The Power of Copy and Conversions in B2B SaaS Marketing

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Words are powerful. They make as much an impact as video, photos, and audio.

But words and writing are often under-appreciated, particularly by people who aren't writers or marketers. 

In this episode of the Marketing Spark podcast, Sam Howard talks about why words matter and best practices for using them to drive Website conversions.

Sam embraces a research-driven copywriting approach involving interviews with employees, customers and a competitive audit.

We talk about:

  • Whether copy or design should come first when developing a Website
  • Best practices for copy and structure of homepages
  • Three killers tips for Website conversions
  • How to create better CTAs, demo pages, and About pages.

In football there's pain when a team moves the ball to the one yard line but can't punch it in for a touchdown. A lot of work and effort doesn't lead to success. It's frustrating and disappointing. In the BTB SAS world, marketing is disappointing when it attracts and engages prospects but can't get them to convert into customers. And there are many reasons why this happens. Maybe the product fails to live up to expectations, maybe the positioning and messaging aren't as compelling as the competition, and maybe marketing and sales copy isn't enticing, interesting or effective. Well, to learn more about how to create copy that converts, I'm talking to Sam Howard, a conversion copywriter and strategists for B two B SAS startups. Sam Uses a research driven approach to create conversion copy without getting in the way of a company's marketing and initiatives. Welcome to marketing spark. Thank you. How did I do in describing what you do? As long as research drivenism there it's all good. Let's start by talking about whether copy gets the respect that it deserves. In many ways, I think of copy sort of being the Roddy Roddy Danger Field of comedy you can't get no respect. Now, as words smiths, we understand the value of words that make an impact. Is Copy underappreciated in a world dominated by videos, photos and gifts? This may be just because I live in my little happy conversion copy bubble, but I think it does actually okay, and the reason is that one does not simply convert a prospect with a gift. There has to be some copy around it. So in my experience, when prospects come to me, they realize they need help with copy and they are quite ready to give it the respect it so richly deserves. I'm very happy to hear that, because often I think that words and copy are tremendously undervalued and underappreciated. For people who don't appreciate the value of copy, how do you get them to change their attitudes? In your experience, what's the approach, or the best approach to make people understand why copy matters? Well, once they start measuring what's going on with their email copy and their website copy and their head funnels, uh, then there's no work to be done on my end because in my experience the moment startup. Folks realize that something is broken, they want to fix it and in many cases they realize that what's broken is copy. Now, whether or not that leads us to the actual research driven conversion copy process, that's a different question. I'll get into that. But one question I didn't want to ask you is when you're working with clients and even if they recognize the value of copy, is there an Aha moment and they realized that copy is powerful and copy is doing what it needs to do to drive their business forward? I would say that, like perhaps the biggest Aha moment I see is going from where brainstorm in our copy internally and this is what we think we should put on our website, to this is voice of customer driven copy, this is what your existing customers and prospects say about you and this is how we explain what your product does in their words. And in many cases it's this shift from we were trying to say this, but...

