Bhaskar Sarma of Pixels and Clicks is a copywriter specializing in B2B technology businesses. He is also a fantasy fan, judging by his marketing blog posts that reference Tolkien and Dr. Who. He talks to us about copywriting and social media for B2B.
My questions and comments are in bold.
How and why did you become a consultant?
I came into consulting and copywriting through a pretty roundabout fashion. Before my current gig and after getting my BE in computer engineering I was a tech journalist, an infosec consultant and a volunteer with a non-profit running schools in remote mountain villages near Mussorie. I decided not to get back into the corporate rat race and opted to work for myself, travel when I want and choose my own clients and projects.
So you can say that my prime motive was freedom.
You work with technology companies – is it difficult to convince them of the value of good copywriting?
On the contrary, my clients realize that content marketing is crucial to their success and they are ready to spend good money on collateral. It also helps that I work largely with US and UK based clients who get the concept of content marketing and engaging in social media as compared to most Indian companies. However, it would be wrong to admit that all Indian companies are like that… Smaller companies and startups do understand the advantages of, say, a regularly updated blog or a client success story.
Do you think B2B businesses have been slower to take advantage of social media?
In my experience, B2B companies are generally receptive to the value of engaging in social media. None of my clients have pooh-poohed the need to be social and while there is certainly a lot of debate over the merits of one social media platform vs. another (think Facebook vs. Twitter vs. LinkedIn) the basic assumption is that unless you are active in some form of social media you are losing money.
I’ve heard from (some) CEOs that B2B and social media/blogging don’t mix. What do you have to say to that?
If you don’t have a well thought-out plan regarding your blog, if you don’t have an editorial calendar, if your blog is not regularly updated and if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve with it then yes, your blog ain’t gonna work. In a similar vein, if are allocating resources for Facebook marketing when your prospects are active in LinkedIn then you are not going to achieve anything.
But as I have written in a blog post, even companies operating in unsexy and boring niches — plastic sheeting, fencing or marketing automation software for highly regulated industries like healthcare and finance — have struck gold through blogging and content marketing. Why would be your company any different?
White papers or blog posts – which should a B2B business focus on?
Both have their place in the content marketing mix. Blog posts are great for keeping the content on your website fresh and regularly updated. They can be easily shared, they don’t need any registration to be read and can be quickly scanned. White papers are fantastic in persuading prospects, can provide an in-depth answer to questions that might be bugging your prospect and have a long shelf life if properly planned and written.
Choosing one over the other is like choosing Aragorn over Gandalf in the fellowship. Frodo ain’t gonna be able to chuck that ring into Mount Doom if both didn’t back him up.
So I guess you don’t agree with me that white papers are an outdated form of content.
Ha… I remember that Twitter conversation and no, I still think that white papers are awesome for converting prospects if written properly. I think that you have been exposed to too many boring and academically written white papers. That’s also one of my biggest beefs — you might be writing about virtualization or SaaS or storage technologies but you have no excuse to drone on and put readers to sleep.
Write in a conversational tone and follow the rules of good copywriting and you should be able to convert that call to action at the end of the whitepaper (you have one, right?) every time.
What social media platform do you personally like best?
For me it would be LinkedIn simply because nearly 100% of my clients have come from there. At a close second is Twitter because it makes meeting new people and establishing relationships so simple.
For B2B businesses, which platform offers the best bang for their… time?
While I am tempted to say LinkedIn I recognize that B2B is very vast and for some companies, Twitter can be more valuable and for some, YouTube can be highly effective. My advice is not to assume anything and ask your customers. If they are on LinkedIn, go there. If they are on Facebook, you should be there yesterday, posting photos and updates and videos.
What are your favorite online tools – social media, productivity, or anything else?
I use Evernote for almost everything, starting from blog posts to clipping articles of interest to writing To-Do lists. I use Dropbox for online storage — everything work related is automatically stored there so that even if my system crashes I can recover it immediately. Rescue Time rocks for productivity and keeps me on my toes. For social media, my favorite tool has got to be Bufferapp — I schedule my Twitter and LinkedIn updates from there.
Ooh, another Buffer fan! And Dropbox too — I don’t know what we’d do without it!
Moving on, what’s the one thing you hate doing but still force yourself to do every week?
Eating bony, dried fish. Okay, kidding! On a serious note, I guess it would be looking at my Rescue Time Robot’s report stating how productive I have been every week. Any time that number drops below 60% I beat myself up like Neo whooping the ass of all those Agents after meeting the Oracle in the first Matrix movie.
Right now, there are so many social media platforms and tools that ostensibly make things easier, and there is so much expert advice on what marketing activities a small business should be doing. What do you think is the most important marketing activity a small B2B business should focus on?
Blogging is something that I highly recommend if you aim on getting business through online sources. It sounds corny and self-serving but blogging has the potential of changing the way your customers and prospects look at you.
Small businesses often struggle to make sense of their data… what’s the one metric they should keep an eye on?
As a small business owner, the one metric that I track is cash. How much I have earned in the past week, past month or past 6 months. You should keep an eye on that too…everything else is a means to the end. Of course, this is assuming that you are not ripping off your customers or pulling off some sort of Ponzi scheme, in which case you have much bigger problems on your plate.
What sites do you recommend for small-business marketing advice – apart from Pixels and Clicks, of course?
Duct Tape Marketing is one of my favorite sites focusing on small businesses. For straight from the trenches no holds barred advice on navigating the minefields of small business, you can’t wrong with reading John Carlton’s blog.
Then, if you want to get specific about various aspects of marketing you can follow a number of other resources — Copyblogger is great for copywriting, Occam’s Razor gives you great advice with Google Analytics, Marcus Sheridan’s The Sales Lion is a source of expert blogging advice, Gini Dietrich’s Spin Sucks is where you go if you want to get good at PR and Search Engine Land is my go-to resource for SEO. If I need any new info on social media I check out Social Media Examiner.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?
I would say the biggest challenge for a long time was getting clients. It’s easier now thanks to my blog and my activity on social networks. Right now the greatest challenge is getting good at various aspects of copywriting and keeping up with the changes in online marketing, especially content marketing.
What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give a new entrepreneur?
Delivering on your promise so that you can get customers to vouch for you and reap the benefits of word of mouth should be the top item on your list of priorities.
I can’t argue with that. Thanks for doing this, Bhaskar!
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