We tell prospects and new clients that access to their technical experts is critical to our work.
“No problem,” they say. Sounds logical in theory. But it can end up being more challenging in practice. Why?
That’s just it. After initial agreement, clients eventually ask why.
And that means we haven’t communicated the stakes clearly enough.
In B2B marketing, content which isn’t informed by technical expertise fails to provide useful information, context or guidance for an audience whose decision making requires all three.
The goals of this article, then, are to:
- Clearly define who is—and isn’t—the sort of technical expert we want to talk to
- Suggest ways these experts can interact with us on an ongoing basis to guarantee our dialogue is always productive
- Share specific examples of our own work that hit the mark thanks to our partners’ technical expertise
Who’s the expert here?
Industrial customers lay awake at night worrying about specific challenges. Will new NFPA Life Safety code requirements mean we need to rethink facility layout? Can my outsourced heat treater’s vacuum furnace achieve OEM-required mechanical characteristics for the jetliner wing attachment bolts we manufacture?
The most effective industrial marketing comes from information stored in the brains of production managers, prototype designers, facility engineers or project supervisors. Their mix of academic and applied knowledge makes them the ideal source of accurate, contextual information your ideal customers can act on.
I don’t want beef with PR pros, sales VPs or anyone in the C-suite. Those voices matter, too. But when the goal is to publish content that guides technical minds toward a technical decision, I need clear, specific information not colored by the ridiculous corporate ipsum that pervades B2B communication.
I’ll put it more bluntly. Every time a generalist tells me their company addresses Important Issue X by “collaborating to create innovative solutions” and “providing superior customer service,” I want to swan dive onto a freeway.
Keys to the best subject matter interview
Most engineers, supervisors and project managers aren’t accustomed to sharing information with third-party copywriters. Here’s how we can work together to make this partnership work.
Mark up interview questions in advance
Sending questions in advance isn’t always necessary, but we’re always happy to do it because it makes for a more productive conversation.
If we miss the mark, we’d rather know it in advance and work to close those knowledge gaps before things get awkward over the phone. Tell us what’s relevant, what’s not and what we should research more.
And if we need to pull the plug and go back to the drawing board, we will. Muddling through despite an obvious disconnect violates my cardinal rule as a writer: Don’t guess.
Provide supplemental material
Every writer knows the adage “show, don’t tell.” Sometimes, phone calls and email exchanges don’t cut it. In our quest for useful, actionable information, it’s not uncommon for our team to ask for any of the following:
- Correspondence between your sales staff and customers or prospects
- Purchase orders, invoices, bid submissions or other project documentation
- Process or manufacturing specifications
- Part/process/system schematics, blueprints or renderings
- Technical manuals, training materials or internal presentations
- Lab reports, white papers and patent information
- Local, state or federal regulatory documentation
Don’t wait for us to ask, either. If there’s something in your files that you think will help us, we want to see it. If the information is proprietary, we’ll gladly sign an NDA.
I love using resources such as what’s listed above in case studies. And in my personal opinion, case studies are the best way to share relevant, practical information about a product, service or process. Want to hit pay dirt? Start by downloading our Case Study Starter Kit.
Email us just because
There’s no rule saying we can’t talk outside of a specific assignment.
Share news, trends or discoveries with us. We’ll log it in our content ideas pipeline. Ideas generated in this way often become the most popular among our clients’ audiences. So don’t censor yourself.
We won’t, either. I estimate that for every thousand words we write, we probably read ten grand. We’re bound to have questions to which you’ll have answers. Be ready for an active dialogue.
Why subject matter expertise makes a difference
Merely passing information to buyers isn’t that hard. Demonstrating that your product or service is a viable solution to their problems is the challenge.
I could tell you more about why this is so important, but I’d rather show you. Grace Wright, Mary Tomlinson and I share these observations from work we did thanks to our clients’ technical experts:
Cutting through the noise to debunk bad hype – Grace Wright
It didn’t take long for a certain manufacturer’s release of a new rigid core flooring product to make waves in the industry. The trade pubs and product manufacturers kept saying that it was God’s gift to floors and it should be specified for almost any application.
Meanwhile, I’m assigned to write on the topic for the largest contract flooring provider in the country. I hop on my interview and the guy is like, “Listen, everyone says that. But we work on a ton of jobs and I’ve only seen it specified once.”
I threw out my questions, asked what the limitations of the product were (and why it isn’t being used in commercial facilities), and came up with this.
If not for my conversation with someone who has extensive field expertise, this would’ve been another throwaway “rigid-core-is-perfect-for-everything” piece that would have helped no one.
The fault in our technical manuals – Mary Tomlinson
Pretty much anything you need to know about how protective coatings interact with substrates and the environment can be found within two massive SSPC technical manuals we keep on a spare desk in our writing room.
The manuals brim with important technical information, but to simply regurgitate it would be unhelpful to someone trying to weight the practical implications of choosing one coating alternative over another. For instance, the manuals tell you all about how zinc-epoxy-urethane coatings work, but they don’t say why using one for an interior structural steel application would be an exercise in overkill.
An end user who didn’t know better might mistakenly pay—out the nose—to coat an interior beam with a formula better suited for naval destroyers.
The added context and insight provided by the expert I interviewed made this article on corrosion prevention and protection methods for structural steel stand head and shoulders above regurgitated junk.
It’s CSI but for metallurgy – Toby Wall
Automotive suppliers always have a target on their backs. To be successful, they must guarantee the parts they make will perform the way OEMs demand. When part quality issues arise, suppliers need to find out why—fast—and fix the problem.
If they fail, the best that could happen is that they get fired amid global recalls. The worst? People die.
Naturally, the suppliers often need help.
I spoke with the metallurgist who led the part failure investigation that uncovered a flaw in the way variable valve timing plates were manufactured that resulted in cracks forming during thermal processing. The result was this case study, which quickly became our client’s most popular and useful content item.
It hit a nerve with trade pub editors, too, who gladly re-published the piece and told our client to keep it coming.
Let’s talk about you
Who are you trying to reach? How do you capture their attention? What information do you have that they’re not getting from anyone else? What expertise does you team possess that makes them indispensable in your industry?
Answering those questions is critical to directing your marketing efforts toward their greatest effect, and subject matter experts play a vital role in that journey.
If you think we can help you navigate, let’s set up a consultation.