...we didn't know how to well, finally now it's there on the page. They see the correlation between the words and success and that's all the proof they need to embrace the power of copy. Yeah, I mean we get to validation and conversion, all of that, but in many cases the first Aha comes when I present the copy and it's this final realization that this is exactly what we wanted to say. We just didn't know how right. Right. I love it when that happens and the lightbulbs go on and they do the happy dance when it comes to anything related to marketing. I wanted to talk about research driven copy. Now, a lot of people, including myself, are guilty of writing copy based on educated guesses. We've done this before. We've written a lot of copy and we think we have the inside and expertise to write copy that converts. And often what happens is the copy doesn't resonate because we're missing something, and I obviously in your case, you believe that is research. So walk me through the research driven approach to copy. What's involved, what do you have to do, how much time does it take and how do you know you've got enough insight to write copy that's going to make an impact? A lot of questions there, but I'm it's a fascinating topic. Yes, it cruly is, and full disclosure, copy hackers fan copy of school grads. So my approach is based on what copy hackers teach. I think that the most important thing is that you mentioned assumptions, and to me, like the whole point of the research is to minimize the amount of assumptions we're making in the copy. I tend to be slightly research obsessed, so I tend to do too much, and sometimes it doesn't need to be super heavy, right, but the first step definitely should be documenting the assumptions and documenting the things that don't work. If you're starting from scratch, not much we can do there, but if you already have a website, then knowing what's broken helps figure out the next steps and the gaps that exist. Okay, so that makes sense, but provide some tactical insight. So I haven't done any research yet. I'm starting my copy journey. What you're suggesting is I look at my website and am I looking at pages that sort of convert and pages that don't convert, and that's where I start to draw my assumptions? Or is it more than that, assuming that you even have conversions set up, which is not always the case? Yes, so start with Google analytics and hot jarge, for example. You might be assuming that everybody is reading through your sales page or your product description page, but are they really and if they're not, what's happening? Instead, you might think that lots of people end up going to your demo sign up form, but are they really and, if not, what's preventing them from filling out the form? So there may be things that you expect and there may be things that you didn't even realize. We're happening like UX issues and those are quick wines. So if you can fix that, just do it right now that you may realize that there are things that are broken but you don't know why, and then the next step is trying to figure out the why. Okay, then, for the first step you've you've major assumptions and these are educated guesses. You've got some biases, obviously. Then what happens? What do...

...you do next? I talked to product, sales and customer success teams, who will have their own biases, which is extra fund because then I get to kind of have this map of things that teams believe separately and things that everybody believes about their customers, and then I can go out and try and validate those assumptions and see how it all comes together in terms of website updates. So let's take a step back, because that's you're skipping over a really important step. What are the questions that you're asking product, sales and marketing? What kind of insight are you looking for and what are the signs that either they're aligned or, more troubling, their misaligned when it comes to how they view the product and the value that it delivers? So many answers us. That's that's that's so many questions. So okay, let's let's let's start with the questions that you'll ask, the basic questions that you might have asked across the board, from marketing, sales and product and for customer success for that matter. So I think that the most interesting one is the kind of overlap of sales and customer success, because sales talks to prospects, customer success supports folks who convert. So if they have totally different answers to who the best prospects and customers are, this is a big well, it's not a really big problem, it's manageable, but it's a red flag for me. It means that something is broken along the way, and the same goes for, for example, for sales team's assumptions about who will stay, who's the best prospect, when they realize that they have a problem and what's the problem they're trying to solve, because as a rule they don't follow up on that. And then customer success can tell me about this endpiece and especially important, we who turns out in whose days. When you've got that insight and then, as you mentioned, you want to validate it, what do you do? Do you go talk to customers directly? Do you do external research using social media? What are what's Next Steps in this journey? Well, one of the things that I want to do before I talk to the customers is understand the competitive landscape, because I I cannot think of a case when a product did not have any competitors, director and direct so I need to understand the differences and, like, why them in the first place. And after that, Um, there are different ways to go about this. My preference, of course, is to talk to the customers, mostly because it helps me ask full up questions. Customers are humans. Humans are not always direct and or truthful, or sometimes they just need a little more prompting to get to the answers. So it's nice to be able to ask those questions. Let's take a step back in terms of doing competitive audit, like I do it when I do positioning and messaging work, and I want to see how other companies talk about themselves. Can you walk me through how what you do to identify what the competitors are saying and the copy that they're using? So is it on their websites? Are you looking at their blog posts, their e books, their videos, like? How deep do you go into the into a competitor's ecosystem to truly understand their approach to copy? No, I did not dig into their content, unless we're optimizing for that stage awareness. What I tend to look at is high level messaging. What is their homepage saying? Like if I only look at hero section, homepage, homepage, hero section, what am I going to find out about them? And how...

