on in their minds when making a buying decision. On one hand, they want to address the needs of the business. On the other hand, they have personal quirks and preferences, too. Usually, the result is a compromise. That's why you'll see an expensive marble table in a boardroom, even though the company doesn't really need something so extravagant. The VP just likes it.

Business people also tend to make buying decisions based on a need rather than a want. For example, a consumer might buy new shoes just because she wants them — even though she has a closet full of shoes. By contrast, a businessperson will tend to buy only things that the business needs. A warehouse manager, who likes flowers, will have trouble getting a purchase order approved to decorate the warehouse with geraniums. But a new forklift truck? Probably not a problem.

Finally, business buyers may know a lot more about the products than you do. If you're writing a brochure to promote an air-conditioning system to HVAC contractors, these professionals are going to know air-conditioning systems inside and out. Your job, as the copywriter, is to present all the technical features and applications clearly, accurately, and persuasively. Lofty platitudes about a cool, comfy home just won't cut it.

Writing Tips for B2B

Here are some tips for writing powerful business-to-business copy:

  • Stress the business benefits. Business buyers act on behalf of a company. So highlight how your product or service will reduce costs, increase sales, avoid liabilities, gain a competitive advantage, improve quality, boost productivity, or accelerate cash flow.

  • Stress the personal benefits. Business buyers are individuals. So explain how your product or service will save them time, make their job easier, make them look good to their superiors, get them promoted, advance their career, or get them home in time for dinner.

  • Features are important, too. Don't rely on benefits alone to sell a product or service to a business audience. You must fully explain all the features of what you are selling. A human resources manager will want to know the dry research statistics behind the success of a new management training program. A plant engineer will need detailed technical specs before she orders a new pump bearing.

  • Write to the job title. Not all business buyers have the same beliefs, interests, and desires — information you need to know to sell your target audience. A financial manager will have very different purchasing habits than a sales manager. The first will want to keep costs down and buy only if you demonstrate a solid payback. The second may be willing to spend just about anything to reach her sales targets.

  • What's the payoff? A business buyer often thinks of a product or service in terms of the potential return on investment. By saving time, reducing costs, or improving performance, how long will it take for the product to pay for itself? There's no bluffing your way through it. Your copy must present a solid business case.

  • Highlight the track record. Unlike consumers, business buyers don't want to be the first to try something. They're not about to jump on board the latest trend too quickly. Instead, they want products and services that already are working well at other companies. So be sure to include plenty of customer testimonials, product reviews, client lists, success stories — anything that establishes a track record of success.

  • Get to the point quickly. The main challenge in business-to-business communications is to write short, effective chunks of copy. Business buyers have no patience for long-winded puffery. They're too busy! So you must quickly explain what your product or service is, what it does, and how it benefits — otherwise the business buyer will simply move on to something else.

  • Speak their language. Every profession has its own buzzwords, acronyms, and colloquialisms. If you're writing copy aimed at IT managers, for example, be sure to use terminology they are familiar with. (A tip: Review the trade publications your audience reads to get a sense of the language. A warning: Be accurate; nothing will torpedo the credibility of your copy more than incorrectly using a term or acronym.)

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