Long form sales letters – flop with corporate buyers
In a previous blog had argued ‘Long form’ sales letters are an effective marketing methodology if done correctly, and outlined why it’s such a powerful sales tool with the consumer market.
If we accept ‘long form’ formats as being universally advantageous, how do we explain the mixed results with corporate buyers? What makes these buyers less responsive to this type of marketing?
Please read “long form sales letters – magic bullet or bullet to the head” where I discuss the benefits of ‘long form’ sales letters.
Our studies indicate corporate prospects follow the same deductive reasoning process as general consumers (i.e. determine relevance, confirm understanding, ascertain difference, seek proof / determine credibility and gauge trust / establish risk). The difference must then be a result of environmental conditioning and cultural tolerance i.e. the unique circumstances surrounding the purchase, the structured purchasing criteria they must follow and their behavioural norms / expectations inherent in their market.
Many positive aspects of ‘long form’ sales letters alienate business buyers. This blog is an examination of the unique circumstances within corporate purchasing, the limitations of ‘long form’ sales letters and requirements for successful online corporate sales.
The corporate buying environment exhibits the following characteristics and has corresponding issues with ‘long form’ sales letters:
‘Hard sell’ sensitised
Executives, line managers and purchasing officers are typically responsible for assessing and selecting products & services. In contrast to the buying process of general consumers (being casual and random), corporate buyers adopt a systematic and focused approach which is intolerant of ‘hard sell’.
‘Long form’ sales letters are often perceived as “hard sell” because they are repetitive, ‘pushy’ and often rely on content volume (rather than quality) to argue their point. Resistance to ‘being sold makes this ‘brute force’ approach ineffective.
Corporate buyers neither have the time nor the inclination to read copious volumes of content without perceived value. What they seek is concise information with a strong value proposition.
‘Long form’ sales letters are repetitive and present detailed descriptions of features in an attempt to cover all possible buying motives (many of which are perceived as irrelevant).
Corporate buyers are continually “bombarded” with sales content, much of which is irrelevant, dishonest and seldom representing value. This exposure conditions the prospect to recognise and discard such content. They respond negatively to sensational headlines that scream attention, and unrealistic / unsubstantiated promises.
‘Long form’ sales letter often work on the principle “if you cannot dazzle with brilliance … baffle with bull”. This simply does not work with corporate buyers.
Performance pressures within the workplace along with accountability for ‘return on investment’ of all purchases forces the corporate buyer to assess more rigorously the benefits and risks of any purchase. Not only do they risk losing the company’s investment in a product, but they risk reputation, status, job security etc. The assessment criteria along with standards of uniqueness, credibility and trust are increased proportionately.
‘Long form’ sales letters in many cases struggle to pass the level of scrutiny applied by corporate buyers. They don’t adequately justify value, differentiate themselves from the competition, build credibility nor instil trust.
What then is the solution?
Obviously the corporate buying environment is vastly different to that of the consumer market. It demands unique selection criteria which often conflict with current online marketing methodologies. Correlating long form sales letters with corporate buying criteria presents us with a number of obstacles and conflicting buyer requirements:
Demand detail yet require a concise delivery format
Corporate buyers require a very detailed account of benefits and value associated with the solution sold. This information must be concise and yet provide detail/depth as required.
What is required is concise factual information, organised to enable immediate visibility of the products key value criteria; with the ability to ‘drill down’ for more detail of points of interest.
Need control, seeking active involvement with immediate responsiveness
Corporate buyers seek to control the assessment process and are frustrated by the structured format of a long form sales letter. They seek active involvement and base decisions according to their own selection criteria.
What is required is a ‘branch page structure’, to guide the assessment process, yet encourage active involvement and interaction. A multi-media approach is recommended (audio, video, etc.) as well as incorporating online tool-sets (eg surveys & diagnostics) to assist value assessment.
Expect professionalism as well as relationship development
Long form sales letters are written in an informal (often conversational) style in an attempt to convey empathy, develop a relationship and build trust. Personalising content before a relationship has a chance to develop is often seen by corporate buyers as unprofessional. Corporate buyers respond to concise value focused content. Relationship development is achieved through multiple follow-up interactions.
Demand high standards of proof from reputable and confirmable sources
Credibility is the issue here. Firstly, corporate buyers define reputable as companies of equal or greater profile than their own. Secondly, corporate buyers don’t seek endorsements (in the form of testimonials) but demand proof of value. This is best achieved with a case study as it describes the mutually shared issues, outlines solution processes and defines outcomes/value. Research shows video case studies are most believable (real people with real opinions).
Online sales, by its nature requests immediate action by the buyer; which makes it more suitable for the sale of commodity items or generic ‘one size fits all’ solutions.
Even applying principals described above, sales of complex business solutions will always struggle in the online environment. It is ludicrous to expect such a sale to be made on the basis of a single sales letter; but rather the sales process requires multiple touch-points, a complex methodology, comprehensive needs analysis and extensive relationship development.
The required ‘call for action’ in this case is to offer the buyer additional information (with high perceived value) in exchange for contact details. The sale therefore is a multistage process involving sequential ‘feeding’ of information with multi-modal follow-up (ie utilising phone, email, video conferencing, meetings, etc). Ideally this is supported by a general information/support site (blog and/or forum site etc), along with social media.