...different is it? And I would say at least seven times out of ten websites can be shockingly similar. So knowing that everybody is using the same words to describe their product and the solution and the problem is helpful. It means those words go on the police do not use that list. Great excellent insight. Before we get into copying the wild. Wanted to talk a little bit more about conversions. Many startups and, for that matter, companies, want to hack their way into conversions. They are looking for shortcuts. We live in an instant gratification world and they want things to happen like right away, and for US marketers sometimes it's very painful because marketing often takes time to resonate. Here's a lot of question. What are some of the best practices already conversions and the creative ways to drive them from your work with clients? I tend to get strong feelings around hacks, so let's talk about Best Practices Insteady, best practices are great, frameworks are great. The problem is that when folks are looking for best practices, in many cases they're actually looking for hacks. They just want somebody to tell them to have like a red button instead of a green button or something like that, which to me is a hack, or like rely on the fear of missing out to make your prospects convert. And yes, it could work, but again totally outside of context. It's it's a hack that can backfire. Best Practices will not backfire, but they are not again, they're not going to work because it will depend on your audience, it will depend on your product. So what are best practices? Give me your top three best practices when it comes to copy that converts. One is actually most of them are related to user experience. Strangely enough, I do not force your visitors to do things unless you have a very good reason to do so and it doesn't feel like you are taking away their autonomy. It goes beyond friction. Right. Yes, demo forms and the friction of too many fields is a problem. If some of them are list as not required, that already makes me feel better because I don't feel like I'm forced to give you all of this information. Another one is being very mindful of the layout, which technically not copy, but it's very relevant because we need to be mindful of how information is presented, from not having blocks of text that are just unscannable to having visuals that contribute to the page instead of just taking up space. And the last one would be more, again, more on the design side, not creating false bottoms. It's my favorite thing to hate on websites. It's like there's the section that looks like it's it's the start of the footer. So if your c t a is below that section, nobody is going to even see it because everybody will assume that the page is complete. Let's turn our attention to copy in the wild and discuss some best practices and mistakes made by startups and larger companies. And obviously copy plays a huge role on web sites. What are the biggest mistakes made...

...by companies when it comes to website copy? Loaded? Question again, but maybe you can put the spotlight on some of the biggest mistakes that they make. I think the fluffy copy is the worst, like especially hero sections with the fancy but meaningless two word headlines. And I think it's easier for larger companies to get away with us because, let's be real, probably everybody knows what mail chimp does. They don't need to explain it. But then startups go to the best examples of B two B says hero sections. Um. So I file they realized that almost everybody has those tiny little headlines, they copy them and then the bounce rate goes up immediately. So that's my favorite thing to rent about. Okay, okay, one of the things that I didn't want to ask you about is how do companies approach words on a page, the things that we like to create, versus the business decisions that go into a website. Because obviously, at the end of the day you can have a beautifully designed website, you can have wonderfully written copy, but if it doesn't drive the business forward, then it's all irrelevant. So what's the balancing act and how should companies think about how to emphasize words and and making the business move forward? I mean, it's hard. That's just how it is. And mostly it's hard because the business changes. The goals may not change, but the way you try to reach them may change, and so when this happens, very often there's this gap of several months between the change in strategy and they owe the website is not working anymore. So the only thing that I can think of is being very deliberate about building in feedback loops and staying on top of website updates. It would be nice to think that your website can be this once done, done forever, marketing task, but embracing the changes the only way that I can think of that helps keep the web copy and the business strategy aligned. I mean both are fluid, both are dynamic, they they're constantly evolving and they're written in sand. You're not an etching and stone. So I think that's really great advice. Obviously, a lot of prospects and customers begin their digital journey with a company on the homepage. And what's your advice when it comes to homepaid structure? It's trouble lane puzzling to see so many homepages that have no logic behind them on how their homepages are structured and designed. It strikes me this is probably an area that you spend a lot of time scratching your head about, given that it's so important in terms of making homepages convert our websites convert, for that matter. I think I start of understand why this happens, and it mostly happens because homepages are hard to get right when you don't know enough about your I C P S and their stage of awareness. So if you're starting with we just need to put something on the homepage, then yes, it will be a mess and it will make no sense at all. The way to work around this is either relying on the frameworks to guide you through the layout and after that you still need to figure out what to put in those sections, of course, or start with the research. That will tell you what belongs...

