“We are one of North America’s leading companies in the _____________ industry.”
This kind of weasely collateral and website writing is a waste of space. Given the prevailing level of puffery, being “one of the leaders” could mean anything. Most prospects will assume you’re closer to the “can fog a mirror” end of the spectrum than to actual leadership.
Instead of empty claims, state facts that prove success. How long have you been in business? What percent of sales is to repeat clients? What’s your fill rate, on-time performance, reliability, failure rate? What industry awards have you won?
The facts you cite will depend on what you do (and how well, obviously)—but hard facts are always more convincing than claims.
Testimonials that damn with faint praise
Written testimonials naturally teem with weasel words and phrases, because most people can’t resist the urge to hedge when asked to commit on paper. So instead of getting credit for being the best, you become “one of the best”—or worse, “perhaps one of the best”—clumped in with some undefined number of also-rans.
Here’s a solution: When a client expresses satisfaction, ask if you can draft a testimonial for his or her approval. Better yet, have a third party interview the client and focus on specific satisfaction points. Clients are much less inclined to water down a fulsome testimonial than to write a weak one. (If you do get pushback, it’s a sign you need to lift your game.)
Weasel’s close cousins—weak verbs and verb forms
When writing proposal cover letters and emails, be bold. Replace weak verbs, such as “I think,” “I believe,” and “I feel with “I expect,” “I’m convinced,” and “I know”.
Stating specific claims means you first need to research performance stats and decide which are most compelling. Getting strong testimonials means pushing back on weak ones and/or taking steps to improve client satisfaction. And eliminating weak verbs means editing your content—or turning it over to someone who can.
But if you want copy that produces results, eliminating weasel-wasting is a great first step.
What’s your favourite weasel expression? Please tell us—or share a link.
In his wonderful book, On Writing—A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King describes a bell curve of writing ability. At the high end, two or three sigmas out, stand such titans as Shakespeare and Milton, plus a host of other greats. At the opposite end are those who should find another line of work.
Advice for potentially good writers
Between these two extremes, King posits a large (he’s an optimist) group of writers with potential to move significantly towards the greats. He goes on to prescribe some steps aspiring writers can take to improve.
King published his book in 2000. On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed the U.S. Plain Writing Act of 2010, aimed at making communications by Federal agencies easier for the public to understand.
The Act, like all acts, was written by and for lawyers. But the companion Plain Language Guidelines are nothing short of gold for aspiring business writers. They hit all the notes we’ve been stressing for years. For example:
• Write the way you speak
• Use the active voice and simplest form of verbs
• Use short, simple words
• Write short, simple sentences and paragraphs
• Use lists, tables and illustrations
• Write separate copy for print and the Web
And they include examples for each guideline.
Won’t make you Shakespeare—or even King
Some writers work magic with language. They’re the Crosbys and LeBrons of their chosen craft. Don’t expect these results from studying and following the guidelines. But do expect to become a much better business writer.
Following the guidelines will remove your writing as an obstacle to effective communication. You’ll still need to be strategic, use consistent messaging, stress benefits and understand pain points to produce content that can sell.
Read it aloud
We devoted an earlier blog post to this final bit of advice. It’s a great test of whether the guidelines are having the desired effect. Read anything you’ve written aloud, before hitting SEND or PRINT. (Yes, you really do have to read it aloud.)
If your copy is sound, you won’t run out of breath or stumble on the phrasing. It’s ready. Unleash it on the world! And good luck!
Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn
For a lot of people the web is confusing. There are lots of different kinds of websites — confirmation sites, brochure sites, portfolio sites, and more. It can be hard to figure out where you and your business fit.
Today we focus on the spine that runs through every website, or at least the good ones: Claims and Proof. It's exactly what it sounds like; make a claim, and then prove it.
Time is valuable on the Internet. If you monitor your website's activity you already know this. Visitors give you between 4 to 8 seconds to make an impression. If you don't do a good job in that time, you’ve lost them, perhaps forever. The best way to keep them, to get them to venture deeper into your site where your real value lies, is to make bold claims.
What to claim?
Your claim ties into your unique value proposition. We'll delve deeper into unique value propositions in future articles. For now, it's what you do differently and better than any of your competitors. This is your first bold claim.
I’ll give you two examples:
Your Web Department
Industry: Web/IT Makes: A website Content Management System (CMS) Unique Value Proposition: Employees come and go. Only Your Web Department's website service maintains continuity and the relationship with the business owner(s). www.yourwebdepartment.com
Second, Complex2Clear - us:
Industry: Marketing Communications Makes: Complex information clear Unique Value Proposition: In a world where complexity is growing and attention spans are shrinking, C2C cuts through the clutter to deliver clear persuasive bid proposals, thought leadership and marketing communications.
Now your claim
Phrase your Unique Value Proposition as a statement. This is already done above for both examples. What's yours?
This works for more than websites. You need to engage your audience no matter what medium you're using or what your purpose is. Just remember, even if they're disagreeing with you, it's still a conversation, and conversations bring business.
How hard is your home page working for your B2B services company? This is your storefront on the world. It needs to invite visitors to enter and engage with your site. And it needs to do it fast!
