Does this sound familiar?
You’re launching (or re-launching!) your Business-to-Business copywriting empire. You’ve chosen your industry and selected your niche. You’ve taken the programs, maybe even attended AWAI’s awesome annual B2B Copy Intensive.
You’re psyched! You’re ready! It’s the first day of your six-figure career!
You’re at your desk, ready to write your self-promotional materials that compel and captivates Fingers flexed over the keyboard, eyes bright, brain synapses firing and …
Or maybe something, but nothing inspired. Reality begins to set in. How can you set your services apart? How can you write self-promotional copy that rings so true your prospects automatically know, like, trust, and want to hire you on the spot?
Of course, some B2B copywriters have deep experience in the niche they’ve chosen. An engineer develops a freelance business writing web copy for engineering firms. An Emergency Medical Technician helps medical supply companies sell to hospitals.
They can rely on serious experience. They already speak the language of their prospects and their prospect’s customers.
But what if you’re breaking into a niche where you have no experience? How can you become an expert in this new field?
Or maybe it’s been a while since you were active in the industry. Maybe you took some time to raise your children, or you’re returning to pursue a dream from an earlier part of your life.
How in the world are you going to become versed in the current language, needs, and desires of your prospects and your prospects’ customers?
The answer is so simple, it seems obvious. But it’s surprising how many potentially successful copywriters get stuck right there, poised over their keyboard, staring at a blank screen, frozen for lack of current vocabulary and clear inspiration.
How can you avoid that awful fate and write materials that will make prospects want to hire you, right away?
The answer is two little words.
The Art of the Interview
Over the phone, through email, or social media, the old-fashioned interview process reveals — quickly, efficiently, and thoroughly — the “here and now” of your prospects’ innermost thoughts.
In a short period of time, you can gain critical, up-to-the-minute information. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll use phrases, lingo, and ideas that give prospective clients confidence in you. Your copy will smack of an expert who knows their stuff.
And BOOM! You’re in.
Here’s how …
STEP ONE — THE LIST
Make a list of people to interview. As a B2B copywriter, you need to have a deep understanding of two sets of people. You’ll need a list for each.
The first list includes your prospects — CEOs or marketing managers of the companies you’re targeting. You’ll need to understand what motivates them from a personal and professional standpoint.
What are their challenges, hopes, triumphs, defeats? What do they want personally? More time to enjoy with family? More money? What about professionally? Promotion? Recognition?
The second list includes your prospect’s customers. What are their needs, wants, desires? How is your prospect winning their loyalty or causing them to choose another solution? Understanding your prospect’s customers on a deep level will help you become an indispensable part of the marketing team. You’ll have your prospects eating out of your hand.
STEP TWO — THE BAIT
Now that you have your two lists, you need to decide what you are going to create with the research you’re about to discover. You’ll want it to be something sharable, informative, and helpful, so you can offer it as bait to get the interview. Here are a few suggestions:
- A buzz piece or special report on current industry trends or ideas
- An article for an industry trade magazine
- A series of video blog posts discussing latest industry information
- A SlideShare presentation or other sharable graphic
STEP THREE — THE METHOD
Decide how you’re going to contact your interviewees.
- In person?
- By phone?
- By email?
- On social media? (LinkedIn is especially effective)
In person is a very effective way to build relationships, but it’s not always possible due to geography or time. An in-person interview allows you to ask follow-up questions and sense the importance of different issues through tone and body language. If the prospect’s customers are storefronts and you have several in your area, definitely consider going in and talking to them in person.
Phone conversations also allow for follow-up questions and unexpected turns in the conversation. Sometimes the best information you get is something you never thought of asking.
If you simply can’t interview in person or on the phone, or you’re not comfortable with that format, you can use the email approach. It’s more effective if you already have an introduction in place, though.
Which is why, if you’re going to use email, try starting the conversation on LinkedIn. Create a LinkedIn profile; join LinkedIn groups to connect with the people you’d like to interview. Become involved in the group and ask for volunteers to help you with research.
STEP FOUR — THE PREP
Now it’s time to get prepared. People are busy, so you’ll want to know what you’re going to say in advance. Preparing questions, scripts, and emails for every step in the process beforehand makes you feel and sound professional and at ease.
Prepare a List of Interview Questions:
You’ll have two sets of questions — one for your prospects and one for your prospect’s customers. Don’t ask too many questions — always consider time. Here are some sample questions you might consider using:
For your prospects:
- What do you consider your competitive advantage?
