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Don't Speak At Me, Speak With Me

Create Online Conversations with Your Prospects in Mind

As e-marketing has made inroads with B2B marketers a lot has been said about the idea of online conversation. But, what does that mean from a marketing content perspective?

If you think of a conversation in the offline world it can be in the context of a chat with a friend — 1-on-1, an exchange in a meeting with a group of people, a discussion with your peers over lunch or witty repartee with your spouse during TV commercials in the evening.

When you transfer that idea online, how often do you "feel" any similarity to those above examples? How often do you make a connection with the content you see?

Part of this is because you're not really there. The people you're "conversing" with can't see you, your facial expressions or hear the tone of your voice as if you'd spoken aloud. Nor can you see them.

That means you have to think about the words you use and how they work together to convey your idea. Even more importantly, you need to think about how your idea will be perceived through those word choices.

Consider what you'd see if you lined up a bunch of B2B websites from companies that sell similar products and removed all the graphics, logos and design elements from them so you were only left with the text. Then eliminate product names from the text. Would you be able to tell them apart?

No, I didn't think so.

Do you know why?

Because B2B companies have a tendency to create content that's all about what they want to say—which is usually about how great their products are. Even most case studies talk more about the products than the customers. Not what the people who may be interested in figuring out how and why to solve a problem want to hear. At the risk of being repetitive, people want results, not widgets.

That's the speaking AT me part.

Here's the problem with speaking AT people. You've not given them an entry point.

Consider if a website visitor you're tracking starts clicking on a bunch of links and pages around your website. He tops out the scoring metric that says he's ready for sales. Yet, once you pass him to sales, he's a go-nowhere contact, not really a viable lead.

Could it be that he was clicking desperately in search of content that actually spoke with him? Content that answers questions he has or provides a way to learn about a problem he needs to solve. Something beyond the list of features, feeds and speeds that your company loves — but mean nothing to an early-stage buyer.

If your scoring process isn't delivering a lift to qualified leads that sales accepts as worthy of their attention, you might want to look at the impression your content is making. Of course, most people wouldn't work that hard to find engaging content, so this might not be the best test.

The thing I see happening is that everyone is fired up about technology. Don't get me wrong, I love technology. But technology is tactical. It enables us to create content quickly and launch it online even faster in a variety of formats. The problem is that B2B companies aren't making the development of content that buyers want, need and value their priority.

They're still stuck in tell, push and sell mode.

Where they ought to be is in helpful, inviting and generosity mode.

Which mode is poised for conversation?
Which mode inspires trust and empathy?

One "touch" does not make a conversation. You need to aim for more than one. And you need to have at least some of them be initiated by your leads because they see a reason to do so. This is also known as progressive lead nurturing.

The thing about most offline conversations is that they follow a theme, if you will. For example; I call and ask you a question about a project you're working on. We talk back and forth about that. Then, maybe the topic changes to something you want to know, or that conversation is over...until next time.

In a B2B world, often it's more like this:

  • I send you an email to tell you about my latest white paper.
  • You download the white paper.
  • I follow up with a sales pitch.
  • You ignore me.
  • Next month I send an email to inform you of a product launch.
  • You don't open it.
  • Then I send you an invitation to a webinar about some benefit that new product we launched can deliver. You know, the product launch you didn't show any interest in.
  • You ignore that too.
  • So, I send you our company newsletter about our new office building and a customer success story about a company you can't even relate to.
  • Say what? You're still not speaking with me?

Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

Would you expect that type of an exchange to work in person? You wouldn't dream of talking to someone that way, would you? It doesn't work online, either.

The thing is you need to think strategically about your content, the context it's designed for and the invitation for interaction it extends. Ongoing interaction won't happen, at least not consistently, without paying attention to how you design the content you put into your technology.

The more interactions your content generates, the higher likelihood that a true conversation will develop. And, if you pay attention to how the dialogue takes form, I'll bet you'll begin to see a connection from one interaction to another. Similar to how an offline conversation happens.

More Stories By Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist of her firm Marketing Interactions, helps companies with complex sales increase and quantify marketing effectiveness by developing and executing interactive eMarketing strategies driven by compelling content.

Her book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, was published by McGraw-Hill.

Her articles and blog posts have been used for university ezines, published in CRM Today, Selling Power, Rain Today and Enterprise CRM News. Marketing Profs has incorporated her blog posts into a number of their "Get to The Point" newsletters.