By Scott Abel | STC Associate Fellow
It’s a familiar refrain: “My company doesn’t value technical communication.” Perhaps you feel the same way about the organization for which you work. If so, don’t fret. You’re not alone. And there’s something you can do about it. One in four technical communication professionals (surveyed by The Content Wrangler in 2018) claim the company for which they work doesn’t value technical communication.
Conversely, more than half of those surveyed say management “sort of” values the work they perform, but that leaders don’t fully understand the many ways that technical content can be used to help organizations achieve business goals like increasing sales.
That limited view of technical communication is changing. Increasingly, sales leaders recognize that the content we produce can help ensure the satisfaction of existing customers and help turn prospects into loyal customers.
These changing views provide us with a fantastic opportunity to reposition ourselves as sales enablers. This article makes a case for connecting technical communication to sales to elevate the importance of our work. By connecting our content to sales (to attract prospects and convert them into buyers), we can demonstrate how the fruits of our labor can impact the bottom line. As a result, we become part of the revenue-generation team, increasing the value of the content we create.
As a bonus, by linking our efforts to sales, we’re more likely to receive the resources needed to produce that content. Those resources could be used to streamline and modernize our content creation, management, and delivery processes and systems. Moreover, when we’re sales enablers, we’re less likely to be cut from the employee roster during lean times.
So, what changed?
“Today, organizations that seek to create exceptional customer experiences with content realize mapping content structures to the full-lifecycle needs of audiences offers differentiating value,” says [A] Founder and Content Engineer Cruce Saunders.
Traditionally, information products created by technical communicators were considered post-sale deliverables. Deliverables such as end-user documentation (assembly, disassembly, maintenance, and repair instructions) and online help were often provided to customers only after they purchased a product or service.
However, thanks to revelations gleaned from analysis of content performance metrics and interviews with decisionmakers, sales teams now realize that prospective buyers often seek out—and value highly—technical information.
While technical content is sometimes useful in business-to-consumer (B2C) selling, technical content is almost always an essential ingredient in business-to-business (B2B) transactions.
According to content strategy consultant (and Intercom Executive Editor) Andrea Ames, researchers at IBM (where Ames worked previously) discovered that prospective customers considered high-quality technical documentation content “important” or “very important” to their initial purchase decision.
Research from the lead management consultants at DemandGen unearthed similar findings, along with details about the types of content buyers desire. In their 2017 Content Preferences Survey Report, DemandGen found that prescriptive content is the most popular type of information sought by B2B buyers. Would-be purchasers prefer content delivered to them on-demand in mobile-optimized small chunks, personalized for their needs. And they expect us to help them discover new content that they may be unaware of—information of potential value to them based on their area of interest and where they are in the buyer’s journey.
The Buyer’s Journey
Modern marketers sometimes organize how they envision prospective buyers will interact with the company into something known as the buyer’s journey (sometimes referred to as the customer journey). By organizing the journey into stages—awareness, evaluation, decision, and advocacy—marketers can map and deliver stage-appropriate content with precision timing to members of a particular audience segment. By dividing the buyer’s journey into stages that consider the intent of the buyer, we can laser-focus our content for maximum effectiveness.
For example, during the awareness stage, prospective buyers may seek access to information contained in white papers, eBooks, tip sheets, and checklists. This content is designed to build brand recognition and to help buyers understand the purpose of the solution the sellers are offering. By recognizing that consumers who are not yet customers have specific content needs, you can design a content delivery plan that ensures the most relevant content is provided at each stage in the buyer’s journey.
During the evaluation stage (sometimes called the “consideration stage”), prospects begin to home in on potential solutions to their problems. They make a short list of vendors to consider. As they consider their purchasing options, prospective customers often seek out content designed to help them compare and contrast your products and services with those of your competition. During this stage, prospects need more in-depth technical content. Technical documentation content is often necessary to help would-be buyers make a case for adding you to their short list of vendors.
The decision stage is where prospects become customers. During this stage, prospects seek additional clarification and understanding before they commit to buying. They may need precise content designed to help them substantiate their purchase decision. It is during this stage of the buyer’s journey that you must communicate a clear, compelling reason for choosing your products or services over others. The content you create should describe the problems that are solved by the product, the benefits of using the product or service, and how it’s better than those offered by the competition. Decision-focused content facilitates the comparison of your product to the competitors’. Technical content often plays a starring role in the final purchase decision.
Savvy marketers realize that the information needs of prospects change when they convert from prospects into paying customers. That’s why there’s an additional stage in the journey called the advocacy stage. It’s during this phase that your organization must create content that nurtures the customer and encourages them to remain brand loyal.
