2010-02-16_0013If you’ve ever been frustrated and beaten down by this or that issue at work, was your outlook on that issue one of dispassionate, organizational-focused analysis?

Or was your search for a solution to the problem just as emotionally driven as any consumer purchase?

The ugly truth about B2B Copy: most of it assumes that organizations buy things.

But I’ve never heard of an organization getting on its computer, checking out a Website, filling out lead forms, or meeting with sales reps.  The only people who do those things are, well, people.

And like all people, B2B customers generally trying to do one of two things:

  1. Trying to get what they want
  2. Trying to get away from (or avoid) a problem/pain in the butt that they don’t want

In either situation, emotions rule the day.  And so does the context of the situation.  This is where even decent B2B copy goes wrong by assuming only positive motivation from the buyer.  The copy acts as if only proactive customers exist in the marketplace.

Apparently, whoever wrote the copy never lifted their head above the cubicle or observed much of the outside world.  Yes, some people are aggressively proactive. But the majority?  They’re usually moving away from pain, typically in the face of crisis. They get serious about fitness after a health scare or humiliating event. They avidly back-up computers after a hard drive failure.  And so on.

And if you don’t think the same thing happens with organizations, you’re nuts; again, it’s people that are doing the buying, and as importantly, institutions generally have MORE neurosis than individuals, not less.

Here’s a few business examples of this same behavior:

  • Sales results slide a bit, but aren’t really bad enough to push management into real action.  They look around at some of their sales training and sales recruiting options, but sit on that information as long as times are moderately good.  Then, when a competitor starts stealing away key accounts or the market starts shrinking it suddenly becomes time to buy sales training.
  • A company’s e-mail hosting requirements grows increasingly more complex.  The in-house hosting becomes shaky at best and the IT manager knows it should be outsourced.  He takes a look at his outsourcing options, but he’s got about 10 other higher-priority items on his to-do list.  He might putter along like this for a year before suffering, say, a 2-day e-mail outage.  Now the IT manager/company is really in the market for outsourced exchange hosting.

dominoesWhat I’m talking about are precipitating events – the kind of things that move a someday/maybe aspiration into a firm resolve to buy.

Now here’s the deal: most companies involved with B2B and complex sales know (or at least the sales people know) exactly what their top 5 or so precipitating events are. Yet most B2B websites fail to address the negative buying emotions stemming from those precipitative events.

Last week I was invited to take part in a landing page critique by Bryan Eisenberg.  My first question was, “what was the precipitating event?”  And based on the answers to that one question, the copy was totally transformed.

In the space of a short half-hour call, the clients themselves were able to take copy that read like something a Perl script might spit to messaging that compelling addressed the real buying motivations of the visitor.  Like magic.

You can do it too.  Just ask yourself, what are your clients’ precipitating events? Ask your sales team if you need help.

Now go look at your Web copy while keeping those precipitating events clearly in mind.


  1. P.S. Jones on 02.21.2010

    Oh, this totally makes sense. Although I’ve talked about people procrastinating and then rushing to action when it’s almost too late, I’ve never thought about businesses doing it to. And the sad part is that I’ve actually seen this is in action! Great post and I’m definitely going to be asking myself this the next time I’m called in to write copy.

  2. steven on 02.21.2010

    Gosh, your article and words are so pleasant for my eyes that I almost had reading orgasm. F**king good,thanks!

    Steven Wang
    MBA at Boston University
    twitter: @anqinglaowang