Lots of my friends are software developers/engineers. Having been a developer in a previous life and being a marketer now, I often get asked why B2B tech marketing sucks.
Part of the answer is, “yeah, there is lots of bad marketing out there in general.” The other part is, “yeah, it’s simply bad targeting that is hard to fix.”
Software folks are a different breed. NOTE: These are broad generalizations. They tend to be introverted, making them seem anti-social in high school, leading to a streak of anti-mainstream-anything. Tugging on emotions feels disingenuous. Why not lay out the features and benefits and let people decide? There is some truth to that. Code has defined input, and the code is the business logic, and code provides some defined outpu. There is documentation of the business logic. All the parts fit nicely together (theoretically, it never does, but that’s a different topic). None of it is a black box (unless we discuss leveraging AI, again, another matter). Developers write tests to verify the code does what it is supposed to do. There are tools for formal verification where you can mathematically prove the algorithms do what they are supposed to do. But this is complex and usually only used for mission-critical systems.
Marketing is art and science. The science isn’t hard proof, but mostly probability and statistics. Because of this and our lack of thoroughly understanding the human brain and behavior, a lot of marketing is straight-up art. Google knows what we search for, tracks our locations, and knows which sites we visit. Even then, running a text ad through their search network still yields a CTR percentage in the low single digits. Display ads are even worse.
I can’t think of any field where a positive action taken at a single-digit percentage rate is considered a success.
This isn’t to say that marketers are doing a bang-up job. There is so much room for improvement. There are problems with targeting, attribution, poor messaging, poor creative, poor timeliness, misaligned goals with sales, and the list goes on and on.
Tech marketing problems start with the audiences. There are two main groups usually considered: the end user and approvers. IT, marketing, or finance could be end users. The approvers are the technical leads or directors (business decision-makers or BDM) who formally sign off on the purchases or contracts. But there are other stakeholders. It’s the CIOs, CTOs, CEOs, and board members who like bragging about the hot new tech their company is using. It’s whoever is involved in the money part, like procurement, the CFO, or accountants. If messaging tries to address all the stakeholders, it all gets muddled up.
You have to focus on the end users first, though. They may not be the final approvers, but they will always influence the decision-makers. The end users are the gatekeepers to the whole sales cycle. They know what they need and which products can help them, and how.
If developers are the end users, provide technical documentation up-front. Sometimes documentation can be dense depending on the services offered. Any “Getting Started” type guides should be scannable. Have the marketing team review it. They may not understand all the nuts and bolts, but they can definitely check for flow and readability.
Readability, Readability, Readability! Reading documentation is enough pain, but when the colors and fonts provide little contrast? It’s a living nightmare. There is a contrast rebellion going on.
Measure the impact of the documentation as well. Where are developers coming from? Where are they spending the most time? The “Getting Started” guides? The cookbooks? The API documentation? Talk to customer service and see where users are struggling. Documentation should be a profit center.
Your average BDM is already strapped for time. Attending webinars, perusing forums, or reading blog posts is a tough sell. Email, physical mail, and phone calls still provide decent ROI.
B2B tech purchasers, especially employees responsible for evaluating products and influencing BDMs, consume lots of content. They will be responsible for managing or using the technology over the product’s lifetime. They are on the hook day to day. Even if you think you have enough content to convince them, you don’t. Create more content.
In terms of the sales funnel, the BDMs are at the very bottom.
End users have done the research already. They recommend a product to the BDMs with a business case. Visiting the product website, the BDMs seek validation the product will fulfill the requirements. Then it’s time for the BDM to make sure the new product helps the company reach its goals. Contracts are negotiated.