A Candid Conversation with
B2B Marketing Ace BOB BLY


In this issue:

  • How to create B2B promotions that blow the competition AWAY!
  • 7 Key differences between B2C and B2B sales copy …
  • Where to find responsive B2B e-mail lists …
  • What business buyers REALLY want – and how offering it to them can drive your response through the roof …
  • How to use dominant emotion copy to rocket your B2B response …
  • The two Gatekeepers who get paid to trash your sales message before your prospect sees it – and how to outwit them …
  • How to build a six-figure B2B copywriting business … find clients … structure your fees … and more …
  • A multi-million-dollar idea that could make YOU obscenely rich in 2007 …
  • And Much, MUCH MORE!

Happy New Year, Business-Builder!

OK … so now that we got all THAT holiday partying out of our systems, it’s time to decide what we’re going to make of 2007.

My #1 New Year’s resolution is to try as many new things as possible in the year ahead – and I’m starting right now – by doing two things I’ve never done before:

New Thing #1: Although Bob Bly has interviewed me many times before, I’ve never had the chance to hold his feet to the fire … and that’s precisely what this issue is all about!

See, a couple of weeks ago, Steve Harris – one of our most loyal readers and EasyWriters Marketing Club Members – dropped me a line. “Please, please, please,” Steve begged, “write something on business to business copywriting.”

“Hmmm,” I says to myself, “I haven’t really written any B2B copy in a couple of decades. So what’s the best way to help good old Steve out?”

That’s when the name “Robert W. Bly” sprang to mind. Now, you may know Bob Bly as the best-selling author of about a bazillion books on marketing including The Copywriter’s Handbook, which has been highly praised by David Ogilvy. Or, you may have heard that Bob is a solid six-figure copywriter who I’ve frequently hired to work with me on promotions for my health and financial clients. Or that Mr. Bly is a featured speaker at my Power Marketing Summit 2007.

What you may not know is that Bob is also one of the few acknowledged masters of B2B copywriting – with 25 years of successful promotions for IBM, Intuit, Swissbank, Nortel Networks, Praxair, and a lot of others under his belt.

So if B2B’s your bag, this issue should be a gold mine for you.

New Thing #2: Normally, when we do an interview issue, I simply call the victim, record the call, have my assistant Tanya create a transcription of the call and edit the transcript for publication in The Total Package.

But I figure some of you guys would just as soon have the actual unedited recording of the call … so welcome to the first AUDIO issue of The Total Package!

How you use this issue is up to you. You can continue reading online … you can print this issue for later reference … or, you can click here to download the MP3 version of this interview and listen to it on your computer or your MP3 player any time!

Ready? Here goes …

Clayton: Welcome to The Total Package Bob!

Bob Bly: Clayton, it’s a pleasure as always.

Clayton: I had a lot of fun doing the Headline Master Class with you at the AWAI conference in November. In fact, one of the attendees said that we were a great comedy team and that we should take our act on the road.

Bob Bly: Yeah, someone told me, “You guys are the Laurel and Hardy” but I said, “But which one’s Laurel?”

Clayton: So, let’s just dive right in here. Are B2B and B2C copywriting techniques the same or are they really different from each other?

Bob Bly: This is a question that people have been asking for eons, and there are two schools of thought.

One school of thought holds that they are fundamentally different and they have nothing in common and that B2B is totally a different animal.

The other school says, “Hey, forget the B2B, you’re writing to a person and they’re a person whether they’re in the office or at home, and therefore they’re different, they’re not, I mean they’re the same. There are hardly any differences.”

I think there’s a lot in consumer copywriting that works well in B2B, and in fact if you study The Total Package and learn those techniques, you’ll be a better B2B writer.

But on the other hand, I think are the seven key differences between B2B and B2C marketing and copywriting.

Clayton: Well okay, well seven differences. Let’s tick them off here. What are they?

Bob Bly: Number one, the business buyer wants to buy. In other words, a lot of consumers would rather not spend any money. They want the benefits your product will offer, they want to be healthier, they want to be richer, but they’re loathe to spend money.

The business buyer has to buy. In fact, most businesses employ at least one person with the title “Purchasing Agent” whose only job is to buy stuff.

Key difference number two is that the business buyer is usually more sophisticated than the consumer.

Clayton, you’re a master and you’re known at writing copy for nutritional supplements, which can be very sophisticated products. You know much more about the ingredients in these products than your prospects do. Very few of your readers have a biochemistry degree.

But when you’re writing a promotion to sell artificial joints to orthopedic surgeons, you could never know a fraction of what they know about orthopedic surgery.

Key difference number three is that the business buyer will read or at least scan amazingly long copy if it’s important, relevant or engaging.

If your prospect’s job is to purchase maintenance services for a big factory, and your copy’s all about how to save money on factory maintenance, he’ll read it.

Key difference number four is that while most B2C marketing is a one-step sale, business buying is for the most part a multi-step buying process.

One company I worked for made pollution control systems for chemical plants, and the average price tag was one million dollars. So when we ran a full page ad in a trade journal, we didn’t have a coupon that said, “YES! I’d like one of your multi-step volatile compound recycling plants. Enclosed is my check for a million dollars. Please send me the plant. If you’re not happy, just send the plant back and you’ll get your million dollars refund.”

Buying something like that is a multi-step process. Normally, in most business to business marketing communications, we’re either generating a lead or fulfilling the lead or doing some other step in the buying process.

