How to Do B2B Writing Right
Business-to-business (B2B) writing is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s written communication from one business to another, often illustrating how your business can help the other. Have a tool or service or product that you’ve built to make another company’s workflow easier, say a hosting platform or a CI/CD SaaS? You need to communicate the benefits of it with B2B writing.
Writing for B2B markets is noticeably different from business-to-consumer (B2C) writing in a handful of subtle but important ways:
- You’re writing to a much more narrow demographic with more specialized knowledge
- Your audience expects a certain level of knowledge from you
- You can use more industry-specific jargon
- Explanations of well-understood industry concepts can be skipped or kept brief
Types of B2B Writing
B2B writing is a rather broad term, but within that are several different types of writing, each with its own purposes, structures, and tones.
In B2B, a blog post usually takes the form of an informational essay of between 500 to 2000 words. These can be posted to your own company website, or you can write guest posts about your services and products to be posted on informational sites, online magazines, or even other companies’ blogs.
Most of you are probably familiar with what a B2C blog post looks like—when they’re well done, they can be witty and entertaining, but we’ve all seen the infamous cooking blog posts that ramble for hundreds of words before getting to the point the reader is there for: the recipe.
B2B blog posts especially need to get to the point. You’re writing 1000+ words for a reason—what is it? Whether it’s a tutorial or discussing company philosophy, keep your theme at the forefront, and never let your readers wonder why they’re reading your blog post.
Depending on your brand voice and the voice of the website where this blog is posting, you can perhaps indulge in a more informal or at least a conversational tone.
Email Marketing and Newsletters
Effective email is short and sweet. Marketing emails, in particular, need to have a tightly defined point, clearly expressing what you’d like the recipient to do with the information in the email. Use a coupon code? Sign up for a webinar? Join a beta? You should probably be able to get this message across in 200 words or less.
Depending on the point of the email and your brand voice, you can probably afford a witticism or two, but when in doubt, keep it straightforward. Readers will be skimming, so help them out with clear language and easy-to-understand formatting. By all means, use a visual, a photo, or graphic, if it will help convey your CTA faster.
Newsletters can sometimes afford to be a bit lengthier, a bit less tight, especially if you’re an established voice of authority with an audience that’s demonstrated they want to listen to you. But when in doubt, KISS.
Ebooks and Whitepapers
Length here is a bit more ambiguous, but it honestly depends on what you want the ebook or whitepaper to do. Do you have 40,000 words of opinion on open source as a philosophy? By all means, get it nicely formatted with some good graphics and make that ebook available to download on your company site.
A more likely scenario, however, is that you want to have a handful of useful whitepapers at the ready for your sales team or a prospective client. Whitepapers may go more in-depth than a blog post, explaining some technical aspect of your product or service to someone who needs to know exactly how it would fit into their current business structure. Anticipate the needs and questions of your target demographic and answer their concerns clearly and professionally over the course of a couple of pages (500 words) to ten (2500). More than that, and you may need to consider whether your topic should be broken down into a series of whitepapers or an ebook.
For whitepapers especially, due to their technicality, the tone is professional and polished. Again, you can do whatever you want with your brand voice, but whitepapers definitely have a more informational tone than typical marketing language.
One of the biggest gaps I personally notice on tech company sites, especially for startups, is a clear product description. You know what your product does, but does your target demographic? How quickly can they figure it out? Aside from the infographic in your brand colors on your landing page, make sure you have a short paragraph somewhere on your site that reads, “Amazing Product is a noun that verbs this pain point by specific description of integration with client workflow”?
That’s all a product description needs to be:
- What is it (don’t just describe it as a solution and call it quits)?
- What pain point does it address?
- How does it address the pain point?
Asking readers to wade through buzzwords to piece together those three points on their own is also asking for a high bounce rate. Stick to your brand voice, yes, but try to be clear and transparent.
Ghostwriting and Speeches
If you’re the primary writer for your company, chances are you’ll be asked to put someone else’s meaning into words for them. Your CTO may have the knowledge to be the voice of authority on a topic, but they may not have the time or skill to get it down on paper.
Writing material for someone else to stand behind and say, “Yes, these are my thoughts,” is a bit different than the other types of B2B writing we’ve covered so far. While some principles still apply—be straightforward, be clear, keep your point at the forefront of the piece—you also have to remember you’re taking on the voice of a particular person. If the CTO is usually pretty down to earth, don’t inject five-dollar words into a speech they’re going to have to deliver, or a blog post that will have their picture next to it. It’ll ring false, which can make the piece all but worthless.
As the name suggests, a press release is meant to release news to a press. You’ve raised a round of funding, you’re getting ready to release a new version, you’re discontinuing a legacy service—and you’d like to inform the industry.
There are guides galore on how to write a press release and many tools to help you distribute them, so I won’t belabor the specs myself. I will emphasize that structure matters here more than any other piece of B2B writing I’ve touched on, so glance over a few tutorials, find the commonalities, and stick to them religiously.
The press release is an efficient formula for delivering information to people who will transfer it to another format, usually a news article or industry blog. These people will be looking for specific info to craft their own writing from, and the press release is designed to help them find it easily. Mess with the formatting too much, and your press release is going in the trash, I guarantee you.