Visitors leave sites quickly if they don't see what they need. Your bounce rate (one of the key measures in Google Analytics) will tell you what percentage of visitors land on and leave your site within 30 seconds. If yours is high (>30% for most B2B services sites), consider implementing the ideas below.
Every business is different – but you can adapt these tips to make your home page work harder for you.
Tell the visitor what you do. You can do this in the page banner, a headline or using slides, if your offering is segmented. Do not start with “Welcome to . . .” and write paragraphs about your history, mission etc. Leave this for the About page.
Focus on your prospects’ needs. B2B services are almost always selling to prospects who want to improve on past experience. Tell visitors what pain points you address and how.
Prove credibility. Include testimonials, client names and/or logos, years in business and other measures of credibility to make your company a low-risk choice.
Invite contact. Assuming the aim is to attract leads, make it simple for prospects to call or email you.
Grab them “above the fold.” Your home page can scroll as far as you wish – but visitors will stay or leave, based on what’s on their screen when they land on your site. That real estate is precious. Use it wisely.
Use appropriate design, images and colours. Professional-looking sites use colours and designs that suit their industry and service. If your site looks off-key, visitors will click away for that reason alone.
You have just a few seconds to engage a first-time visitor and keep him or her on your B2B services website. Make the most of that precious time.
B2B services marketers need to think about both positioning and messaging when preparing proposals or writing sales copy.
Here’s what each means:
Positioning defines how you want your audience think about your service, while
Messaging is a set of specific statements crafted to establish and reinforce your positioning.
Think of positioning as your “big idea”— what you’d say if you had just 15 seconds.
Positioning can and should be about your key benefits but — since nearly all of us face mature market situations where we need to steal share to grow — it’s also about how you are different and better than your key competitors. So positioning often begins with a negative statement against which to contrast your product's benefits.
Modern elections, for better or (more often) worse, are textbook cases in negative positioning. Each candidate spends heavily to “define” (read “position”) his competitor in ways that favour his own candidacy. This year, the Obama campaign has worked hard to position Romney as a cold-hearted rich guy who cares only for the one percent, while Romney’s has sought to position Obama as a socialist dreamer who wants to take working people’s money and give it to the undeserving poor.
In commercial situations, it's unwise (and potentially libelous) to single out specific competitors. Instead, paint a picture of common issues your prospects may have experienced with whichever vendor they currently use. The aim is to get the attention of those who see themselves in your picture.
Once you get prospects nodding in agreement at the cost, risk and/or other challenges of dealing with the rest of the field, you have a receptive audience for your positive messages.
Messaging is often built in a matrix of audiences and key points. More on this in a future post.
I’ll go out on a limb and say the best way to ensure a new B2B service succeeds is to include your communications team in developing the product.
Why? Because, to a much greater extent than hardware, selling services demands clear, persuasive communications. Consider:
Tangibility: Compared with hardware, it’s harder to kick the tires on new services. So you really need to communicate what your prospects will get when they buy your service.
Variability: Most manufactured products today are engineered and built to perform consistently. Warranties and after sales service are important, but most of a product’s quality and performance features are “baked in.” Services, which are manufactured in the field, can’t make that claim. So prospects need to be made confident you can deliver consistently well.
Conversion cost and risk: Adopting a new B2B service usually involves investing time and energy in conversion. Prospects need to believe you have this process buttoned-down and can make good on your time and cost promises.
These and other factors make a strong case for bringing your communications team into the B2B services product development process at the beginning.
Good marketing communicators will push for clarity around:
What competing services’ shortcomings will your new product address? What are the top three frustrations your prospects currently experience and how will your new service make them go away?
What’s your process for reliably delivering the service? Can you describe it in (some small number of) clear steps? Can you say you’ve tested and refined it before launching? Better still, can you prove it works with client testimonials?
Separately, how do you make conversion easy? Can you make a promise around time to mobilize? What’s your track record on similar products? Again can you provide testimonials?
This process will do two things:
Improve your products as you tweak them and your delivery model in response to input.
Enable more powerful communications that can engage and convert prospects.
Successful B2B services companies include their communications teams in developing products. If you don't, it's time to start.
If don’t use automated drip email campaigns, you could be losing significant sales and profits for your B2B services company. A drip campaign is a series of personalized emails and/or newsletters to leads and clients.
A drip marketing system is far superior to standard newsletters, because it is so customizable. Most drip campaigns target prospects and dormant clients. Another great way to use drip is to maintain enthusiasm and forestall buyer’s remorse in a new client who has just signed on for your B2B services.
Drip campaign emails offer your B2B services business the following benefits:
1. Increased conversion and retention: Drip campaign emails can increase your prospect conversion rate and client retention rate by enabling you to inform and maintain contact with both potential and past clients.
2. Two-way communication: When you send custom drip campaign emails to your contacts, you increase prospective clients’ opportunities to reply with their questions and needs.
3. Instant and continuous contact and visibility: You need to stay in contact with your clients to continue as their B2B services provider and get referrals to their colleagues. Drip campaign emails and drip marketing are an easy, automated ways to maintain visibility and build relationships over the weeks and months between transactions.
