The Trouble with B2B Marketing
By Robert W. Bly

It's not easy being the marcom manager of a B2B company.

In addition to the usual marketing communications challenges you must deal with, there are several other issues B2B marcom managers face.

One is marketing products that are inherently technical and complex, which means they are often difficult to understand.

B2B agency owner Joe Lane once commented, Consumer marketing is simple thoughts for simple folks.

When you are advertising a bar of soap or a chocolate cake mix, neither you nor your agency has a difficult time grasping the features and advantages of your product.

But when the product is a semiconductor or a spectrophotometer, marketing that product involves achieving a degree of understanding that is not always easy to attain.

One shortcut I've discovered to understanding technology: buy and read a children's book on the subject. If an explanation is intended for a child, a lay adult can certainly understand it. If there is no children's book available, buy a nontechnical book on the subject intended for a lay audience.

For example, I once had the assignment to write a brochure for a company that bought and sold gold and silver bullion, a topic which at the time I knew nothing about. I bought a popular book about gold written for teenagers and quickly got up to speed with a basic education on the subject.

You might also take a course to get up to speed. One ad agency account executive was assigned a welding account, and found that he could not understand the terminology the client used. Nor could he empathize with the needs and concerns of their target market, professional welders.

His solution was to take a course in welding 101, which eventually turned into a series of classes that led to his becoming a certified welder.

Two benefits resulted. First, he could speak the client's language - in fact, speak it better than they could. And second, he understood his target audience better, because he had become one of them.

A science or engineering background is a definite plus when you are assigned the task of marketing technical products. You simply have the knowledge to quickly get up to speed on any new technology you encounter.

The second challenge of B2B marketing is to understand not only the product but also the prospect - his needs, concerns, desires, and fears.

Getting inside the mind of a B2B prospect is typically more difficult than understanding how a consumer target market thinks.

After all, when I am hired to write a direct mail package to sell a stock market newsletter, the target audience is investors. And I, like millions of other Americans, am an investor. So it's easy for me to think like the prospect, because I am one.

But some time ago I was hired to write a direct mail package to sell a publication aimed at pediatricians.

I am not a pediatrician. I am not even a doctor. So I have very little insight into what worries, issues, and problems are important to pediatricians.

Clearly, a big challenge when marketing a B2B product to an audience of which you are not a member is getting inside the minds of your target prospects.

There are several things you can do to go about it.

First, subscribe to and read the trade publications covering the target prospect's industry.

Pay particular attention to the letters to the editor column. It is here you can see what's on your prospects' minds.

Similarly, find and frequent the major blogs covering your prospect's industry. Read not just the blog posts but study the comments. They can reveal hot button issues and where people stand on them.

Not always easy to do, but if you can, interview a few of your customers. You can learn not only what's important to them but which features of your product they value.

If customers are not available for interviews, attend events where your prospects hang out. Eavesdrop on their conversations to get a sense of the language they use. When I first did this at a meeting of IT professionals, I was shocked to discover how much they relied on jargon in their conversations and eschewed plain speaking. This reduced my compulsion to always write copy to them in the simplest language possible, and I began to embrace the special terminology they used, so as to sound more like one of them.

Another challenge B2B marketers face is figuring out how and why their customers make buying decisions.

According to copywriter Steve Slaunwhite, here are some of the questions to ask the product manager and sales manager about the prospect's buying habits:

How do your customers buy? Is there a typical process?

Why do they buy instead of doing nothing?

What prompts them to make the decision to talk with you in the first place?

What do they need to know to make a buying decision?

Who else is typically involved in making the buying decision?

Why do they choose your product over the competition's?

Says Slaunwhite: Unless you have answers to these questions, your copy is just going to skim the surface or, worse, be completely off target.

Copywriter Ed Gandia agrees. He says one of the biggest frustrations B2B marcom managers have with their agencies and writers is not having a solid understanding of the clients' business drivers and industry challenges, as well as the challenges the client's prospective customers are facing.

B2B clients aren't just looking for clear and persuasive copy, says Gandia. They need someone who 'gets it.' Someone who understands the bigger picture and how their clients fit into the competitive landscape.

The last requirement, how a B2B marketer fits into the competitive landscape, is - thanks to the Internet -- much easier to ascertain than in the past.

In the good old days, the only way to learn what your competitors were up to, short of industrial espionage, was to steal their brochures at trade shows.

Now, a simple Google search of industry keywords (e.g., widget manufacturers) will bring you a list of most of your competitors. Clicking on the URL links to their web sites brings you the details you need on their products, markets, and operations; and you can find the rest in their annual reports.

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 75 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). You can find him on the Web at, or e-mail him at, or phone 201-385-1220.