Tips for B2B Writing
As you’ve read so far, there are a lot of different structures that B2B writing can take. But no matter whether you’re writing a blog post, a whitepaper, or a webinar script, there are a handful of best practices to keep in mind.
1. Start with Your Goal
What do you want your audience to come away with? What do you want them, above all else, to know by the end of your piece? Distill that into a single sentence—“Readers should know how to create a Hugo theme”—and make sure that idea informs the rest of your writing. Write it down if you like, and keep it physically close while you craft the rest.
2. Build an Outline
You probably don’t have to do this for an email or product description (still think of your one-liner goal, though), but for long-form pieces, an outline is a huge time saver.
Consider how each step will get you closer to your goal—what do you want the reader to know?—and build logical steps toward that. The brevity of an outline forces you to stay on point or at least makes it easier to see when you’re wandering or when a point doesn’t fit in easily with its neighbors. And when you’re stuck in your draft, you can revisit your outline to see where you’re supposed to go next.
Writing an outline is my least favorite part of writing, but avoiding multiple revisions makes them worth it, hands down.
3. Write as You Speak
Remember how I said not to put five-dollar words into the mouth of the person you’re ghostwriting for? The same applies to yourself. If you try to write with vocabulary you don’t use in speech, your chances for using a word or metaphor incorrectly rise. Being professional in your tone doesn’t mean introducing unfamiliar styles of speech—stick to avoiding profanity and questionable humor, and ta-da, you’re probably being very professional, actually.
4. Use Tools
If you could use some extra confidence in your writing, or you’d like a sort of digital editor to look over your shoulder as you write, it’s never been easier to level up your own work. Tools like Grammarly and the Hemingway Editor can alert you to flowery language, repeated words, lengthy sentences, incorrect vocabulary, and so on.
5. Know How to Use Jargon
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, a certain amount of jargon is expected if you’re writing for an industry audience. There’s no need to balloon your word count explaining things that you would expect your clientele to already grasp.
However, don’t miss an opportunity to lead someone deeper into the industry because your writing is unnecessarily opaque. Will it take less than five words to offer a definition for a technical term on first use? Consider including it. That’s another good rule of thumb, by the way—define a term or acronym once, when you first use it in a piece, and never do it again.
6. Develop a Voice
Humans like to read the words of other humans (we’re a self-absorbed species like that). In writing, voice is the concept of a writer’s style: their tone, their attitude, the vocabulary they use. Are they casual, are they intimate, are they funny, are they educational?
If you’re writing pieces that will have your name next to them, consider how you want your writerly self to be perceived and try to write toward that. Don’t feel bad if you can’t get there immediately! Voice is something personal and layered, and it’s constantly evolving, so give yourself time.
If you’re writing marketing material that’s meant to reflect the company and not a person, make sure you discuss what the brand voice is with the proper stakeholders. Take time to get it synced up, too. Your audience can quickly tell if your blog has a different voice than your products page than your whitepapers, which can lead to a murky brand image.
7. Have Material Proofread
Perhaps you don’t need a knock-down-drag-out edit, but typos are horrid little things that can hide in plain sight when you’re the one who wrote them. At the very least, get a second pair of eyes—human eyes, not just a digital editor—to glance over any public-facing B2B content. Everyone needs an editor and the ones who say they don’t are lying.
8. Consider SEO
Search engine optimization is its own entire thing, so I won’t cover too much ground on it here. Educate yourself on best practices for SEO, but keep in mind that you’ll most likely need to strike a happy medium between pleasing human readers and pleasing Google. In my humble opinion, leaning toward writing for a human audience rather than a bot can help you avoid SEO faux pas like keyword stuffing.
9. Learn to Love the Process
Nobody writes anything perfectly the first time the fingers hit the keyboard. Improvement happens with work, so:
- Get into the habit of rereading your draft before sending it on down the pike; you’ll be amazed at how much you can catch with a simple reread after letting a draft sit for a day.
- Learn to self-edit.
- Revisit your outline and make sure you’ve hit all the points, and hit them as solidly as you wanted to.
- If you ask someone to proofread the piece, set your ego aside and carefully consider their feedback.
The writing that surrounds your business is probably the first contact your audience will have with you. Polished, professional, thoughtful B2B writing will go a long way toward a positive first impression.
Are you an authority in the industry? Can your business be trusted? What are your business ethics? How do you want to improve the world? Those questions are just the tip of the iceberg of what you definitely will convey in B2B writing, whether you mean to or not. Clearly, it’s important to make sure the writing attached to your company isn’t an afterthought.
If you’d prefer to offload the writing—I get it, it’s time-intensive and, if you don’t already enjoy it, it’s probably not what you want to focus on—check out Draft.dev. We create blog posts, tutorials, and other content designed for technical audiences, with a professional voice and high attention to detail.
Build a Blog that Software Developers Will Read
The Technical Content Manager’s Playbook is a collection of resources you can use to manage a high-quality, technical blog:
- A template for creating content briefs
- An Airtable publishing calendar
- A technical blogging style guide