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9 ways for B2B marketers to avoid boring their customers

9 ways for B2B marketers to avoid boring their customers Brian Ladyman

We've all been there. You're on a website, and you're focused on figuring out what exactly a company's technology does or how it's different from its competitors. You're really concentrating. You read the messaging once, twice, even three times. You just can't get at the crux of it through all the buzzwords. Or what about being at a conference and thinking, "Oh no, I had three choices for my after lunch speaker, and this is so the wrong one. I could possibly die a slow painful death before 2:00 p.m."

The foisting of boredom upon others is a problem that needs to be tackled. So let's turn the focus to having an interesting B2B message, being heard and remembered whether you are in marketing or sales, and most importantly, being purchased by your customers.

First, a short quiz: Your B2B prospects/customers are _____________?

A. BDMs -- Business decisions makers (all about the business benefits)
B. TDMs -- Technical decision makers (all about cost, integration, platforms, and maintenance)
C. Just people

Trick question. The answer is all three. But C is perhaps the most important one to keep in mind. Last night, the people you're talking to watched television programs like "American Idol," "CSI," and " Game of Thrones," with the hopes of being entertained. Now that it's the next day, and they are in their BDM or TDM attire; they are still just people.

Here are nine practical actions for B2B marketers and salespeople to take to avoid putting audiences to sleep.

Pay tribute to Curly

Curly, in famous "City Slickers" character, said, "One thing; Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit." In that case, it was about the secret of life. In this case, it is the secret of B2B messaging. Stop using all the same buzzwords as your competitors (i.e., fully leverage, fully optimize, most comprehensive, drives maximum efficiency, seamlessly integrated, mission-critical, innovative, blah, blah, blah). Think about explaining your product/service to your 80-year-old grandma -- then use those same words in your marketing. Does she know what "fully leverage big data" means? Probably not. Reduce the noise around your core value proposition and make it simple and clear what your one thing is.

Remember Jerry Maguire

Cuba Gooding Jr. didn't order Tom Cruise to "talk about the money." Or "drone on about the features of the money," or "describe the benefits of the money." He screamed, "Show me the money!" Show how your products/services solve a real problem that your specific audience is likely to have. Start there. Make it real for them. Your customer's business interests them, not your product. Show your product in such a way that they can actually feel how it would be used on a daily basis in their business to improve revenue, make happier customers or employees, or decrease costs. Tell a real and relevant story or two by bringing it to life.

Stand out

Take chances. If everyone in your competitive set has a website detailing every possible feature of their product, simplify and streamline your site. Focus on customer stories instead. Pick something and do it differently -- do it better. Volvo recently thought to hook up with a martial arts movie star to sell its large trucks (focusing on its precision steering). That's different. That stands out. That makes for some amazing content that people want to learn more about. Contrast that to reading the steering's engineering specifications, which certainly would have been a snooze fest.

These next six actions will help you get your message across in a way that makes your audiences want to maintain eye contact with you -- instead of not-so-subtly checking email on their phones. 

Cut to the chase

In the final round of presentations to win new business, try starting the meeting like this: "I know we are the third company to present, and you probably have an emerging leader in mind. To help with your decision making, if you think about the strengths of that leading choice, what are you most excited about so that I can really gear my presentation toward addressing our capabilities in those areas?" Cut to the chase and help them in their decision to pick you. Don't kill them with PPTs just because you can.

Offer choice

In the same vein of getting to their interests, offer them the choice of what they hear and how they hear it. Envision opening with this line of conversation: "So we've got a few different ways we can go. I've got a detailed 20-slide PPT that covers our company, how the product works, and our customers. I've also got some iPads with content and videos where we could start high-level and drill down into one or two areas that you pick. Or I could just go to the whiteboard and sketch out how our technology would fit in with your current systems. Where would you all like to start?" Even if they say go through the PPT, they have now made that choice, and their mindset will be more attuned to paying attention.

Let logic prevail

If people like humor and wit, and BDMs/TDMS are people, then BDMs/TDMs like humor and wit. What do "I Love Lucy," "Seinfeld," "Friends," and "Saturday Night Live" have in common? They are funny. They have audiences that love them. In addition to their fancy work titles, treat your B2B audience as people (the ones watching TV in their sweats). If it works with your personality, be a little funny. Throw in some humor and humanity. Think about your job being a balance of relaying the information needed for them to make a decision (or whatever your communication goal is), while being entertaining and engaging in the process.  

Focus on love

OK, don't really focus on love, but do focus on like. Focus on relationships and people. If you have an hour with your target audience, plan on 15 to 20 minutes for introductions (although don't necessarily put that much time on your agenda slide). You are selling yourself as much as your product/service so take time to get to know people. Don't recite your resume in introductions. No one cares. Do try to find some commonalities. Do try to understand what each person cares about and how it's relevant to what you are there to talk about.

Dialog not monologue

Make a goal to never get through all your content (because your audience gets so involved -- not because you have lots of slides and talk slow). The easiest way to achieve that goal is to get your audience asking questions and drilling down with interest. You can always follow up with anything important that you missed. Sales presentation nirvana is you needing to grab the whiteboard pen to answer questions in real time, showing how it would all work, and then sending customized content for follow up and additional touch points.  

Think about a green, two-headed, bandana-wearing, surfing labrador

This is reinforcement to be visual and stand out. Can you see that green, two-headed, bandana-wearing, surfing labrador? Say the words slowly. See it now? Beyond standing out and being visual, the point here is to be surprising. Do something interesting and or random to keep your audience engaged and attentive. Sometimes you have to speak to fill time on an agenda. No matter how great a speaker you are, and no matter how interested your audience is in what you have to say, minds are going to wander. Phones are going to buzz in pockets driving people to email. Stop talking at some point. Ask the audience a question. Put up an odd visual and have people guess what it has to do with what you are talking about and then make the connection for them. Play a video. Have a quiz. Do something surprising. 

Brian Ladyman is leader of consumer engagement at Slalom.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Brian Ladyman leads Customer Engagement for Slalom Consulting’s Seattle office. He is an insightful leader with over 20 years of experience, much of which has been focused in the high tech industry – including time at Oracle, Peoplesoft,...

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