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What’s Important to B2B Marketers?

June 20th, 2006 by Bob Bly

DH, a B2B copywriter, shocked me by saying in a recent e-mail: “My clients aren’t looking for results — my clients are looking to make their jobs easier … I often write simply to take the stress load off my client.

“One client says to me all the time, ‘Thank you. You make me look good.’ That is my job, as I see it.”

I write a ton of B2B, and that’s not at all how I see my job.

My job is to write the strongest possible copy for the client’s product or service — copy that’s going to increase click through rates, conversions, leads, appointments, RFPs, and sales.

In other words, copy that makes the cash register ring!

So let me ask those of you who ARE B2B marketers — or who work for B2B clients:

What’s most important to you?

Writing safe, tame copy that is exactly what the client wants, and can be approved without hassle or rewrite?

Or writing the most powerful copy possible, to make money for the business?


This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 20th, 2006 at 5:43 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

76 responses about “What’s Important to B2B Marketers?”

  1. Ed Gandia said:

    Bob —

    First, in all fairness, I suspect DH’s comments may have been taken out of context. Correct me if I’m wrong, though.

    Second, I’ve found that b2b (which represents 95% of what I write) is a bit more complex in that there are often other objectives other than pure results. There ARE inter-department politics involved. There ARE multiple reviewers who don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t like it, but it’s the reality of writing for corporations.

    Lastly, it’s really not ENTIRELY about response in b2b. That’s because not everything you write is a direct mail piece. How do you measure response to a case study (in terms of actual sales of a $1 million ERP system)? How do you accurately measure the results of new web copy? How do you measure the results of a white paper (other than the email campaign that promotes it)? It’s hard. And not everyone in b2b will take the time to measure like they do in b2c.

    And if a copywriter wrote these pieces (case studies, white papers, web copy, etc.) like they did b2c direct mail, they’d be out of business. It would be like trying to sell your neighbor a $2,000 water filtration system (which I did at one point in my life) and using a hard sell approach…instead of a gentle, soft approach where you arouse curiosity first and then little by little build more interest…until he invites you over to the house for a “demo.”

    Two different set of dynamics. Two different approaches. Two different ways to write. You get my drift.


  2. Robert Rosenthal said:

    It’s wrong to simply give clients what they “like.” If you consistently deliver what clients expect to see, and the outcomes are bad, they’ll generally fire you in short order after the results arrive.

    A much smarter approach is to skillfully stand up for your beliefs every day you show up at the office. It may cost you some money every now and then, but in the long run, your career will be richer.

    The direct marketing industry needs more creative people who dare to be great — and managers with the integrity to support them.

  3. Ardath Albee said:


    I took DH’s comment in a different context. I don’t think she’s necessarily taking the easy way out here. I mean, if she didn’t write effective copy that produced results, how good would her client look?

    I also agree with EG that B2B marketing is about building relationships, creating engagement through impacting needs and showing prospects how to solve problems. Not something that creates clicks to the cash register – at least not immedidately. Much of B2B is a long sales cycle and instilling confidence through knowledge transfer is a big part of creating the trust that leads to a sale.


  4. Dianna Huff said:


    I would have been happy to go “on the record” with this comment — you only had to ask.

    As I said to you in other emails, I do write for results. And, as I said to you, I bill myself as a B2B MarCom Writer, not a B2B direct response writer. As EG says above, often times it can be very hard to measure results.

    To wit: I spent seven months completely rewriting the R&D section of a Fortune 500’s Website. The client’s expected outcome for the project was copy that told their story in a compelling manner in order that researchers would consider the company for future projects. We spent months defining their message so that in the end, they got engaging copy that explains, in conversational English, their very technical service.

    The copy also had to go through approval processes which included other teams in the organnization. Not only was I writing for the prospective customer, I was also writing to the org’s hardline rules about content/messaging. As you say, that is “hack writing.” So be it — but it’s my job and one I do very well.

    The end result is that I have one very happy client — one who uses me repeatedly.

