Why Generalist Writers Lead to Lost Profits in B2B Tech
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Jessica Greene, one of the top B2B tech writers in the nDash community. To learn more about Jessica — and to have her write for your brand — check out her profile page.
There’s one golden rule that leads to content marketing success for all business types across all industries: content must cater to your target audience. Publish content that caters to your audience’s needs, goals, and pain points, and you’ll inspire the engagement and trust needed to transform your efforts into leads, sales, and revenue.
To create content that hits home with your target audience, you must first know who that audience is. But when applying this principle in tech industry content marketing, many b2b tech brands miss the mark.
The True Decision-Makers for B2B Tech Purchases
Someone in the C-suite may sign the check when purchasing new technology and systems, but its individual contributors who research, recommend, and advocate for solutions.
Research shows that 81% of individual contributors and mid-level managers have influence on purchase decisions, and 49% of individuals outside of the C-suite either make the final decision or have heavy influence on it.
Source: Google/Millward Brown Digital, B2B Path to Purchase Study, 2014
For b2b tech brands, this means that a significant percentage of your audience—possibly even the majority of your audience—is outside of the C-suite. That audience is composed of developers, programmers, systems analysts, architects, network engineers, cybersecurity specialists, and other technical roles.
The types of content that engage executives—high-level landing pages that list product benefits or thought leadership blog posts—fall flat with tech practitioners. In fact, what tech practitioners are looking for goes against many of content marketing’s best practices.
Creating Content that Engages Tech Practitioners
When researching a purchase, tech practitioners want to understand exactly how potential solutions will impact and improve their day-to-day work. Sales-heavy landing pages, generic value statements, and shallow listicle posts don’t scratch the surface of what they need to know about potential solutions.
Developers, systems admins, and architects are looking for real examples of code, detailed tutorials, step-by-step implementation instructions, and descriptive and relevant diagrams.
In b2b tech, stock images should be replaced with screenshots of code and diagrams of complex systems.
B2B tech practitioners want to understand how a purchase will help with the specific tasks they’re responsible for—not how it will help the company overall. They want product benefits explained from the perspective of other tech practitioners.
The language used on this sales page for Google Cloud Platform is filled with jargon and technical terms that are meaningless to a non-technical reader—but perfect for an audience of tech practitioners.
Many of the best practices of content marketing should be avoided when it comes to creating content for an audience of b2b tech practitioners. Instead of avoiding jargon, use it liberally. Pretty is less important than purposeful when it comes to content formatting and use of media.
Summary content isn’t effective in engaging the decision-makers in the technology industry. They want to engage in deep learning before recommending a solution, so the brands that earn their respect—and business—are those that provide the most detailed, relevant, and useful content.
The Importance of Subject-Matter Expertise in Tech Content Marketing
Most professional writers are excellent researchers. They can usually write about any topic that’s assigned to them—but that doesn’t mean they should.
An exceptional generalist writer—even one with zero technology industry experience—could probably conduct research and produce an accurate and effective post on the high-level benefits of a technical product, service, or platform. That post would likely work for engaging a C-suite audience, but it won’t engage tech practitioners.
A writer who’s never worked in IT may be able to explain the high-level benefits of a DevOps approach to lifecycle development. But that writer is incapable of:
- explaining in great detail how a specific DevOps platform allows developers to simplify the process of moving code across environments
- providing detailed examples of commands that should be used to move code
- producing diagrams of the process to simply written explanations
A generalist writer will produce content that looks like this:
But what tech practitioners are looking for is much more specific, detailed, and targeted:
This level of detail and familiarity with the language and processes used is required to engage B2B tech practitioners, build brand credibility, and ultimately earn a recommendation for the purchase.
Generalist writers just can’t provide this level of detail. For b2b tech brands to adhere to the golden rule of content marketing, they must hire writers who have experience in the technology industry.
To derive the benefits that a content marketing program promises—engagement, leads, traffic, and profits—you need subject-matter experts.
