Writing to Both Sides of the Business Buyer’s “Split Personality”

A few months ago I received a call from an in-house writer at a training company. She was obviously frustrated. An email she had written to promote a management seminar had failed miserably. Time was running out before the event date. She needed answers fast. So she asked if I would help her out.

Once I read her promotion, I immediately recognized the problem. Although it was a well-crafted piece of copywriting, it appealed to only one side of her target audience’s “split personality.”

Fortunately, it was a simple fix. I advised her on what changes needed to be made. She rewrote the copy and, as a result, her follow-up email brought in the registrations needed.

Split personality? Let me explain …

As you may already know, there are important differences between writing effective copy for the business-to-business (B2B) vs. business-to-consumer (B2C) markets. But the one difference most copywriters miss is the need to address the often conflicting interests of the business buyer.

Or, how I like to put it, her “split personality.”

You see, there’s a tug-of-war that goes on in the business buyer’s mind when making a purchasing decision. On one hand, she must consider the needs of the business. On the other hand, she has personal needs, concerns and interests, too.

Usually, the result is a compromise.

That’s why you’ll see an expensive marble table in a boardroom, even though the company doesn’t really need something so extravagant. The VP just likes it.

So, when writing any type of marketing piece for the business-to-business market – an email, letter, press release, web page, white paper – you need to take the business buyer’s split personality into account.

How do you do that?

  • First, you must talk about the business needs. Business buyers act on behalf of a company. You need to highlight how the product or service you’re writing about will help the business reduce costs, increase sales, avoid liabilities, gain a competitive advantage, improve quality, boost productivity, or accelerate cash flow.
  • Then, you need to address the personal needs. Business buyers are individuals. So you must explain how your product or service will save them time, make their jobs easier, help them look good to their superiors, get them promoted, advance their careers, or get them home in time for dinner!

Say you’re writing a sales brochure for a new brand of industrial forklift. From a business standpoint, it has everything a company wants: safety features that reduce the risk of injuries, long service life for a low annual cost of ownership, and it runs on propane to comply with clean air regulations.

But it’s the plant manager your brochure copy needs to convince. And he’s not so sure about these “new” forklifts. What if the learning curve is steep and creates havoc on his production schedule? What if these trucks don’t perform well and he gets blamed? How quickly can he get technical support should he need it?

Can you see what a mistake it would be not to address these issues in your copy? No matter how compelling your business case is, if you don’t talk about the personal needs of the business buyer, your marketing piece is doomed.

So, when writing copy for the business-to-business market, remember: it’s not all business. It’s personal, too. Appeal to both sides of the business buyer’s split personality, and your copy will be more effective – and your client or boss will be more pleased – as a result.

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Published: March 18, 2009

4 Responses to “Writing to Both Sides of the Business Buyer’s “Split Personality””

  1. As a manager for a family business Steve addresses a major point when he discusses the needs of the purchasing agent for a business. I know I am far more interested in a business product or service when I can see it will help me do my job more effeciently. This will in turn help the business in some way to become more competitive and therefore more profitable.

    t-longboardApril 20, 2009 at 1:48 am

  2. Steve - Short, sweet, and to the point; you nailed a key issue too frequently igonored in this age of corporate downsizing, early retirement, and complete lack of job security among the middle management ranks. Good job! Thanks for the reminder and the help. - Steve Culpepper

    Steve1210May 11, 2009 at 8:56 am

  3. Colman - Thanks for your excellent reminder:"the one difference most copywriters miss is the need to address the often conflicting interests of the business buyer."
    -Colman Chang King

    ColmanDecember 17, 2009 at 6:22 pm

  4. Steve- You advocate a fundamental wholism when I write to both sides of the of the Business Buyer's "Split Personality." When I master and apply this underpinning, I increase my chances for success.Thanks for your insight.–Bert Barer

    Bert BarerDecember 2, 2010 at 3:48 pm


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