First off, let me introduce myself. My name’s Benjamin Yee. I’m the CEO of EMERGE App, a cloud-based inventory management solution. I founded this company back in 2016 and we now have well over 1,000 users in 40 countries around the world. Our customer base is diverse: from handmade soap makers to medical equipment and car parts suppliers.
So what exactly does my software do? Basically, if your business deals with the buying and selling of physical goods, EMERGE App helps you manage your orders, purchases and products in one central place. It has a user-friendly interface so that anyone can quickly get started using it. The software is sold via monthly and annual subscriptions.
Like many software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, we don’t have sales reps. Prospects visit our website, sign up for a free account and then start a paid subscription if they like our software and it fits their needs. So all of our efforts are focused on our inbound marketing strategy. To achieve this, we rely a lot on content marketing.
In the past, we paid for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising like everyone else. However, we quickly found that it became a very expensive exercise in outbidding competitors. There were truly no winners among the advertisers. The quality and quantity of leads from PPC advertising were underwhelming and it did not justify the sizeable expense every month.
Today, our inbound leads come solely from Google organic search, software review sites, forums and message boards, and direct traffic in that order. The last one is interesting as we spend nothing on traditional media advertising and marketing. Our online presence must have resulted in greater awareness of our brand and software features.
So, I’d like to share with you 5 valuable lessons that I learnt from marketing my business-to-business (B2B) software. The industry that I work in — wholesale, distribution and manufacturing — and the customer base of small and medium-sized businesses meant that it presented challenges of its own to acquire, engage and grow customers.
In a small and nimble startup like ours, content rightfully belongs to the C-level. Content marketing is central to our inbound marketing strategy and it needs to be driven from the top, second to the CEO of course. You might call it the Chief Content Officer or it might fall under the Chief Marketing Officer.
Whatever you call it, content marketing needs to be part of the company’s overall strategy and decision-making. This might not matter in a large multinational company with sales, advertising and marketing teams for each of their brands and products. But it matters for businesses like ours that depend wholly on content marketing for lead generation.
I have full-time employees who work on content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), content promotion and analytics. One is the Chief Marketing Officer who writes content and manages branding. The other is jokingly called the Chief Traffic Controller because he drives inbound traffic. Both work closely with me in growing traffic to the website, encouraging free account signups and, ultimately, paid subscriptions.
Yes, I know. This phrase is oft-quoted but it still rings true today as it did during the days of cable television, search engine portals and, now, streaming services. Content is still king. Otherwise, there’s little reason for anyone to visit your website or subscribe to your services. Original content is what differentiates you from your competitors. There’s no getting away from it.
As such, we hold our content cards close to our chest. In the early days, we used freelancers to write our articles. The results were mixed. Most of them were poorly written and required much editing and rephrasing. We could have written the article ourselves in the meantime. All of them were far from being authoritative articles that we envisioned.
Today, we’ve stopped using freelancers for our blog posts. It’s simply not worth it to dilute or gamble away your website authority on inconsistent work. Our blog articles are original, written from scratch, well-researched and are held to a very high (almost academic) standard. But we make them fun and interesting, too.
The only thing we outsource nowadays is complex infographics. For this, it’s far better to engage and pay a deserving graphic artist to put your data and thoughts into a graphic form. It’s much faster that way and it frees up much time to focus on producing the next article in our publishing schedule.
In the B2C world, killer content might be the next viral music video, original comedy skits or simply just entertaining writing. In the B2B market, it’s a lot harder to deliver killer content. From our experience video isn’t a platform that business customers gravitate to. Nor do tweets or social media networks gel well with small businesses.
We find that B2B customers don’t have a great deal of time to spend outside of running their businesses. They go online when they want to research or seek solutions to problems they face in their business. In that sense, killer B2B content must directly address their specific pain point. And it needn’t be a long-form article or fancy video.
In our case, the killer content was a simple wholesale terms and conditions template. I know it doesn’t sound very sexy or captivating but it’s still our most viewed article on our blog! What it offers is a step-by-step guide to writing a wholesale terms & conditions agreement to present to your retail customers. We even included a download link to a Google Docs file that’s ready to be used. Business customers love convenience and time-saving tips.
We all make mistakes. We all do. We’re only human after all. So when we wanted to write an informative blog article about common mistakes that business owners make in managing their inventory, we did a quick Google search. It brought up a lot of search results that, well, could easily be substituted for one another. They all started to look alike after a while.
The last thing that we wanted to do was to add our contribution and hope for the best in rising up the ranks. We wanted to stand out. We also wanted to make it cheeky. After all, the worst thing to do when marketing to B2B customers is to spoon feed them academic articles that remind them of Business Management 101.
And it just so happened that Halloween was well over a month away. So we got to work with probably our first ever thematic blog post. We mashed up common inventory management mistakes along with a spooky horror theme. Deadstock? Fits our theme! It was a hit from day one. Even our usual infographic artist said he never had so much fun and creative license in producing the Halloween graphic.
While crafting content, we make it a point that all articles on our blog and at our website need to be written by us. Why? We’re targeting small and medium-sized businesses who trade in physical goods for a living. We’ve been there and done that with a brick-and-mortar t-shirt printing business. While that business continued with mixed results, it spawned the inventory management software that you see today.
So, who is the better person to write content advising prospects and customers on how to achieve efficiency, lower costs and improve productivity with managing their inventory? It would have to be people who’ve been through it themselves. That way, we connect directly with our target audience. We know their pain points. We understand what it’s like to be in their situation.
This was another reason why we decided to bring back blog writing in-house. Our wholesale, distribution and manufacturing industry is fairly specialized and dry. The target audience is typically successful, well-educated and tech-savvy. There’s certainly no scope for bluffing. People will see right through it if we dispense nonsense, fillers or unsubstantiated facts. And it reflects very badly on the brand and our position in the market.
So by putting ourselves in the shoes of our business customers, we empathize with them and write in their lingo. For chemical wholesalers and distributors, for example, there are regulatory hurdles to overcome in storing and labelling chemicals. Among other things, our software must be able to classify chemical products by hazard classes according to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).
As a customer of business goods and services myself, I have little time to dwell upon the merits or otherwise of a product or service. You need to package it and sell it to me. Make it easy and convenient for me to digest. Hence, we talk about solutions and not product features at EMERGE App.
In the same manner, your content needs to be focused and direct. There’s little point in producing a beautiful page listing the features of your product. What do feature listings mean to a business customer who is looking for technology to label and scan their products? It’s called barcoding but they may not know how it fits in their workflow.
For instance, we wrote an article about inventory management using barcoding technology. We didn’t dwell on the barcode features and simple hardware integrations that our software had. Instead, we presented a general guide on how to pick a barcode printing and software package, tying it with an inventory management software like ours, and then incorporating barcoding into your daily workflow.
Content marketing to businesses presents its own set of challenges. Give it the attention and priority that it deserves in your marketing strategy. Focus your efforts on producing original and creative content to stand out from your competitors. Most importantly, connect with your intended audience and make it easy for them to digest your information. I hope my experience will help you with content marketing for B2B businesses.