Empathy is at the heart of business-to-business marketing.
Joy is fleeting. Pain endures.
Pain, fear, anxiety … these are strong emotions that drive behavior. This is true of life. Life is also, it turns out, the very stuff of marketing, even that most rarified and peculiar kind—business-to-business marketing.
Last week I had a conversation with a small business owner who described how well she is able to help her business clients, and how well she is liked by them, but our conversation was focused on her online marketing, and particularly its keynote expression, her website. The message on the home page was catchy, and it spoke to the features and attributes of her offer. It was similar to what you often find on other websites offering similar services.
It was not effective, and here is why: It was about her service and not her marketing target’s needs.
When I asked her whom she was targeting, she started listing the business categories she served.
“No. Who?” I said, “Who are the actual people that buy your services?”
She thought about it, and then she started to describe them. There was a common thread among the types of people she was able to attract and help. This person, this stereotype of her clients, is her target persona.
“What is their pain? What keeps them up at night?”
In business-to-business marketing it is easy to forget that companies are not buying your services, people are.
Seeing where I was going, she objected saying, “If I get so specific, won’t I alienate others who do not have those same issues?”
Maybe, but an effective marketing message cannot be a glancing blow. It must hit its target squarely in the gut. If the message’s emotional contact point is genuinely painful, it will be much harder to ignore.
A mis-targeted message is one that, in effect, says nothing. This is, of course, the essence of marketing strategy—know who you are after, read their minds, and speak to what they truly value. Your target’s pain is actually a great place from which to launch this conversation because pain is a fantastic motivator for action.
Is their pain the failed promises of other providers? Have they been burned by over-promising and under-delivering service providers whose non-performance is endangering their job, and by extension, the education of their college-aged kids? This is genuine pain. It’s real, and although this may be hard to see from your vantage point, a headline on your website—or other business-to-business marketing platform—that delivers a solution to this pain makes for a much stronger opening salvo than any message akin to “we have great service.”
The conversation must begin with the client’s genuine needs.
The conversation must begin with the client’s genuine needs. While we are at it, let’s not forget that 82% of readers (and browsers) never read beyond the headline in most contexts, so you need to make your opener really count.
In business-to-business marketing it is easy to forget that companies are not buying your services, people are. Buyers are individuals who have specific roles within their organization; they have challenges related to that position, they have personal fears and aspirations. They do not relish change, or anything that will make their lives any harder. They also do not like pain or uncertainty, but pain is powerful enough to motivate a willingness to make a change.
In a business-to-business sales context, you, Ms. sales professional, are the agent of change. Change is a source of fear, but pain is immediate, and if the pain is bad enough, and your prospects are reminded of it effectively enough, the fear and uncertainty of change can be pushed aside.
You empathize. You understand their pain. You have already solved this same problem—this same pain—in others many times before. This empathy allows you not only to understand, but also, because you are not consumed by it, to know the way out. You can show them the way.
If the message’s emotional contact point is genuinely painful, it will be much harder to ignore.
You have reminded them of what causes their pain, so it’s fresh in their minds. They feel it. This message on the website can go right to this place. Then there you are—standing before them—empathizing with their situation, but showing that you hold the key to the exit from their pain … The key is your product or service.
Here are 4 hard-to-do, but easy sounding steps on your path to effective marketing:
Step 1: Understand who your primary target actually is.
Step 2: Understand the pain suffered by them as it relates to your product or service.
Step 3: Devise and deliver a message to them that shows how deeply you understand their pain AND how your product provides a way out.
Step 4: Sign the contract and deliver as promised.
Notice the last step. It is there because I also care about your brand. You must be able to deliver on your brand promise. The brand experience must live up to any marketing promises you make. If you cannot do this, you will not be long for this world. But … do all this, and you will indeed have a marketing funnel that is slippery, and at the bottom—where the prospect becomes a client—you will be able to acquire clients for life. In the business-to-business arena, this is the stuff of great fortune.
Go get ’em.