In summary, technical content is no longer just post-sale content delivered to customers after they purchase. Instead, it’s content designed to create advocates and evangelists. By collaborating with sales and marketing (and other departments like training, public relations, and human relations), organizations can build a repeatable, systematic approach to providing the right content to the right audience at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
What the Research Shows
In today’s time-crunched business world, prospective customers seek authoritative, trustworthy content that guides them, step-by-step, toward success. They need prescriptive content that spells out what they must do to achieve their goals, instead of traditional technical communication content that is often limited to documenting how something works.
“B2B purchasers of products and services find technical communication content of value when it helps them make decisions about why, what, or how to commit to change,” says Content Marketing and Customer Experience Expert Robert Rose of That Content Advisory.
“As organizations focus their efforts on creating extraordinary content experiences, they soon realize that they serve multiple audiences. When a company aims to serve more than one audience type (prospective customers versus existing customers),” Rose says, “they start to see the need to more deeply understand the content needs of those they hope to convert.”
Collaborating with sales means deeply understanding the needs of buyers. As content marketing maven Michael Brenner points out, to serve our audiences, we must understand “who they are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions.”
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is said to have introduced the idea that messaging alignment (speaking with one voice) across all channels provides organizations with revenue growth. Benioff’s thinking led to the emerging discipline known as “sales enablement.” According to Benioff, sales enablement empowers all stakeholders involved in customer-facing communication to have richer conversations with curious prospects and existing customers alike. The sales enablement discipline focuses on enabling sales representatives by providing them with the tools and information needed to sell.
While equipping sales teams with the content they need to educate prospects and convert them into buyers makes great business sense, technical communication professionals can help the organizations for which they work create shorter, interactive content that educates rather than sells.
It makes sense that mapping content to audience segments helps organizations deliver the best experiences possible. It’s challenging work that involves understanding each audience and their unique needs during various stages in their buyer journey. Mapping content requires classification and categorization, which means you’ll need to have a metadata strategy (think taxonomy) that not only describes what the content is, but for whom it is designed, and at what stage of the buyer’s journey is it most likely to be needed.
According to search engine optimization expert Derek Edmond, writing in Search Engine Land blog (www.searchengineland.com), the technical content types that provide the most impact include: how-to or explainer content (including video), competitive product/service comparisons, evaluation guidelines, customer service and support content, price comparisons, use cases, documentation sets, help files, and implementation plans. Comparisons help buyers make decisions.
Demonstrating Our Value Creates Opportunities
It’s clear that a content strategy that includes technical content can facilitate sales. That makes information products created by technical communicators some of the most valuable content an organization can provide to prospects.
By mapping content types to the stages of the buyer’s journey, you can improve your search presence and make your content easier to locate. By focusing on the creation of fresh, new content of value to various audience segments, your organization will achieve higher SEO rankings. Updating legacy technical content and revamping it for sales purposes also improves search performance, especially when intent metadata is used to categorize and deliver the right content to those who need it.
“The challenge is getting customer conversations across devices, channels, and sessions right. While there are many pitfalls to avoid, the benefits of making technical communication content available to those who need it, when, where, and how they want it, not only helps companies delight existing customers after the sale, but that same ‘post-sales’ content is now intentionally being used before the first sale to convert prospects into paying customers,” Cruce Saunders adds.
Technical communication professionals have been at the forefront of advanced information development management efforts for the past two decades. The field of technical documentation is responsible for the creation of specialized authoring, management, and delivery tools and methods designed to connect the right content to the right consumers when, where, and how they need it.
The tools in the advanced techcomm toolbox—things like single source multichannel publishing and intelligent XML content—are both examples of innovations advanced by the industry that could be adapted to help the organizations for which you work to better serve prospects and customers alike. By doing so, we can help our organizations differentiate themselves from the competition and make sales, while also increasing the utility of the content we create and simultaneously showcasing the value technical communication content provides.
SCOTT ABEL (firstname.lastname@example.org), known affectionately as The Content Wrangler, is an internationally recognized global content strategist who specializes in helping organizations deliver the right content to the right audience. Scott is the Founder, CEO, and Chief Strategist at The Content Wrangler, Inc.
Scott is a founding member of Content Management Professionals and was the founder of the Intelligent Content Conference with Ann Rockley. Scott also co-produces several annual conferences including Information Development World and is the producer of The Content Wrangler Content Strategy Series of seven books from XML Press.
The Content Wrangler (www.thecontentwrangler.com) exists to help content-heavy organizations adopt the tools, technologies, and techniques they need to connect content to customers.