Fifth key difference: Business buying involves multiple buying influences. When you and I go to get a mailing on a financial newsletter and we say, “Gee, that looks interesting”, we don’t ask anybody, we just go buy it, even if it’s a hundred or two hundred or five hundred dollars.

But in the corporate world today, most buyers need someone else to approve larger purchases. And the more expensive your product is, the more buying influences are involved. Your copy has to appeal to all of those different buying influences.

Key difference number six is that business to business products tend to be more complex. I have clients that make semiconductors, one that makes chemical filtration systems and one that makes mainframe computers, for example. Sales copy for these products needs to cover all their complex features and benefits.

And number seven – and this is something a lot of marketers don’t understand – although consumers mostly buy things for ourselves, the business buyer has dual motivations. They buy for their company, but they also buy for themselves.

So if I’m an IT professional, I might buy the software that I know will help my company run its business more efficiently but I’m not going to buy that software if it’s going to be a headache and a nightmare to install on my existing systems. That may be good for my company, but I don’t want headaches.

So there’s a dual motivation, it’s what’s good for the company and what’s good for me.

Clayton: You know that was really the first thing that occurred to me as I was thinking about this prior to this call. In many cases the person who’s making the purchase decision is not the end user.

Bob Bly: No, and that’s why we talked about going to multiple buying decisions.

A good, a classic example of this is, let’s say, enterprise software, software that runs a company’s big systems, human resources, accounts receivable, supply chain management. Yeah, there’s an end user, the person who’s going to operate the manufacturing system, but he’s only one of four or five influences. And he’s probably the least important.

There’s the end user; there’s the IT professional who’s responsible for implementing it, installing it, and making sure it works, we call that the technical buyer.

Then there’s the financial buyer, the CFO, chief financial officer who might say, “Hey, I’m going to make a decision whether we’re getting a good return on investment. Yeah, this’ll help us be more efficient in our manufacturing, but if it costs a billion dollars to buy this software and saves us eight hundred dollars a year, we’re not going to buy it.”

Then there’s the CEO, who’s sort of the, we call the executive decision maker, who wants to be comfortable knowing hey, if we buy this big software program from your company that costs a hundred thousand dollars are you going to be here two years from now or are you going to be out of business?

So yes, most of the people on the buying committee are not the end user, and the end user is usually only one of four or five decision makers and often not the most important.

Clayton: I would assume that in B2B, as in B2C selling, that a lot more of it is being done on the web these days.

Bob Bly: Yeah, it’s really changed and I think it’s effected B2B at least as much as consumer, and probably more.

In the old days, when a client would call me in, in the ‘80s to launch a new product, they would say, “Hey, okay. We need a sixteen page color product brochure, we need three trade ads, we need four case histories and three application notes.” It’s all print.

Today, they might not have any brochure, they might just need what we call a sell sheet, which is an 81/2”x11” piece of paper with copy on two sides, and they might make a thousand copies of that in print, but mostly that’s going to be downloadable from the web site.

They’re also going to have downloadable white papers, online demos, online cost calculators, web pages describing the product and its accessories and its operations and so on.

Also: Instead of sending out just print direct mail, which we did in the old days, at least half of it, probably more, is e-mail marketing.

You’ll hear the term in B2B, “Integrated Marcom” which means “integrated marketing communications.” Rarely does one thing, one e-mail, one web page, one ad sell the product. It’s usually a group of marketing vehicles working in tandem, in sequence, that are both online and offline.

Clayton: Now are there good reliable e-mail lists of B2B prospects? Are the lists available and well documented and clean and well segmented or segmentable?

Bob Bly: Yes and no. There are good B2B lists and there are brokers who specialize in B2B. Two of the biggest ones are ePost Direct and Merit Direct – you can Google them and find them online. Direct Media is also big. And there are lots of good clean opt-in e-lists.

However, they don’t cover all of the market. There are many segments for which there are not good e-lists, and there are many other segments where the e-lists only include a small part of your market. Let’s say you’re looking for mechanical engineers. You’d find there’s a really great e-list of eighteen thousand mechanical engineers, but the membership list of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers is a hundred and eighty thousand people.

Clayton: If somebody asked me to do a promotion for a B2B product, one of the key components of my campaign would be a downloadable PowerPoint presentation or video they could take into the boardroom with them to show the product’s benefits to the rest of the group.

Bob Bly: You would think so, but you don’t really want them to make the sales presentation to themselves. Instead, you want them to invite your sales rep to make the presentation.

They don’t know your product and they’re really not, no matter what you give them, they’re not going to be able to sell it to their management. So you want to go in and be able to sell it to them and even better, at the same time sell it to everyone on their committee.

Clayton: It seems you really have a lot of different types of campaigns in the B2B side that we don’t see as often on the B2C side, because you do have a salesman dynamic for a lot of products. And even on the products that aren’t so high priced, you may have a salesperson involved if there’s a prospect of a continuing sale or the establishment of a new relationship with that company.

Bob Bly: Right, a good example is in the newsletter field. You know the consumer newsletters are all sold, or mostly sold one-step. You send out a package and the reader either subscribes or doesn’t.

The business-to-business newsletter publishers will do that too, but in addition, they also have a sales staff for what they call enterprise sales. So they will sell one or two or three subscriptions of let’s say a newsletter on portfolio management to financial professionals, but what they’d rather do is have the brokerage house call them and have a sales person come over and sell them a site license which is a bigger ticket item and therefore requires a negotiated price.