    One of the reasons I pitch myself as I do is because I’ve seen what passes for “B2B writing” from less experienced writers. It is crap. Whether it’s Web copy or a case study, my copy *always* adheres to B2B marketing writing best practices — those that get results. If you don’t think so, go read some of my articles on my Website, look at my Portfolio, and then talk to some of my happy clients.

  5. Bob Bly said:

    Ardath: I have been writing B2B for 27 years. In my experience, your copy either sells or helps sell the product, regardless of how easy or difficult that is to measure. If you write to please a committee, you are probably not writing to please the more important reader: the prospect. Right?

  6. Bob McCarthy said:

    Hey Guys

    Let’s not forget who the client is – the person paying our bills.

    If our clients don’t place a high priority on sales or leads or ROI, that may be a flaw in their thinking – but it’s still their call.

    Question them, challenge them, advise them – but in the end, give them what they want or walk away. It’s their money.

    Bob McCarthy
    McCarthy & King Marketing, Inc.
    Milford, MA

  7. Bob Bly said:

    BM: But why would I want to write copy for clients who don’t understand it, value it, or appreciate great copy when they see it?

  8. Bob McCarthy said:

    Bob – of course, we would all like to have clients who share our idea of what good marketing and good copy are all about. Some clients do, some do not and some just have different priorities.

    Although I have my limits too, I don’t have the luxury to walk away from every prospective client who fails to meet my expectations.

    Bob McCarthy

  9. SteveZissou said:

    Bob –

    I imagine for most people the answer to your question to BM is because they want to feed their families. I would love to tackle some exciting new projects within my company, but upper management (after considering our input) sets the agenda and we do our best to achieve the goals they establish for us, even if we believe there might be more valuable uses of our time. For 99.9% of us that’s the real world.

    There is also the possibility that what you consider “great copy” might not be great copy for this specific client – not to say it wouldn’t be great for someone else, but to me copy isn’t one size fits all. I work for an extremely conservative company – our definition of great copy would likely be quite different than, say, Apple. The copywriters who work with us and can’t (or won’t) recognize that fact don’t work with us for very long, their work just doesn’t get approved by upper management here. I am certain the few of them we have had to move away from would tell you that they wrote great copy for us and we weren’t smart enough to recognize it – they might even be right about that in some cases – but my company has been alive and strong for eighty years and we are set in our ways (mostly because they work).

    To me, if I was posed the question you asked BM in a business meeting my response would be:

    Why would we want to work with copywriters who don’t understand us, value our input or appreciate our experience? To be truly successful I think you need to meet half way – if we both feel it’s great copy, then it probably is.

  10. Alexey Novikov said:

    Robert Bly –

    DH wrote about her client’s approach, not about herself. She wrote: “My clients aren’t looking for results — my clients are looking to make their jobs easier”. She did not write “I’m not looking for results”.

    It’s a pity, but sometimes it happens. I frequently hear from my clients before redesign their websites: “We did this splash or that huge animation because our boss (or committee) wanted that”. They often look for “good-looking” picture, not the result. And they ore often surprised when Conversion Ratio increases after removing their beloved “big cool animated picture”.

    So, clients often look to make their jobs easier or make their website (advertising, etc) good-looking.

  11. Bob Bly said:

    AN: If you owned the company, would you want a marketing director whose main driver was (a) making her life easier or (b) generating maximum ROI from the marketing budget you gave her to spend?

  12. Ed Gandia said:

    Come on, everyone. It seems silly to be arguing about this issue. Like polititcs or religion, this issue has no winning end, and we all know it.

    It boils down to this: It’s all about what projects and clients you feel comfortable taking on. If you don’t want to work with clients that are going to butcher your copy and strip its soul out, that’s great. If you don’t care what they do with the copy, that’s great, too!

    We all have standards. And we all have ups and down in earnings. I recently told myself I won’t do any more work for a particular client. Even if I’m starving, I just won’t do it (I’m a bit overweight, so I can stand to miss a few meals!). But there are others I’d rather not do much with…yet I’ll take one of their projects if I need to drum up some revenue.

