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Survey: Most B2B Marketing Writers Aren’t in Direct Contact with Customers

If B2B marketing writers aren’t in direct contact with customers in developing content, you are probably just making it all up

The first step in communications is audience identification.

Audience identification is the process of understanding an audience – their hopes, fears, motivations, influences, questions, problems and the language they use to express all of those things.

If you’re not in direct contact with the audience, then you can’t truly understand an audience. I’ll even take that a step further: if you aren’t in direct contact with customers in writing content, you are probably just making it all up.

And most B2B marketing writers are indeed making it up. That’s my take on a survey by Typeset and Mantis Research. The survey found:

  • just 33% of business marketing writers make calls to customers;
  • just 35% conduct surveys; and
  • less-than half (48%) participate in online communities with their audience.

To put it another way, just one-third of writers are in direct contact with customers – which suggests about two-thirds have no direct contact.

Even some of the indirect connections to customers were surprisingly low. For example, just 50% talk to sales or customer support. If sales and marketing are to align – it’s best to align around the customer.

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B2B Marketing Writers and the Sales Organization

The survey puts some data behind a long-standing problem in B2B marketing. It’s one of the drawbacks to the sales organization in B2B: customers are often tended to by an account executive (AEs).

AEs manage the relationship, but they also have an individual goal for retention, cross-selling and upselling. It’s great for that purpose, but it also motivates AEs to be gatekeepers and guard access. They don’t want to spend a chip furnishing customer interviews for marketing content because they’d rather save those chips to close a deal.

As a result, B2B marketing writers turn to analytics and social media to inform their writing. Social media is shallow and lacks depth and while analytics are useful and important – successful writers obsess over analytics – it doesn’t provide the context that an interview does.

just 33% of marketing writers make calls to customers

5 Ways for B2B Marketing Writers to Get in Touch with Customers

This conundrum is a leadership challenge for the head of marketing. You’ve got to work out a program with you sales counterpart to incentivize direct access to customers.

And as a marketing leader, you have to stay on it – measure progress – and keep it top of mind. If you don’t, the program will initially get a lot of fanfare, but it will quickly fall to the wayside as the quarter progresses.

What can individual B2B marketing writers do now?  Below are several ideas – that also support the development of a governing program.

1. Foster your own relationship with sales.

Find those salespeople and AEs that are willing to help and foster a relationship. There will be times they will come to you desperate for a specific use case or sales enablement piece to close a deal. Do your best to help – and call in the favor later – but take it a step further and strive to make a personal connection, such as making it a point to have lunch together when they are in town for the sales kick-off in the beginning of the year.

2. Sit in on sales and support calls.

Ask your new best friend in sales to sit in on their sales calls as an observer – and just listen and take notes. You’ll learn a lot that will inform your writing. It will also give you an opportunity to endear yourself to the salesperson by pointing out existing material they can use to follow up on specific points raised on the call.

This goes for support calls too, but word of caution: you’ll hear customers and their unvarnished frustrations. It’s a dose of reality that contrasts all those cheery marketing proof points. If you can’t sit on support calls, try to get access to the CRM or support email accounts. The sent items in a support inbox can be a goldmine for content.

In both cases, listen for questions customers ask. Customer questions are often good topics for content – that also perform well in search.

3. Don’t sit in the booth at conferences – go to the sessions.

A few years back I was at a workshop at a conference for legal technology. During a debate, one prominent CIO from one of the most prestigious law firms on Wall Street was in the audience. He stood up and declared that technology isn’t a competitive advantage, but rather merely infrastructure, like chairs, desks and computers employees need to do their jobs.

There were gasps from all corners of the room, and the conversation that ensued was fascinating. The point is, there’s value in talking to customers in the booth – but there’s also value in getting out in about at conferences and tradeshows.

Go to the sessions and workshops where customers or prospective customers are presenting. You’ll hear the discussion firsthand, which informs your writing, and it’s a great source of content ideas.

4. Really dive into industry surveys.

I’m amazed that so few respondents conduct customer surveys to support writing. Survey research should be a key project for the entire marketing organization because it has so many applications to a marketing program.

Two ways to improve your own surveys are:

1) add optional open-ended comments for your questions and simply as “Why?” and
2) have a dedicated open-ended question.

These questions provide important context to help understand the responses. In addition, the answers themselves can often be crafted into a dedicated content piece that is almost entirely written in the very language customers use.

Don’t overlook industry surveys, such as those conducted by trade publications, consultants and even competitors. The results are a chance to hear directly from customers, will inform your writing, and will help you to improve your own survey research.

To be sure, I follow my own advice. I’ve written dozens (hundreds?) of blogs over more than a decade on this blog and they are tagged under various labels like studies, marketing surveys, PR surveys and surveys of journalists.

5. Build a relationship between B2B marketing and customers.

When marketing asks for customer interviews, it’s often a heavy lift: they want a video testimonial or a case study where the customer shares product accolades. Those requests are all about you. In other words, you’re asking for a favor.

Sometimes it’s an easier request to flip this around and ask about them. Make the focus of the interview about their challenges or their expertise. In a small way, you are extending a favor to them.

Maybe your product comes up naturally in the discussion, and maybe it doesn’t. Either way, these interviews are great for blogs, articles and newsletters – it’s content for customers and by customers – and it gives you direct insight.

This approach facilitates relationship-building that can be parlayed into a more formal program. For example, it can be a regular themed blog post – such as a monthly conversation with a customer – or even into a customer advisory board managed by the marketing department.

* * *

Audience identification drives all marketing strategies and tactics – including content creation and writing. A direct conversation with customers is pivotal for B2B marketing because without it, you’re just making it up.

The full report – State of Writing – is freely available on the web. It’s based on a global survey that polled 204 respondents. Nearly three-quarters (73%) work in B2B and most respondents are based in the U.S. (52%), Australia (32%) and the U.K. (6%).

The Hanson & Hunt Podcast also did a solid interview about the survey with Sarah Mitchell of Typeset, which is where I first heard about the survey.

[Need an extra pair of hands? More than a proactive partner: an extension of your marketing and PR team. Check out our services.]

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Image credits: Unsplash and Typeset

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