Clayton: So we could really add to your list of seven differences the negotiated price difference.

Bob Bly: Yeah, I mean that is another difference, and yes, you could put on the list price number eight.

Prices are standardized and non-negotiable in most consumer direct response. You really can’t negotiate from Phillips Publishing what you want to pay for Richard Band’s newsletter. But in B2B, the prices, even if there’s a fairly fixed price schedule, there’s always some negotiation going on.

And the other key difference is that often the sale is not made by your marketing materials that you’re writing, you’re only generating a lead and the actual sale is closed by a live salesperson.

Clayton: Tell me if I’m right or wrong here, but seems to me, the motivation of a buyer in a business is often to look good to someone else. The boss needs to look good to the stockholders, and everyone else needs to look good to the boss. So the justification for the sale, seems to me, or for buying this product as opposed to another, seems to me to be an important component of B2B selling that isn’t quite handled the same way.

Bob Bly: Oh, you’re exactly right. I mean I don’t think it’s non-existent in consumer for example, you’ve heard the argument, I don’t know if you agree with it, that yes, one reason people buy stock market newsletters is to make money but another one is to look smart at parties.

There’s an old cliche line that you see in B2B copy that tries to communicate what you just said. You’ll see a line in the copy, “And buy our widget and you’ll be the hero of your company.” That’s a very poor way to say it, but that’s what you’re trying to say.

You’re trying to say, “Yes, our widget will increase your efficiency and reduce your cost and produce better quality and that’ll help your company, but you’ll look good and you’ll get a promotion.”

And you’ll also see with products that save time and are easy to use, you’ll see the line, “You buy this and you’ll still be able to get out of the office by 5:00 and spend time with your kids or go golfing.”

So there’s definitely both a business motivation and a personal motivation, and the amateurs, or a big amateur mistake in B2B is only addressing the business motivation. You’ll see copywriters that prove that the product is technically superior but they haven’t addressed why does this person that I’m writing to, what do they care about?

Clayton: It seems to me that looking for the right kinds of testimonials could really help in that regard if you could find somebody who had purchased the product and as a result they got a lot of praise from their boss or a promotion.

Bob Bly: Oh yeah. In B2B print advertising, one of the most effective print ad formats is to create ads that do that. We call them case study ads, where the whole ad is a one person testimonial and it’ll typically show a picture of a plant manager with a hard hat standing next to the machine that he bought that’s being advertised.

I did a bunch of these years ago for different companies and it’ll say, “Our Niagara Lockport tissue making machine saved us 12 million a year in pulp and paper costs and made me the plant foreman instead of a line supervisor.” Absolutely.

Clayton: Another big difference I see in B2B selling is that quite often your prospect has an employee whose job it is to make sure they don’t see your promotion. That person’s called an “administrative assistant,” or “secretary.”

Bob Bly: Yep. That’s a big thing. Consumer direct mail goes directly to the consumer. It’s in the mailbox and they take it out and sort it. But, in B2B, not only do they have someone, there actually are two screening influences.

In a large corporation or even a medium size one, the first screening is the mailroom. And every year or so a reporter will get an idea to do another article on this, where you’ll read in the Wall Street Journal that corporate mailrooms at big companies routinely dump anything that looks like quote unquote junk mail. And there are deliberate strategies for getting around this.

I’ll give you an example, there was a company that makes safety equipment for factory floors, you know showers so in case you spill something in your eyes you can get the water on you and it washes out your eyes, little mats so you don’t slip on the floor, and they sell through a catalog, a print catalog.

They would mail their catalog plain, you know it didn’t have an envelope it just was a self-mailer and it did great in all their prospect companies except the Fortune 500, where the response rate was very low.

They concluded that the mailrooms in these companies were throwing it away ‘cause it looked like quote unquote junk mail. So they split off all the Fortune 500 companies and those catalogs got put in a plain envelope and then mailed. And when they did that, the response rates from the Fortune 500 segment went up to match the response rates from the small and mid-size companies.

So the mailrooms are screening one number one, and then there are the assistants – and how do you get past that?

There are a variety of techniques but the best one I ever heard was I actually was in the doctor’s office and I asked the nurse who worked the desk and was sorting the mail, “What do you give him and what do you throw away?”

Without much thought she said, “Well if it looks important I give it to him.” So one way to get past that screener is to make it look important and that means not like quote unquote junk mail or advertising mail.

Clayton: A long time ago I did a B2B promotion where the premium was obviously something for the secretary.

Bob Bly: Xerox had a campaign that was profiled in one of the magazines and they reported did very well. They had a jumbo envelope for the executive and spot glued to that was a smaller envelope that was for the receptionist and it was, “Our gift for you” and they said if you give this to him or her and mail back the reply card, you’ll get a glass jar of jelly beans. They said it worked very well.

Clayton: Have you ever experimented with alternate delivery methods like FedEx packages?

Bob Bly: Yeah, I could tell you stories. I mean I haven’t done a lot of that myself, and I don’t do a lot, but there was a guy, he just passed away recently. I don’t know if you knew him, Shell Alpert, who was a very well-known B2B direct marketing consultant.

He wrote a series of articles for the old Business Marketing magazine, which has since become B To B. He actually, delivered boxes to CEOs with carrier pigeons in them.You had to check off a box on the reply card and there was a little net attached to the pigeon’s leg and you opened the window and let him go.