How to Find Subject-Matter Experts
While it’s possible to find B2B tech writers though all of the traditional means—such as posting an ad to Craigslist or listing the job on LinkedIn—there are a few platforms, approaches, and tips to consider to get more applications from the writers you need and fewer from generalists:
- Collect pitches instead of posting on job boards. On nDash, writers connect with brands by pitching content ideas. This makes it much simpler to identify writers who understand your business. If the title and abstract of a writer’s pitch uses technical language and includes the level of detail you expect to see in your content, you may have found a subject-matter expert.
- Discover writers instead of soliciting applications. Browse writer profiles on nDash, conduct Google searches for technical writers using advanced search operators (ex: writer AND devops OR devsecops), or look into who’s writing the posts on your favorite industry blog. Reach out directly to writers with portfolios of content you would have published on your site.
- Ask for recommendations. Ask the tech practitioners you work with if they have recommendations for writers, reach out to writers whose content you enjoy and ask for referrals if they’re unavailable, or contact other (non-competitor) tech brands and see if they have recommendations.
If these ideas don’t work and you have to turn to job boards to solicit applications, keep these tips in mind:
- Provide too much detail. It’s not enough to say “I’m looking for technical writers,” or “I’m looking for someone to write about DevOps.” Provide a level of detail that will be difficult for generalist writers to understand—such as what’s shown in the example below—and people who aren’t subject-matter experts will be less likely to apply.
- Post to the right job boards. The audience for job boards like LinkedIn and Craigslist is everyone, but sites like AngelList, Dice, and JustTechJobs are much more targeted to a technical audience.
Of course, it’s not enough to just find a technical writer. Once you’ve found someone you think has the required experience and subject-matter expertise, you need to take time to validate his/her knowledge and abilities.
How to Evaluate a Writer’s Subject-Matter Expertise
It’s not enough to hire a writer for a long-term engagement using only their portfolio or samples. It’s best—for both you and the writer—to have the writer compose a trial piece first. The trial helps you validate subject-matter expertise, and it helps the writer decide if the partnership is going to be a good fit.
The trial could be a post the writer pitched to you on nDash, or it could be something you assign after selecting writers who applied to a job posting. Either way, the topic should ideally be very technical in nature so you can evaluate the writer’s subject-matter expertise.
There’s one problem with this approach: often, the person in charge of hiring writers is a content marketing manager who doesn’t have technical subject-matter expertise. Coming up with content ideas, creating a content strategy, and putting together an editorial calendar for a tech brand doesn’t necessarily require experience as a tech practitioner.
While it’s not an issue to have a marketing subject-matter expert in charge of a tech company’s content marketing program, it can make things tricky when it comes to recognizing a writer’s technical expertise.
If you’re in this situation, find someone in the IT department—a programmer, architect, systems admin, or whoever else would be appropriate—and enlist their help in reviewing trial articles that writers submit.
Your IT editor can review the final draft for accuracy, gaps in coverage, and missing details, providing a necessary final vote of confidence in the writer’s knowledge and ability.
And enlisting a tech expert to review new content isn’t just effective for evaluating trial articles. It’s a good practice for everything you publish.
Having someone on the editorial staff—even in just a small capacity—who has experience with the systems and tools you’re writing about can be extremely beneficial. That expert can provide content ideas, capture screenshots of relevant code, and create mockups for complex processes that you can hand off to a designer.
Each of these things help you cater a little better to your true target decision-makers: the people in IT departments who are doing the work and looking for solutions to their biggest pain points.
Tech Brands Need Specialists, Not Generalists
B2B tech brands who hope to increase company profits with content marketing must remember that their most important audience sits outside of the C-suite. Tech practitioners are less concerned with high-level benefits than they are with understanding how a new technology is going to make their jobs simpler and make them more effective in their roles.
They want examples of code, detailed product documentation, and relevant process visualizations. They want concepts explained in the terms and acronyms they use with their coworkers daily. They don’t want to be sold something; they want to be educated so thoroughly that your product seems like the perfect solution to their problems.
Cater to this audience—follow the golden rule of content marketing—by hiring writers who are technical subject-matter experts, who know exactly what information tech practitioners need.