- What trends do you see emerging in your industry?
- What marketing activities have you found to be the most successful? How are they working for you?
- Does your website play an active part in your marketing efforts?
- Is your company active in social media? Which platforms?
- What is your biggest challenge in marketing to your customers?
For your prospect’s customers:
- Describe your biggest marketing challenges?
- How are your suppliers helping you market your products or services?
- Could you say a little about the staff or product training from your providers? What would the ideal training look like?
- How can your providers help to close sales for you?
- How do your clients usually make buying decisions?
- How is your experience with your provider’s delivery process (fast, consistent, local reps, etc.)?
- What makes your relationship with your provider’s sales reps work for you? Are there any challenges? Improvements you’d like to see?
- What trends to you see developing in your industry?
Of course, you’ll want to tailor your questions to your niche market, but keep them open-ended as much as possible. Yes and no answers don’t reveal real issues.
Prepare Phone and Email Scripts
If you’re going to be contacting prospects by phone, you’ll need a call script. Write down what you’ll say. Most CEOs and marketing managers have gatekeepers, so take that into consideration.
You might say:
“Hi, my name is John Smith. I’m a writer in the [insert your niche] industry and I’m researching a special report on current industry practices. I’m contacting a few experts in the field and wondered if you would be able to answer a few short questions? I’ll only need about 10 minutes and would really appreciate your input.”
If you don’t get your interviewee on the phone right away — and you probably won’t — be sure to leave a number where you can be reached. If you end up talking with the gatekeeper, use the same script, adjusted appropriately.
If you don’t hear from them in a few hours or the next day, you can send an email saying:
“Hi xxxxxx, my name is John Smith and I’m the writer in the [insert your niche] industry doing research for a special report on current industry practices. I left you a message a little earlier.
I know you’re busy and thought it might be easier for you to respond by email, so I’m including the 5 questions here. Just type in your responses below each question and push ‘reply.’
I truly appreciate your help with this project and I’ll be happy to send you a copy of the article/report as soon as it’s published.”
Write your email templates (always be sure to customize each one for the individual prospect). Include the questions in the email. Don’t add them as an attachment. Make it as easy as possible for your prospect to respond.
Write a follow-up email if they haven’t responded, and add the questions again.
Write a thank you email for those that do respond. If you really want to dazzle them, write a handwritten note whenever possible — it makes a huge impression. Remember, you are creating relationships with potential clients!
In your conversations and correspondence, remember to include WIIFM (What’s in it for me) benefits! What’s in it for the interviewee? A free report? Something intangible? Contributing to an industry they love? Receiving improved service or products?
A Few Tips From the Trenches:
- When you’re doing an in-person or phone interview — be cordial and direct. Don’t waste your prospect’s time. LISTEN, don’t talk. Ask permission to record the call. (One easy way is to use your smartphone and download a recording app. There are free apps that are simple and work very well.)
- Always ask if you can contact them if you have further questions. Make note of especially helpful people. Link up with them on LinkedIn; follow them on Twitter. Remember — relationships, relationships, and relationships.
- When you’re starting out, if an interview with your prospects seems daunting, try starting with their customers. Then when you’re ready to start talking to your prospects, you’ll have tons of information they need and a conversation will be all the more desirable. You’ll already be immersed in the language of the niche, so your copy — and your speech — will take on a familiarity that makes prospects feel at home with you. And we hire people we know, like, and trust, right?
STEP FIVE — THE FINAL PRODUCT
Okay. You’ve completed a series of interviews, either in person, on the phone, through email, and/or on LinkedIn. Now it’s time to use what you’ve learned. Here are a few suggestions to leverage your research:
- Build your website — your copy will now speak directly to your prospect.
- Create a buzz piece or special market report to download and capture leads.
- Create a SlideShare presentation or other sharable graphic, which also can be used as a lead capture device.
- Write articles and blog posts, discussing your findings and inviting more conversation (more great research for you!).
- Create a series of video posts.
- Create a series of follow-up videos with industry experts and post online — nothing makes you an expert faster than hanging out with experts!
STEP SIX — THE TIMING
To ramp up your success, make a plan to contact 1 to 5 interviewees a day. In most cases, you won’t immediately be able to reach them by phone, so it’s easy to send out the follow-up emails (you’ve already got the templates ready, remember?).
Commit to a certain period of time each week to build your business. You’ll be surprised how much new business can be generated in just 30-60 minutes a day.
Perfect the art of the old-fashioned interview. It might just bring you brand-new success!