I did a campaign where we actually sent two thousand target CEOs a cassette tape we wanted them to listen to, with a Sony Walkman.

This was for US West. We were selling very expensive disaster recovery systems and services so that if a large corporation, their power or their computer grid or their system was cut down, they’d still operate. The promo got a phenomenal sales result and won an ECHO.

Clayton: I just received a promotion for a direct marketing company, I think it was a list company, and they sent me a portable DVD player.

Bob Bly: Yeah, I’ve gotten those kind of things too. I remember once Thomas Register had this multi-part campaign where the first one had a cutesy theme where it says, you know, “Thomas is the hot place to advert in the B2B industrial market.” And they sent me with that a can of chili powder. So that’s done often.

I remember there was this firm that I saw that had a very successful mailing, it was one of these architectural construction firms where if you wanted a new warehouse or office building they’d do the whole thing turnkey. They mailed very small quantities and although there was a reply card in it, they followed up every mailing with a phone call.

Their package was in a padded envelope a short letter, a reply card, and the business card was silk-screened onto a brick, which was very relevant ‘cause they were a construction company.

So when the salesperson called and the secretary asked, “Will he know who you are?” The salesman would say, “Yeah, I’m the guy that sent him the brick” – and they always got through.

Clayton: That’s great. I’m reminded of a bank in LA that did a promotion, it was like a nine-step series, they were looking to make commercial loans. And the first promotion was a small envelope and it had a picture of golf balls, and it said, “Enclosed six free Titleist golf balls.”

Of course, it was a flat envelope so everybody had to open it. And the next week you got one that said, “Enclosed six free tennis balls.” And every week the balls got bigger and so did the envelopes. And finally on the last week they got it said, “Enclosed your free basketball.” And the thing was that was the premium you’d get for applying for a loan.

Bob Bly: A gimmick that we used at Westinghouse thirty years ago, twenty-five years ago – we’d send out mailings like everyone else to invite people to our trade show booth.

We’d send them a mailing invitation to the trade show and inside would be one, very nice Westinghouse cufflink. And there’d be a P.S. in the letter and it says, “To claim your other cufflink, come by booth 483.” And it always worked.

Clayton: You and I did a great series on how to build a million-dollar copywriting business. We focused primarily on freelancing for B2C companies. How does an aspiring B2B copywriter find clients?

Bob Bly: Well, the finding of the clients is not that different than what you would do if you were a consumer copywriter except for one thing …

In the consumer space, there are known big clients that most copywriters want to go after. Boardroom, Weiss, Phillips, Agora. In the B2B space it’s a little different. If you’re a B2B copywriter, you have a choice: Do you want to ghost write for ad agencies, or do you want to work with clients directly?

Except for at the very beginning when I didn’t know any better, I always have worked for clients directly.

Now, the way B2B works is that there’s three segments of companies by size.

There’s small businesses. I have a client locally here that’s a manufacturing company. They only have like half a dozen employees, they’re really small. Two million in sales a year, that’s a small business.

Then, there’s medium size or mid-market. They might have sales of ten million, fifty million, a hundred million, two hundred million, you know that’s a real range. Those you can approach the marketing director directly ‘cause they will use freelance copywriters.

They may also have an ad agency, but the ad agency may handle their print ad campaign, may handle their web site, but in business to business marketing as you pointed out, there are many more project types than consumer marketing.

The ad agencies, if they have them, will handle the sexy or glamorous stuff and the freelance copywriters will do all the things that ad agencies don’t want to do. And that includes, by the way, direct mail which most agencies don’t like to do and can’t do well.

For the bigger companies, if you say, “I want to write for the Fortune 500 or Fortune 1000. I want to be a copywriter for Cisco and IBM,” agencies tend to control a lot of that business.

Doesn’t mean you can’t work for them directly, my friend Steve Slaunwhite is probably the number one freelance copywriter for United Parcel Service. But if you want to get that work, you’ll have to find out what agencies handle each account and go through them.

And since I prefer to work with clients directly and not agencies these days, I wouldn’t go after them. But those are the two choices you have to make and that’s a prime difference.

Clayton: How do you structure your deals with your B2B clients?

Bob Bly: Most of these deals are not royalty or commission deals. For example, if you’re writing for a consumer mailer like Phillips, and you say, “Hey, I’m going to charge you X dollars to write a magalog, but if it becomes a control I want three cents or five cents or two cents for every piece mailed.”

That’s worthwhile to you because a control might mail a million, two million, you’ve had many controls mail over 30 million. But in B2B, most markets, not all, are very limited, the lists are small. I mean I once had a company approach me that needed a mailing to go to manufacturers of robotic manufacturing equipment. I mean there was a directory of three hundred of them, so a royalty doesn’t make sense.

And generally B2B companies don’t pay royalties. Now the ones that do are B2B marketers who do lower price products that are more of a consumer feel. There are some B2B newsletter publishers, for example, that will pay royalties.

Some will pay a mailing fee if they have a large universe; others might pay a bonus, you know saying you charge X dollars for your mailing and if it becomes the control we’ll pay you another X dollars.

I met one company that did B2B actually in Germany, and they paid you an X dollar flat fee, and then they paid you a bonus every quarter ‘cause they mailed quarterly, that your piece continued to be the control.