4. Easy customization: All it takes is imagination and experience to customize your drip campaign emails and newsletters to each audience. Different types of B2B services clients and prospects can and should get different drip campaign email streams.
The secret its customization: One way to think about a drip campaign is to assume you’ve made a commitment to call important clients, past clients and prospects once a week. How would you prepare for those calls? What fresh news would you offer? How do their interests change with seasons or other events?
As with most projects, start small and build. Your B2B services business will benefit.
We’ve posted recently on SEO for B2B services websites. Here are some more tips for improving your search engine rankings:
1. Write high-quality website content: We stressed fresh, relevant content earlier, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so important. Include appropriate keyword phrases for your specific audience, but do not oversaturate pages keyword phrases, making them impossible to read. Update your website content frequently, so Google and other search engines recognize it as an active site.
2. Blog: This is the best way to have constant, fresh content on your B2B website. Every B2B services website should have a blog. Write blog posts on topics that position you as an expert in your industry. Remember to include keywords and keyword phrases in your posts.
3. Research keywords: The Keyword Tool by Google Adwords is an excellent free resource to decide which keywords will most improve your search engine ranking. Two things about keywords and SEO:
Use your imagination to find unique keywords and keyword phrases that your prospects are likely to type into Google or another search engine. Research “long-tail” search terms that are less competitive, but that prospects for your B2B services still would be likely to type into a search engine.
Don’t keyword stuff: Remember that you are writing for your audience first. The basic rule of thumb is 3% to 5%, or 3-5 repetitions for every 100 words used on a page.
4. Get organic backlinks: Inbound links from another site are like a “vote” for your website. Backlinks are one of the most important aspects of SEO—but getting them takes time and effort. Avoid link exchanges. Search engines can determine whether the links to your page are organic, or if they are reciprocal links or links from link farms. Tips for increasing the number of good quality inbound links to your website:
Ask for links from non-competitive blogs and websites that are relevant to your B2B services business. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to do this.
Guest blog on other industry sites.
Write fresh, relevant content on your B2B website that people will share and link to.
Create good meta-tags for every page of your B2B services website and for all images.
BOTTOM LINE: Focus your B2B services website on finding and speaking to your audience. If your website is important, people will visit and link to it. Become an expert in your industry. Write content that is valuable to your readers.
Testimonials with full attribution of the client’s name and company are the gold standard when it comes to building credibility for your B2B services company.
When testimonials are done effectively, website visitors gain great insight about who you are and your personal brand. Testimonials in brochures and websites help with marketing and lead generation.
Here are 5 tips on getting effective testimonials for your B2B services website and marketing materials:
1. Ask for testimonials: Ask for a testimonial from every client after every transaction. Send an email asking your clients to tell you in just 2-3 sentences about their experience with you, and if and why they would work with you again. Put a process in place that makes it easy for your customers.
2. Get specific information: Ideally, each of your testimonials should touch on different aspects on your brand. Client service surveys can be a good way to get specific information about clients’ experiences with you. Make sure all your testimonials don’t say the same thing.
3. Use video: Video testimonials can be very effective and add extra SEO juice. Keep the video short and to-the-point—30-60 seconds is a good length for a website video.
4. Ask permission to use positive feedback: If a client says or writes anything complimentary about their experience with you, ask them if you can use that for marketing purposes. Always get permission to use any type of testimonial on your B2B services website.
5. Never make anything up. It seems obvious, but don’t fake anything. It will seem insincere and getting caught is a fast way to lose credibility.
If you are struggling to get testimonials for your B2B services offering, consider using an outside third-party to interview clients and write up their testimonials. Sometimes this is the only way to get busy clients to write the kinds of testimonials you need for your B2B services website or marketing collateral.
In our last post, we offered three ideas for keeping visitors on your B2B services website. Here are three more ways to reduce your bounce rate and get prospects to make that all-important first contact.
4. Include frequent calls to action. A call to action is just a simple sentence telling your visitors what you want them to do. Ask readers to comment on your blog posts and to “like” you on Facebook or “follow” you on Twitter. Tell them to sign up for your newsletter, register on your website, or check out your latest offer. Whatever it is you want your readers to do, tell them.
5. Focus on grabbing visitors above the fold. When someone lands on your B2B services website, they only see a portion of your home page. This area is called “above the fold” and relates to the part of an old-style newspaper that was visible on newsstands. Newspaper publishers wanted all the “hot” news above the fold to increase sales. For the same reason, all your most relevant, important, and engaging content and images should appear above the fold. You only have seconds to entice your readers to stay on your website or click away. Ensure your above-the-fold content will grab their attention. Include your business name, a strong selling point, a call to action and a phone number or contact form.
6. Create lots of content. Create as many pages of content as you can with articles and posts related to your industry and B2B services. Include videos, tools and other ways for your visitors to engage with your content. Use keyword phrases to improve your SEO. Target your writing to your specific prospects, so they’ll actually read what you have to say. Be informative and relevant, and you’ll find that they’ll stick around to learn more.