And much of my experience has focused on one area: selling. It might have been for a research report, training course, conference place, advertising opportunity, reference book, magazine subscription (lots of those), professional service firm or online database.
So I’d like to look at a four-stage approach to the business of selling to businesspeople.
First – we’re writing to sell to people at work
Whatever else we know about our reader, we know this: they’re busy. (Not time-poor, incidentally – I’m a fan of, if not a proselytiser for, plain English.)
That means one thing.
We have to be relevant, not brief. Here’s my point. An executive won’t read a ten-word email if they don’t think it’s relevant; ergo short isn’t better.
Next, our reader is making a business purchase. As writers, we have to uncover and promote the benefits to the business of taking the desired action. Here are a few that tend to be true of most products and services.
Save money. Save time. Make bigger profits. Reduce staff turnover. Improve productivity. Boost shareholder value.
You are also usually selling to a decision-making group. So you have to address the needs, motivations and reservations of each member of the group.
Second – we’re writing to sell to people
There’s one inescapable fact that a lot of b2b copywriters forget.
Businesspeople are still people.
And even if they do make decisions based on the business benefits, they are also considering how their decision will affect them personally. So to make a strong and personal connection with your reader, it pays to address the deep-seated concerns they have as human beings.
Find the emotional hook, the pathway to their inner motivations, and you can bring the sale closer.
Third – we’re writing to sell
At its simplest, selling means focusing on benefits not features. But as writers we can do a lot more to involve our reader.
Telling stories is a hugely effective strategy to engage the attention of busy managers. It’s hardwired into the human brain to listen to stories—I recently helped a major global publisher write a proposal that started “Once upon a time”.
Selling also means engaging the heart as well as the head, so using personal language is a great way to start.
As pronouns, “you” and “your” are far, far better than “I”, “we” or “us”.
Fourth – we’re writing
There is no separate language called ‘b2b-ish’. Though to judge from the stream of rubbish addressed to the MD of Sunfish, many companies who want my business believe the opposite. So use plain English.
Why say “prior to” when “before” is available? Why say “substantial revenue stream enhancement” when you just mean “a big hike in sales”?
And it pays to distinguish between technical vocabulary and the threadbare clichés that fly around most organisations.
I have many favourites, but high on my list just now is “going forward” (as opposed, presumably, to “going backward” – always useful in business).
And my point is?
Executives have enough on their plates without being forced to decipher the mangled gobbledegook* palmed off on them by ill-informed, lazy writers. So when YOU’RE writing for a business or professional audience, treat them (and the English language) with some respect.
*Gobbledegook: n. colloq. Pompous or unintelligible jargon [prob. imit. of a turkeycock].
The Concise Oxford Dictionary (and probably the best-ever definition of most business writing you’re ever going to find).