Clayton: I think I would be tempted if I was a young copywriter starting out today to consider B2B clients equally with B2C clients. I’d go in to a company and I’d say, “I really like your product. What it’s missing is great marketing. And what I’d like to do is establish a benchmark of what your sales are today and I want ten percent of the increase I produce for you.”

Bob Bly: You could do that with smaller to mid-size, where they’re more entrepreneurial. If you’re dealing with the president or owner, that would work. I think if you tried that with a Fortune 500, you’d get a blank stare.

Clayton: Oh yeah, you’d get killed. But I could jump in my car right now and drive down the street to a couple of companies here in town, one of them makes Epsom salts and the other one is a paint manufacturer.

Bob Bly: Yeah, small companies are much more open. You can do that with small local and entrepreneurial firms as well as mid-size and the best way, as you say, might be to literally get in the car or drive around, identify twenty, thirty companies in your town; I don’t think it matters if they’re B2B or consumer, just smaller entrepreneurial firms, and make those kind of deals.

Clayton: Yeah, I did it early in my career and it worked out quite nicely. I ended up with clients that stayed with me for an awful long time, and yeah, it was fantastic.

Okay, so how do you structure your fees?

Bob Bly: I think every freelance copywriter who works in Business to Business should have an hourly rate and time but shouldn’t charge it.

My feeling is that, and I don’t know how you feel about this, but clients, whether you get a royalty or not, hourly is not really a good model for freelance copywriters for several reasons.

First of all, it indicates that they’re paying for labor like bricklaying rather than results.

Secondly, if you’re hourly rate is low to make you affordable, then the client says, “Hey, this guy isn’t making a lot of money, how good can he be?” On the other hand, if it’s like you or someone even near you and it’s astronomical, the corporate client or the B2B client might say, “Hey, I’m paying them too much.”

So with a project rate, whether it’s high or low, how much you make per hour, since you’re not working on the premise, is invisible to them.

I work off a fixed fee schedule which lists all the projects that I handle and not the exact price but the range of prices that I charge for them. And I just e-mail that to the client and they pick like it’s a menu at a restaurant.

I’d be happy to let you distribute it to any Total Package reader who’d like to see it.

Clayton: That’d be great. Alright, well let’s get back to the copy for a minute. Let’s just talk about copy length.

It drives me crazy on the consumer side, I get all of these letters asking me about how long the copy should be and my answer is always the same, you know, it’s write until you run out of benefits. But on the B2B side, you can …

Bob Bly: It’s a little different.

The copy also on the B2B side needs to cover everything, but in the consumer side you’re doing it in one piece, you’re doing it in the magalog. In the B2B side, I might send a letter which then they’re going to request a sales brochure and after they read that then they’ll request a meeting with a sales rep who gives a PowerPoint and then they’ll request a written proposal. So they’re going to get just as much copy but it’s going to be parceled out over three or four or five steps in the selling process.

And so in the B2B, whatever you’re writing, you must know where it is in the selling cycle. And to do that, you have to actually outline the selling cycle and then you only have to write enough copy to take the reader to the next step in that cycle.

Let’s say I’m selling Key Man life insurance to medium size businesses. Very expensive life insurance policies. That’s not sold by mail order. I’m not going to send out a letter and have someone send me a check for fifty thousand dollars for a premium.

They’re going to want to meet with me and we’ll review who are their key executives and come up with a custom plan on how much should we insure each? It’s a consultative sell. So all I’m trying to do in that letter is get an appointment for the agent with the client.

So I’m not really selling the life insurance, I’m selling the value of that appointment.

So I might say in my letter, “Have you thought about what happens in your business if you lose any of these key executives? How it would devastate you? Your company, not just the executive for his family, you want him insured with life insurance, but you need key man insurance to cover your company.

“What would happen if your chief scientist or an engineer died tomorrow? Let me sit down with you, no obligation, I’ll go through how this works and show you examples of companies in your town, in your industry that have protected themselves with this.

“And then if you like what I’m saying I’ll give you a no charge proposal and show you what I would recommend in terms of coverage and we’ll give you a couple of variations to choose from.”

You’re selling the appointment, you’re not selling the product.

Clayton: I think that’s great advice. It’s the same thing in B2C by the way when you’re writing headlines. One of the real squib moves I see young copywriters make is trying to make the entire sale in the headline instead of selling the prospect on reading the promotion.

Bob Bly: See, that’s one of the most important things you teach, and I think people who do not subscribe to you absolutely do not get that.

You said, “Hey, the purpose of the cover of the magalog, when you’d use an advertorial style, is not to sell the product, it’s to sell the person on reading the magalog.”

Clayton: And it’s very similar in B2B. You’re saying, “Know what your product is.” When I’m writing that headline I’m thinking my product is the magalog, I want them to read this.

Bob Bly: Yeah, my product is the free consultation they get with the supply management chain software expert or whatever it is.

I’ll give you an example of this. I had a client that sold expensive telecommunications networks here locally and they made multiplexers and hubs and routers. Not really directly competitive with Sysco but more in the telecom rather than the data communications space. And in their promo mailings, they’d list the features of their products versus the other products.

I told them, “You’re selling the wrong thing.” I found out that when a sales rep would go to a customer’s site, they were doing what’s called a network topology analysis for the customer.

