How to target the business buyers split personality

Charles Plant interviews Sean O'Dea
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Writing to Both Sides of the Business Buyer’s “Split Personality
By Steve Slaunwhite

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.

This article appears courtesy of The Golden Thread, an e-letter from AWAI that delivers original, no-nonsense advice on how to build your freelance copywriting business. For a free subscription, visit

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