A big challenge with B2B marketing is that it’s hard to avoid being boring and stay as interesting as the B2C industry.
There is the red tape from executives. The company wants to stay safe and prevent anything too crazy from tarnishing their reputation. And your product isn’t as naturally exciting as a cartoon or video game.
The problem is that this leads to your prospects falling asleep when they hear about your product (or any of your competitors’ products).
The answer is effective B2B storytelling.
B2B is not boring. In fact, Gary Vaynerchuk says there is no B2B or B2C. It’s all P2P (people-to-people).
People buy from people. Reps are hired because they are likable. Likable people close deals.
“When surveyed about which customer interaction statement they agreed with most, 49% indicated that likability was an important differentiator between themselves and their competitors.” (Source: HBR)
Seemingly boring industries, like consulting, certifications, or association management, can become interesting to prospects when they have a deep need for your great solution and are frustrated with their current solution. You just have to stand out by channeling that seed of interest into something greater…
Like an Asian mother, many businesses make the mistake of being too risk-averse in their B2B strategy.
Storytelling is the way to unleash the power to make your product or service interesting.
Many great stories are simple and seemingly boring at its core:
- Romeo and Juliet is about a boy meeting a girl.
- Great Gatsby is about a rich man obsessed with a woman.
- To Kill A Mockingbird is about a lawyer defending a black man during the Depression.
Are you convinced now that business storytelling in B2B can be cool?
Great, now we’ll show you how to tell the best story possible…
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How to Create A Great Story: Storytelling Secrets for B2B
When it comes to brand storytelling, let’s learn from the marketing legend himself, Seth Godin. Seth has amassed a massive following in the B2C and B2B marketing world because of his wisdom and storytelling.
We turned to his book, All Marketers Are Liars, to identify what makes a great story and learn what he has to say about B2B storytelling:
Great stories can be told fast
You don’t need an 8-page brochure or long in-person meetings to explain a story in B2B.
This may be hard to fathom considering how complicated your products or services may be and the length of your sales cycles. But often, the simpler you can explain complicated ideas, the better a prospect will understand — and potentially buy. Also, this could be an opportunity to stand out from competitors who have complicated explanations.
Great stories appeal to a niche audience
If you try to appeal to everyone, you water down your story so much that it appeals to no one. Stories spread virally because they appeal to the worldview of a niche audience who then share it.
Great stories agree with the listener’s worldview
A prospect has specific values and beliefs, some relating to your product or service. This can be a belief like, “Simple, minimalistic, and efficient user interfaces are the best” or “honest, hard-working, and old-fashioned.”
Great stories appeal to what listeners already believe, making them feel smart and secure about how right they were. No one wants to be told how wrong they are. Instead, people like to have their egos flattered.
Rather than listing the features of what you offer, you could paint a story of a person who aligns with your prospect’s values and how much he or she loves your product or service.
Great stories are consistent and authentic
Consumers are smart enough to sniff out inconsistencies in your story and your claims. Especially with the extra transparency of the internet, they can quickly unveil deceit.
Great stories don’t contradict themselves. Instead, they offer a promise — a product or service that is more fun, convenient, secure, seamless, etc. — and fulfill on that promise
Great stories build trust
Great stories help build trust. Trust is the rarest and most valuable resource in the modern age. People rarely trust what companies say anymore.
For B2B companies, earning credibility is what ends up making the sale. It goes beyond adding a logo to your homepage mentioning the top companies that use what you offer because everyone does that. You need to go above and beyond.
Great stories let the listener draw their own conclusions
It’s far more persuasive and effective for someone to spell out their own conclusions from a story than to outline every angle.
Why? When someone draws their own conclusions, they credit themselves with the idea (even if you introduced it to them). Like Inception, it’s more likely they will believe these new ideas since they respect and trust their own opinions above anyone else’s.
Great stories appeal to senses, not logic
You’ve seen it before. Most B2B companies make it more entertaining to watch paint dry than read about what they offer. By using logic to appeal to a prospect and list features, you fail to leverage the most important part of the buyer process: the emotional mind.
To do this, appeal to all of their senses. Does the software seamlessly improve employee communication? Describe that feeling of satisfaction you get in your gut. Describe the moment when the sales bell rings and you hear everyone start clapping. Describe that time when you see your sales dashboard light up in green. Or the congratulatory happy hour with drinks galore for landing the biggest deal of the year and receiving the crisp, signed contract.
Product or Service Superiority in B2B is a Myth
A great B2B storytelling example is the battle between Salesforce.com and Seibel.