They brought with them a piece of software on which they would lay out the person’s telecommunications network, the connections and the hubs. Then, they would click a mouse, and it would show you how you could get the same level of service with fewer lines and calculate the cost savings in terms of what you would get with getting rid of redundant lines.

So I said, “We’re not selling routers and multiplexers. Sell them on a free network topology analysis. It has enormous value even if they never buy from us. And rather than shy away from that possibility, stress it. Say, ‘Hey, even if you don’t buy anything we sell you, you’re crazy not to have one of our guys come out and do this for you. He’ll print it out and you keep it.’”

Clayton: That’s fantastic. Getting back to the copywriter client dynamic again here, it seems to me one of the early points you made was that there are a lot of people involved in making the decision but there are also more people involved in making the sale.

Bob Bly: Yeah. There’s three groups involved in making the sale. First there’s marketing. The marketing department or as they call it in the corporate world marketing communications or marcom, they’re responsible for generating the business opportunity or the lead.

Next is the sales person who is responsible for cultivating the prospect, bringing him along, and making the sale.

And then the third thing is that usually sales people work with technical support. There’s usually an engineer or technical person assigned to work with the salesperson who can give a price quote.

So it is a team approach.

Clayton: And of course the fourth person in that group is you – the copywriter.

Bob Bly: Yeah, I folded him in with marketing but yes, you as the copywriter, you’re basically going to work with marketing although often I have worked with sales departments.

Clayton: So does that devalue you as a member of the team? When I’m doing B2C promotions, the entire success or failure of it is riding on what I do. And that’s why I can charge out the wazoo.

Bob Bly: Generally a B2B copywriter can’t earn as much as a pure consumer copywriter in certain areas. The only way you can get Clayton Makepeace type fees or Gary Bencivenga fees or Paris Lampropoulos or David Deutsch fees is to work on products that have huge potential rollouts for clients that are knowledgeable and aggressive mailers.

And that would include things like financial and medical newsletters, nutritional supplements, business opportunity, that kind of thing.

And so yeah, I know a bunch of good B2B copywriters who right now have contacted me and they said, “We’re stuck now at the $200,000 a year level.” They’re making decent money, I know two in particular. But they can’t seem to get beyond that.

Now I have gotten to multiples of that, but I don’t make the money that you do. I don’t make millions of dollars a year, I make many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

So I tell people in that situation there’s about three ways to get around it. One is to have a role beyond that of a copywriter. You could form an agency although I don’t recommend it. But if you’re a copywriter and also a strategic consultant, you might be able to charge more.

The other way, what I like is have a mixed portfolio I tell a lot of the people. Keep doing your B2B ‘cause it has some advantages over consumer. One is that there’s less competition. Most copywriters want to do the glamour stuff and are not chasing these B2B accounts. So it’s easier for newbies and novices to get in.

So have a mixed portfolio. Do B2B and then also do some consumer projects. Like I’m not pure B2B. These days I actually do more consumer than B2B. I love B2B but I make very good money on the consumer stuff, especially when it’s paying royalties. And so that’s one way to get beyond that limitation.

The other way you can get beyond that limitation is to do other streams of income. You can do B2B copy, you can do consumer copy, you can do something that you’re doing and I’m doing, which is you make a lot of money and I’m beginning to make a lot of money selling our content and information and advice online.

Clayton: Well we’re not making a lot of money, we’re leaving it in the company but – I keep coming back to the idea though what excites me about the B2B field is trying to find that small one or two million dollar a year business and create explosive growth.

You know the quintessential stereotype of the small business owner is that he’s an inventor or a scientist or a technical guy who came up with a better mousetrap and the world didn’t beat a path to his door. The one missing ingredient is great marketing.

If you can find that guy, and you can make a pitch to him that says basically, “Look I’ll increase your sales by X percent in twelve months or I won’t charge you a thing.” And then you just get yourself in for ten or twenty or thirty percent of the increase in sales that you produce for him.

Bob Bly: I think that’s one of the great opportunities. The other one, is to become a narrow niche specialist. For example, there’s a thing in Business to Business marketing called white papers. I know two guys that have promoted themselves as white paper specialists.

Now as far as I know, they’re flat fee but the fee is really high. And there are annual report writers who similarly make a lot of money. And by a lot I mean you know, over half a million dollars a year.

So that’s another way to go, to either specialize in a format like white papers or annual reports, or in an industry or niche like I’m working with one guy now who specializes in writing promotions for just for the electronics industry, for semiconductors.

So the more narrowly you’re niched, yes you have a smaller market, but you’re able to circumvent all the other competition and you’re able to charge a premium price assuming you actually are good.

Clayton: I can see creating a small web site, a one page web site and PPC and SEO campaign basically to support it. It could be “freemarketing.com” and you’d basically make that pitch to small to mid-sized businesses.

The business owner applies to be accepted by your organization for free marketing. He applies by sending you information on his products and on his market. And the lucky guy that gets accepted gets free marketing.

Bob Bly: That’s such a good idea that someone listening to this and I won’t do it, although I’m tempted, should just reserve right now the domain freeb2bmarketing.com.

Maybe one of us should do it and then we can resell it for an obscene price.

Clayton: Yeah. Maybe we should cut this question out of the interview.

Well alright. Let’s say now I’ve decided I want to be a B2B copywriter. I think that $200,000 a year for starters sounds really good and I might be able to …

Bob Bly: And you can double that. I’ve more than tripled it.