    I don’t have the luxury of turning down everyone who p&%$es me off. But I have to admit I’d love to be in that position, and I’m working towards it.

    I think we all strive for results — copy that generates some kind of action or emotion, whether that’s a purchase, an inquiry, or even a change in attitude. I know I’m big on results. But in the end, it’s all about doing the best job possible, every time…AND having clients that will RAVE about you.


  13. Robert Rosenthal said:

    What a cool debate! Some points to consider:

    * A so-called “conservative” management team is sometimes very willing to try a radically different approach if they value the accomplishments of a writer or creative team, buy into a well-thought-out approach, or suddenly find themselves needing to turn around lousy outcomes. It all begins when someone skillfully challenges the status quo.

    * When it comes to copy and art, way too many direct marketers rely on speculation, opinions, and biases, rather than real-world facts. If a major direct marketer isn’t regularly running interesting tests of the major elements (including creative) in a controlled way, they’re doing a less-than-optimal job. In the end, this business is pretty simple: Roll out the winners and shoot the dogs. The talk is just that — talk.

    * If you hire a great copywriter or creative team, it’s generally more productive to defer to them and make sure they’re excited about the finished product. Why pay good money for creative talent if you’re going to ultimately do what you’d do on your own? If you have an idea you want to run, don’t hire someone with first-rate credentials — hire a pair of hands to execute it. A movie producer wouldn’t hire Spielberg and then tell him how to make the movie, right? If the creative team knows their stuff, they’ll pay attention to your history, opinions, and ideas — then move ahead in an objective manner.

  14. Alexey Novikov said:

    Robert Bly –

    “…If you owned the company, would you want a marketing director whose main driver was (a) making her life easier or (b) generating maximum ROI from the marketing budget you gave her to spend?…”

    That’s nearly the same question I ask my clients.

    Of course, ROI! I’m just trying to say that cients often act as if they want easiness ?? beautiful picture, not ROI. It’s irrational, but it is so. There’s a sort of managers driven by their own vision and preferences. And those people often decide whom to hire and whom to pay money, so they pay for “making their life easier” of “big cool animated picture”.

    But copywriters needs to eat — so that’s why many of them do as DH told.

  15. Bob Bly said:

    Ed: I don’t think it is silly, but a critically important issue. Do you write to please a client and ensure quick approval? Or do you pull out all the stops to write a winner that smashes the control? A top copywriter once told me: “If the client loves my first draft and has no changes, I worry. It means I haven’t stretched the envelope far enough.”

  16. Dianna Huff said:


    I have to interject here and comment that this discussion, and my comments to you in a private email, have been taken way out of context. My original comment to you began when you sent me a survey you had done with the BMA. The survey was quite interesting and in fact, I was going to ask you if I could mention it in my own blog.

    I commented on the survey in a private email to you because I found the responses to the survey interesting. I had no intention of my comments being made in a public forum like this blog — and if I had known you were going to do so, I would not have responded as I did.

    In addition, when I said I “work to make my clients’ lives easier” I in no way meant that I don’t “push the envelope” or recommend to my clients better copy strategies or that I write fluff copy that passes first round inspections with ease. That is *hardly* the case, trust me.

    However, I do know how to work within the corporate structure, I understand corporate politics, and I understand that many companies cannot push the envelope when it comes to copy. I’m able to work within those strictures and I do it well.

    On top of that, I don’t write controls. I told you that.

    I’m upset that you took my comments to you (which I considered between you and me, not the world, but I guess I was wrong) and posted them in your blog without asking me first. I think you owe me an apology.

  17. Bob Bly said:

    DH: I didn’t use your name. YOU chose to identify yourself. And I offered several times to remote the whole discussion. You never responded to that.

    That raises another issue: my blog is about marketing. I write about marketing issues that interest me. Am I not allowed to write what I want? If I had named you, then I understand your objection. But I did not. Would it have been OK if I had used fake initials? No name? Or am I just not allowed to use the comments?

