The first rule of B2B copywriting: know your audience

Having a clear idea of your target customer - and writing for that person - is the key to successful B2B copywriting. Here's how to understand them.

This is a story of a B2B buying journey (albeit quite a short one), and how copy can be instrumental in converting web visitors to sales. It illustrates what I think should be the first rule of B2B copywriting: have a very clear idea of who your audience is, and write explicitly for that audience.

It’s also quite a good story about how Twitter can work in B2B – even if it’s just an anecdotal one.

A Tale of Two Cloud Accounting Programs

About a year ago, as the Radix business was starting to get serious, I decided I couldn’t carry on running our finances just using Excel and Word. We were raising about 20 invoices a month and it was getting far too laborious and dull – not to mention mistake-ridden – to do by hand.

I knew I wanted an online accounting package, as I didn’t want to buy expensive software licenses or a server to run them on. I also wanted our accountants, based a few hundred miles away, to be able to access it too. So a cloud-based program was the obvious option.

From following Sage’s marketing manager Jason Sullock on Twitter, I knew that Sage had just launched a cloud version of its accounting software. I also knew of another online accounting package (which shall remain nameless), as I’d had several enjoyable Twitter chats with its founder.

(Neither of the companies in question are Radix clients, by the way.)

So with not much time on my hands, and because I get confused when faced with too much choice, I decided these two packages would be my shortlist. From there it was a visit to each of their websites to check out which one might be the better option for me.

This is where the bit about knowing your audience – and reflecting that in your copy – comes in. As a small business owner with only the most basic finance knowledge, I was looking for something undaunting, easy to use, and tolerant of accounting novices.

This was (roughly – it’s probably changed a bit since last year) the page I was greeted with on arrival at Sage’s Sage One website:

Sage One Homepage

Check out that strapline: “For small business owners and their Accountants”. Turning a charitably blind eye to that weirdly-placed capital ‘A’, what could be more relevant to me than that? I’m a small business owner! I want our accountant to access our financial data too!

But that’s not all. Look at the column at bottom left. “An online accounting service for small business owners who don’t have time to learn accounting.” That’s me! With a fast-growing business and two kids under five, I barely have time to brush my hair, let alone learn what a purchase ledger is, or how to do a bank reconciliation. Sage One must surely be the right accounting package for me.

And there’s even more. Beneath that, there’s a whole bulleted list of things that I, as an accounting-illiterate, time-starved small business owner, might want to do with my online accounts software:

All of this is talking to me in my language. These are exactly the sort of things I want to do, in pretty much the same words as I would use to describe them. Everything about the copy on this website talks to me as a potential customer, and accurately describes the things I want to be able to do. Ergo: I am instantly attracted to Sage One. Hurrah!

Jack of All Trades

Then I went to look at the other one, which I’m sure is a great piece of software. But I would have been hard-pressed to recognise it as the right application for me from its homepage copy. It billed itself as an online accounting package designed for all sizes of business, from SMEs up to large corporates, and with the ability scale from one to many users.

This I wasn’t at all sure about. If it could be used by large corporates, wouldn’t it be too complicated for me? And what might the company mean by ‘SMEs’? In my experience, different software vendors have very different ideas of what constitutes a ‘small’ or ‘midsize’ business – sometimes defining the ‘S’ in ‘SMEs’ as companies with as many as 500 employees. Would this package be suitable for small business owners, or is it really meant to be used by finance professionals?

This is a classic problem for B2B technology companies who want to cast the net wide. By positioning themselves as applicable to everyone, they run the risk of appearing applicable to no one. There’s an excellent post about this by Doug Kessler, director and copywriting supremo at Velocity Partners (who are a Radix client, incidentally), about the problem of trying to make your marketing content relevant to all your potential customers. Doug’s conclusion:

The Reco: do occasional broad-brush content marketing but, as a rule, do more pieces and make each one highly targeted, with a persona so clear you can talk to it.

Needless to say, I signed up to Sage One and we’re still using it today. It may not be the best cloud accounting software out there, but it sounded as if it was actually talking to me, and that’s why I felt very comfortable choosing it.

So next time you’re writing marketing copy, stop and think about your audience first. If you can make them recognise themselves in what you’re writing, you’re already halfway to making a sale.

And if that means divvying up your homepage into separate sections for different types of audience, each one using language and information appropriate to that audience, then do it. It may be (a bit) more expensive, but I think it’ll more than pay for itself in conversions.

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