Clayton: And the potential for maybe finding the dream client that could make me millions on a deal like this, I mean shoot – stock options on a company that has an IPO alone could be worth a fortune.

Bob Bly: Yes it could.

Clayton: So what skills do I need to acquire to jump into this thing and do it well?

Bob Bly: I think you’ve got to do a few things. And you already teach most of them. You really teach all of them.

Number one, before you think about being a good B2B copywriter, you just have to be a good copywriter. You can’t take the attitude, “Well it’s B2B so they really can get along on B level copy as opposed to A level copy so I’ll just be so- so.”

It’s so competitive today and the big advantage you get if you master Clayton Makepeace’s copywriting techniques, and other top people who teach it especially, and you study consumer copywriting at a high level, you’ll be a ten times better B2B marketer. And you’ll do things that to a consumer client they would expect but to a B2B it’ll knock their socks off. So become a really good copywriter.

Secondly, learn like you’re doing by listening to this interview, learn the fundamentals of business to business marketing. And of course it’s self promotional, but I’d be remiss not to mention for example my book, Business To Business Direct Marketing which they could get on Amazon.com or from my web site, go to Bly.com and click on books.

I would also subscribe if you’re really interested in this to B To B magazine which covers the field.

And thirdly, I’d think about do I want to specialize in a particular industry or niche or product and if so, gain some expertise on that.

For example, when I decided at some point to do more in the computer hardware software area, that was not my background, my background was chemical engineering, I became a certified Novell administrator. I took IT training so I would have a better, not only would I know it better but so I’d have a better credential.

I knew a guy who, he wasn’t a freelancer he worked for an ad agency, and they assigned him a welding account. And this guy was an ivy league type guy who never got his hands dirty. He took courses and he became a certified welder and his career skyrocketed.

Clayton: That’s it. The Zen thing, be the prospect, right?

Bob Bly: Yeah. He’s this ad agency guy and he walks in to the shop and all the welders are sneering at him, and then he picks up the welding tool and puts solder in it and he does a great job and they respect him and they’ll cooperate with him.

Clayton: Yeah, that’s great. Well what other skills? I imagine you’re doing a lot of SEO stuff and PPC.

Bob Bly: Well there are some specialized areas, you don’t have to do everything, you can specialize in print direct mail.

I mean there are guys for example, there’s a guy Steve Slaunwhite that I’ve mentioned, all he does is B2B lead generation direct mail. … There’s that guy that I mentioned, his name is Mike who specializes in white papers.

But yeah, I mean some of the areas that are bigger these days, that are niche areas, if you can become really good at Google AdWords, pay per click advertising, and I believe there are training programs so you can become a certified Google AdWords expert, you probably do that through Google or maybe there’s some other place. That would be a real plus. That would be very helpful to you.

Another area that would make sense to learn is SEO copywriting, search engine optimization copywriting. I just read in DM News there is going to be a certification program on it, actually on search engine marketing, not just on SEO copywriting. So if I was serious and wanted a big competitive edge, go to the DMA, Direct Marketing Association, sign up for that program, take those courses and become a certified search engine marketing specialist. That’s going to give you a huge advantage and learn SEO copywriting.

There’s a guy, a friend of mine, I don’t know if you know him, Perry Marshall, who is recognized as the Google AdWords pay-per-click specialist. If you Google Perry Marshall, his book is very good and there’s a couple of others as well.

Clayton: Great, okay. Well right now, what’s working best in the consumer marketplace are promotions that have high entertainment value in addition to just being great sales copy. Arthur Johnson is probably the number one practitioner of this, especially you know, in places like Rodale and Boardroom and – so forth.

But even his stuff for Agora and Phillips seems to have this entertainment component. But in B2B copy, everything I’ve seen it seems to be really pretty dry.

Bob Bly: But that’s bad. That’s because the level of expertise of knowledge of what works is much lower in B2B. If you look around more widely though, you will see higher entertainment level coming more to the fore.

We did that thirty years ago and twenty-five years ago at Westinghouse. We had a booth at a big defense marketing show and we were vying with competition like Martin Marietta and Lockheed-Martin, trying to win a big contract to provide a gun fire control system for US Army tanks.

The code name for that project was The Gunfighter. So we had a big booth and we hired a wild west quick draw artist to be in the booth and he did shooting and you could shoot against him. That was the hit of the show. So entertainment does work.

Clayton: Why don’t you give us a couple examples of successful B2B pieces you’ve done?

Bob Bly: Sure I can do that. One thing that was fun was, this is a little different. You know the book Physicians Desk Reference?

Clayton: Sure.

Bob Bly: They give it away free to doctors, but they sell this directory which today I guess is seventy or eighty dollars, to everyone else who wants it. They sell it for example to trial lawyers who do medical malpractice. They sell it to psychotherapists who need to reference drugs but are not doctors.

They had a long- standing control that could not be beaten. I would go every six months, we’d sit and meet and discuss it for a day. We realized that most people who we were mailing to already had purchased a PDR at some point or another.

So we did a mailing where we showed a picture of an old PDR, and we put you know, the symbol, the red circle slash through it?

We put that symbol and said, “Warning! Your existing PDR is out of date and if you’re using it for prescribing or making clinical decisions, you’re in for disaster.”

Clayton: I saw that promotion!