Salesforce had a significantly better software-on-demand product by any measure. Yet customers had been with Seibel for over a decade. It’s more comfortable to stick with what you’re familiar with and logically justify it.
They were buying the story rather than the product.
While the technical details of your offer may be better than your competitors, it’s time to focus more on the emotional appeal of a great story than the logical appeal behind a list of features.
People who buy for businesses are businesses first. The utility of your product or service (it’s faster, better, less prone to breaking, etc.) is only part of the equation — but only if the customer cares about it.
A prospect may care about how fast a software gets installed, how secure it is from hacks or bugs, or the customer service. But maybe not. While an important part of the puzzle, utility is often over-emphasized in a B2B pitch. A story that sells what the prospect wants is often under-emphasized.
Tailor your story based on the persona who makes the buying decision. The IT department handling tickets may care a LOT about the technical features. C-levels may not give a shit.
Why people will pay 30x more for a bar of soap
Avalon Organic Soap costs 30 times more than normal bar soap. Is it 30 times cleaner? Does it last 30 times as long? Does it help you since it’s organic?
Yet it’s a profitable company and many of Seth’s friends, and maybe your’s, have this bar in their bathroom. Why?
People pay for the:
- The luxury
- The experience
- The memories and feelings when you bought the bar.
It feels good to tell yourself the story that you can afford this bar and that you’re helping the planet by purchasing the bar. Just like an engagement ring, it’s about the memories wrapped with it – not just the item itself. It’s all about the story of experience the touch and smell of a bar you know most of your peers can’t experience.
So how does this apply to B2B?
B2B’s average order value is much higher than B2C. Therefore, it naturally lends itself to people who are willing and able to spend a lot of money.
Since the heftier price tag is already built in because of the nature of the business, it’s easier to promote the luxury, experience, and feelings of your product or service even if it means raising the price slightly to afford it. People are willing to pay for convenience and luxury if it’s part of a story they care about.
Tell the lie people want to hear
If you look around, good business storytelling examples are everywhere.
Ralph Lauren, a premium clothing brand, generates a large portion of its sales from its discount Factory stores. In reality, a lot of the clothing in these stores are not factory seconds. They’re brand new items made specifically for these stores.
That’s right. A luxury brand makes a lot of its money from people who can’t afford the real product.
A premium brand that delivers commands a reputation. And even poor people are willing to pay to be a part of that story.
In this case, customers want to tell themselves the story of driving 30 miles to a Factory store to get a coat that was marked down from $400 to $40, when in reality, the coat cost $4 to make.
A growing amount of mothers started feeling guilty for not making home-cooked meals. Banquet Crock-Pot Classics told the story of how you can make a home-cooked meal quickly and easily.
The truth is that the meal is barely cooked by you. You just pour the finished package into a pot and let it cook. Plus, it’s not that healthy. It’s frozen and preserved with chemicals.
But it worked because the mom get the tells herself the story about not having to throw away take-out boxes, about the appearance of food arranged on dishes, about washing all the kitchen supplies used afterward. She’s after the feeling the lie provides.
It’s not about dishonesty. It’s about being honest about presenting the lie your customers are looking for and willing to pay for.
So how does this apply to B2B?
B2B can naturally get too feature-focused when they talk about what’s offered.
“We can install the turf in half the time and make sure it lasts longer.”
“We have a seamless user interface that is two times as fast.”
Create a story about the new opportunity and how it will make your audience feel — the epiphany a successful customer had when they tried you out. Ask yourself what you bring to the table that others cannot (quality of the product, speed, and excellence of installation, customer service, etc.) and wrap that into a story.
Nowadays, people are wealthy enough to buy what they want rather than what they need. What spurs them to buy what they want is how your story makes them feel.
And a good story is at the core of any successful B2B content marketing strategy.
It is more than just about what your product or service offers others. It’s also about what your prospects and customers tell themselves. Your B2B customers will tell a story about the purchase they made because of :
- Giving back
- Looking good to their boss
- Getting a bargain
According to advertising legend, Claude C. Hopkins, no one likes to buy anything that is “cheap.” Instead, they like to buy luxury and bargains.
Luxury is a unique and integral part of B2B. A sign of a flourishing/growing company is being able to afford the adoption of better products and services that look and feel nicer, like moving from MailChimp to HubSpot.
It makes you feel good because there is a level of success you have achieved if you can afford a more expensive solution even if you don’t really need it.
Check out our own B2B digital marketing services to help us tell a compelling story for you.