...on the homepage, which is my preferring way. One of the problems with homepages, at least in my opinion, is that companies cram in benefits, features and use cases. It's like going on a first date and telling the person across the table everything about you. You Know Your Life Story and one shot. It's a little overwhelming. How do companies put the spotlight on benefits, features and news cases without overwhelming people? What's your advice in terms of making that journey and that presentation elegant and use your friendly? I would especially for the homepage. I would suggest figuring out the commonalities between the use cases or the I C P s. What is this one thing that they all need and how can you show that your product is relevant for them? After that, you can give them some choices. If they need to find out more about a specific use case, great, they can do that at a specific use case page, but on the homepage it it doesn't need to be busy. You need to provide the necessary amount of information to help them continue working their way through the website to find the information they need. So in a sense it's I don't want to call the homepage a tease, but it does give them a taste of what's possible and the kind of content that they can engage in, and then the copy can can do its work on subsequent pages. So essentially what you're saying is it's a good place to start your journey, but don't try to tell people too much too soon. Like a lot of that is, it depends on the traffic, the CPS, the jugs to be done. But essentially, yes, this is like a map and it's up to the prospects decide where they want to go next, without inciting a words versus design battle, and as word smiths, you know we're very biased. What's your take on the value of website design and what's the flow between copy design and conversions? I do not recommend doing design first. Okay, alright, in the sand right there, you know? Or why not? Because design first will make it look good, but it will end up at being extra work for the design team and for everybody involved in the process, unless the design team nails the copyrighting argument from the get go up, which would be a very unreasonable expectation. I think. So. When I work on projects, I started with wire frames and I hand them over to the design team because it makes everyone's life easier. I know that the copy layout corresponds to what the prospects need to see and the design team does not need to go through weird word documents and try to figure out what I mean. I like that approach. And in terms of wire frames, what does that consist of? Like, how much detail are you providing in a wire frame? Is it generalized blocks of images here, content here, or is a little more detailed than that? So for the copy, it has the visual hierarchy. So H one, H two, h three, buttons are definitely there. Uh. And ideal case scenario, which what which is what I tried to do, is to have a page that looks like a page minus images, which are placeholders. So it's very it doesn't look finished, it's not supposed to look finished, but it shows what the copy needs...

...to look like and then the design team can play with all the beautiful visual elements that they have at their disposal. Sounds like a great approach. Let's do a mini rapid fire round. I'm going to ask you some short questions and you can answer for as long or as short as you want. C T A S? How do you make them appealing and drive curiosity rather than asking a simple question like get a demo? No, no questions please. Okay, yeah, I don't think that CD a should ever be a demo and ready to find out more is definitely not a C T a section headline I would ever recommend with curiosity, though it can be appropriate for type of funnel content or even maybe pages, but I would try to be snappier and basically get out of the prospects way. They we are approaching a conversion. What's a better C t a than get a demo? It's not about the button copy. It's well, it can be about the button copy, but it can also be about everything that surrounds the button copy. Are you addressing the objections that your prospects have? Are you explaining what's going to happen next? When are you going to get back to them? Are they going to be able to schedule a demo, or do they need to sit and wait for an email from your team? Al Right, so all of that is more important than in my opinion, all of that is more important than getting the button copy text just right. Demo forms, how do you make them more interesting and compelling. And who's the demo form? For sales or customers? You would think it's for customers, but very often it is determined by the what the sales team needs to know. In the cases when it is absolutely impossible to reduce the number of form of forium fields, then yes, I would argue, then trying to make the demo for more fun could work. Mostly. I think of fun and form when I think about quizzes. That could also be a good use case, especially if you can hide some of the fields and break them up. That said, I strongly suggest finding different ways to qualify your prospects that did not involve lengthy form required fields and generally making it hard to convert. About pages. Do you think that most companies are? They an overlooked opportunity for companies to connect and tell their company story. Yes, most importantly, connect the company's story to what the prospects care about. Thank you for putting the spotlight on copy and conversions. Last question, where can people learn more about you what you do? I am on Linkedin, probably way too much. Yeah, like like everybody in our world, and I also have a website at ekaterina Howard Dot Com. Thanks for appering on the podcast and thanks for everyone for listening to another episode of marketing spark. If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review, subscribe via apple podcast or your favorite podcast APP and, of course, share BIA social media. To learn more about how I helped B two B SAS companies as a fractional CMO strategic advisor and positioning wizard, email mark at Mark Evans dot c a or connect with me on Linkedin. I'll talk to you soon. Might.

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