Bob Bly: Yeah. And then what was the gimmick of it was that it was a snap pack, so one of those mailings that has multiple plies within a carrier. One of the plies was a sticker, a self adhesive sticker, where the sticker said, “Warning! Don’t use this PDR, it’s out of date.”

And we said in our letter, take this sticker, peel it off and put it on your old PDR so you don’t screw up until you get your new one.

That package actually tripled the control and was the control for many years until finally we ran out of vendors who were willing to do that affordably. But it worked for many years.

Another one: We had a product called The Mist Eliminator, which is basically a type of pollution control equipment. If you looked at it you would think it was chainmail from armor.

You stick it in factory smokestacks.The smoke passes through this maze of wires and condenses and the pollutants drop back into the chimney and the smoke that comes out is cleaner.

I said, “Let’s convert our letter into something that looks like a shipping tag.” We printed it on heavier stock, and then we wired it with a little bread tie, we tied it to a piece of this mist eliminator we cut out of a big one with scissors.

And we mailed it in an envelope with the teaser, “Your free mist eliminator is enclosed.” It worked like gangbusters.

Clayton: You’re recognizing that you’re marketing to people and the people are curious at work just like they are in their personal lives. I think it was Caples who said, “Curiosity is one of the prime human motivators.”

Bob Bly: Yeah, I mean the thing about the differences, you asked at the beginning is it different or the same? And there’s a school of people that says, “Hey they’re humans underneath.” They’re correct and they respond to human stuff.

I did a letter for a client in software and the letter was to warn them that something horrible was going on in their disk storage system. And it was.

Disk storage systems often will overwrite and erase records, not in a huge quantity, but it will happen and we were warning them that this is going on and you ought to buy our software to police that and make sure it doesn’t happen.

So my first sentence of my letter for this very conservative software company was one word. It was the word “YIKES!” with an exclamation point.

It worked well and for years, whenever I would see these guys after he left the company at a trade show, he’d smile and point at me and go, “Yikes!”

Clayton: A lot of business-to-business stuff I see is you know, jargon out the wazoo. And I suppose there has to be some of that just to demonstrate that you know your stuff and you can speak the language of the person you’re talking to. But a good mix of colloquial stuff in there too will keep it fun to read and interesting.

Bob Bly: Let me show you the application of a key Clayton Makepeace principle that I did for a mailing long before I knew you.

This client, sells soft skill seminars to IT departments. So they’ll train you in technical writing. They won’t teach you programming, they’ll train you in technical writing and teamwork. And how to do group projects and how to make presentations.

So they had a new seminar they were doing a mailing for and they called me and said, “It isn’t pulling and we thought it would do great.” So they sent me this mailing and the headline is, “Interpersonal Skills for IT Professionals”.

So I said, “Well what’s the resident or dominant emotion that IT professionals have about the user?” A lot of IT professionals don’t want to deal with people and in fact they have an adversarial relationship with their end users. They consider the user a pain in the ass.

And so we did a split test. “Interpersonal Skills for IT Professionals” versus my headline, which was, “Important News For Any IT Professional Who Has Ever Felt Like Telling An End User ‘Go To Hell’”

It pulled six times the response of the other piece.

It’s the dominant resident emotion. That’s why it worked.

Clayton: That’s right. What can B2C marketers learn from B2B marketers?

Bob Bly: I think, actually, B2B can learn more from consumer marketers. But there is one thing I think consumer marketers can learn from B2B.

I see a lot of copy, especially online today, that is, really just pure hype and it’s frantic and unbelievable and has no real substance.

The one thing a good business-to-business copywriter knows how to do is write to an intelligent, serious, and somewhat sophisticated buyer without BS and speaking to them, writing to them in a way that’s engaging without talking down to them.

Clayton: You know, I think that’s right on the money. There’s so much stuff out there right now that’s basically overwritten. It’s writers showing off rather than salesmen selling.

Bob Bly: Right. ‘Cause they’re taking a promotion they’ve seen online that was done by one of the great copywriters or marketers that is hypie but works and they don’t see what works in it. So they just knock it off, but they only knock off the surface stuff.

Clayton: Right. And the “reason-why” stuff gets lost.

Bob Bly: The two things that get lost are the reasons why and also the proof in credibility.

Clayton: Yeah. Yep, great. Well guys, that’s Bob Bly. And thanks, Bob for being with us today.

Bob Bly: It’s always a pleasure.

Clayton: I just want to remind our readers and listeners that Bob is one of our speakers at my Power Marketing Summit March 21-24 – and if you haven’t registered already, we’d love to see you there.

Bob is going to be revealing the response boosting techniques that he relies on most heavily and also will be part of several other sessions including hot seats and other things.

Bob is a great and shining example of the quality of the expertise that we’ve lined up for you. So if you haven’t registered already, this would be a great time to do so!

Well Bob, it’s always a ball, and I really appreciate the insights you’ve given us today.

Yours for Bigger Winners, More Often,
Clayton Makepeace Signature
Clayton Makepeace
Publisher & Editor
THE TOTAL PACKAGE

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2 Responses to A Candid Conversation with
B2B Marketing Ace BOB BLY

  1. Joaquin Garcia says:

    Great stuff, Clayton. I\’ve read Bob Bly\’s book and he really knows what he\’s talking about.

    Always good to get pointers from a master. More power to you both.

  2. Aida Hidayah says:

    this is a great article and I really hope to keep publishing such valuable information. thanks for your generous sharing.
    Is it possible to receive more B2B information?

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