  18. Dianna Huff said:

    Bob, I consider it a professional courtesy to ask people if I can use their comments or ideas in anything I write for a public forum. However, you bring up an interesting issue, one that Debbie Weil touched on when I last spoke to her. I am paraphrasing from memory, but she said she now states that conversations she has with people are off limits to blog posts. Perhaps all of us should note we should speak with care since it is now very easy to have your comments posted in a public forum. I have learned a good lesson — initials or not.

  19. Bob Bly said:

    DH: Interesting comment from Deb. I don’t know the correct answer. You say you don’t use other people’s comments without their permission on your blog. But as writers/commentators on marketing, could that possibly limit our ability to be good reporters/observors? My policy has been to report on interesting marketing ideas or approaches I encounter in my daily work, but not name the person who is the source. Perhaps I should rethink that. Of course, all client information is confidential!

  20. Robert Rosenthal said:

    Well, gang, you just opened Pandora’s Box. Like Bob, I blog about my crazy and wild experiences at work (only my blog isn’t nearly as popular as Bob’s). My policy is to NEVER name a name unless I have something really nice to say about someone. If I couldn’t write about the goings-on at our direct marketing shop — or had to jump through hoops to do so — my blog would definitely be a lot less interesting.

  21. SpongeBob Fan said:

    Regarding using names, a friend of mine is a psychoanalyst who writes books about her cases. I asked her once what she did to protect people’s anonymity, but still stay true to the spirit of their story. (I figured it must be a lot of work, involving changing a lot of details.)

    Her answer surprised me. “Oh”, she said. “I just change the name and one major detail. If their problem is with their mother, for example, I change it to an aunt who raised them.” Apparently that is enough to give the original subject complete deniability, and gives my friend “profesional cover.”

    Since Dianna is a frequent poster to this board, it did seem to me at the time that Bob’s post might involve her. Bob may have wanted to simply change the initials to FJ (one letter over from DH on the keyboard). Simple enough, but gives everyone an out and allows open discussion of a worthy topic. IMHO.

    (I always used to use my name on boards … until I had a problem with an on-line jerk. Bob is no jerk, and – he’s quite right – he didn’t “out” Dianna. But online is different from face-to-face. Which is why I just do not use my name on boards anymore.)

  22. Bob Bly said:

    Sponge: I like your solution. DH: What do you think about the changing initials approach? RR: You are right: what’s “fair game” for bloggers is a whole other topic, and I will address it in more detail in future posts.

  23. john cass said:

    Hi bob, I think you had good intentions when you blogged about Diane’s email and did not reveal her name. But if you are going to mention someone’s private comment, and criticize that comment it probably best to let that person know you are going to write a public blog. I typically send articles that have quotes from people back to the person to get an okay.

    Let me ask this question, now that you’ve gone through this experience would you take the same steps in writing the blog post?

  24. Bob Bly said:

    JC: John, I don’t know. Unlike you, I do NOT send articles back to people I have quoted for their approval — for the simple reason that I do not have the time. If someone asks me to do so, I decline and instead interview another expert.

  25. john cass said:

    Everyone takes different paths to the same destination. 🙂

    What about my question, would you do anything different? Also, congratulations on the really nice apology to Diane.

  26. Bob Bly said:

    JC: I think I may go the route suggested here by SpongeBob: use initials, but different than the person’s name. So John Smith becomes KR or JP. In DH’s case, I will run anything I use about her for her approval prior to posting. If she says no, it doesn’t go up.

  27. john cass said:

    Hi Bob, sorry to analyze what just happened here. But my research into corporate blogging often addresses issues of social norms.

    I find it interesting that you are changing your behavior based on your online relationship with Diane. You had said normally you would not send a piece back to an interviewee to check before publishing, and now with Diane you will.

    This is not a criticism but an observation.

    I think it’s an example of what happens in general with online blogging relationships. Where conflict occurs however slight, we want to make sure as individuals that we are taking steps to ensure we are upholding the norms of the community. Which is what I think you did in this case. I’d discussed the issue of taking the private conversation into the public before. Such conversations would have happened in private and resolved in private before. However, I think the public nature of these conversations definitely affects their outcome.

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