Tales from the Dark Side

Imparting the lessons long years on the Dark Side of purchasing have taught me in my second career as a marketeer. I went there so you don’t have to.

From purchasing poacher to B2B gamekeeper

Seventeen years is a long time to do anything. In fact, outside of breathing and eating, I struggle to think of anything I have stuck at consistently for that time period. Apart from, that is, the nearly two decades I spent in corporate purchasing. So what does that have to do with the world of B2B? Let me explain.

From nuclear energy to automotive, I had tendered, CRM’d and value engineered my way through various sectors. However, I was leading a double life the whole time… Secretly I had been building up a body of work and, indeed, words. This literary tunnel, buttressed with magazine work, was to prove my escape from purchasing jail.

When I emerged, blinking, on the other side of the wire I had somehow secured gainful employment as a B2B copywriter. You cannot, however, leave the past behind completely. Having been on the other side of the industry for so long, I feel it my responsibility to impart the lessons long years on the Dark Side have taught me in my second career as a marketeer. I went there so you don’t have to.

Speak the language

Every job has its terminology. Every company has its own slang. The more you can key into the mood and tone your client speaks with, the more effective your messaging will be. 

An example: many years ago, young Philip was working as a buyer for a decommissioning project in a nuclear plant. We were in talks with a potential contractor for maintenance work on one of our buildings, work they were evidently qualified and experienced for. However, they had no prior nuclear experience… they also hadn’t done their research. In turn, the contractor was unable to mouth the shibboleths of the atom-smashing game. They came across as not being “one-of-us”, we couldn’t envisage them as part of the team and, in spite of their ability to do the job, they didn’t win the contract.

The more you can key into the mood and tone your client speaks with, the more effective your messaging will be. 

Learning your customer is vital to ensure that you can speak with credibility. It’s also super fun to learn how something completely alien to you works. Which brings me onto our second point.

Understand how your audience makes decisions

Alas, things aren’t as simple for most B2B companies. 

It’s extremely rare these days that even a head-of-function in a large corporation is going to be able to independently take a decision to change suppliers. First there’ll be all kinds of tedious meetings and reviews with people like me. And, deep down, no matter what we might tell our internal customers as they try to convince us, we love to say no. It’s pretty much the highlight of our day and it definitely facilitates an easier life for ourselves. 

It is, therefore, vital that your messaging arms would-be customers with enough information to not only get excited about products and services but to overcome objections to adopting them. 

Take a fleet manager who, for example, wants to install a tyre pressure monitoring system for their vehicles. They are going to have to put together a business case to explain when their employer will start making profit from their investment. It’s much easier to convince that fleet manager to put time and effort into making a business case if we provide, for example, a data driven calculator of fuel efficiency and other savings as a starting point.

Stay Human

As a purchaser, I was blessed with an excellent first boss who taught me two invaluable lessons. The first was “No coffee, no workee” and the second was that purchasing, and therefore marketing, is a relationship business. People buy from people.

In an increasingly digital world, it can feel that interactions with companies are increasingly transactional and impersonal (especially after being forced to work from our kitchens for a year!). That’s where tone and style in your messaging can make all the difference. 

Can you make your target group smile whilst extolling the benefits of your product? Can you inspire some feeling in the black, shrivelled heart of the career purchaser as they process your value proposition? If the answer is yes then you’re well on the way to forming a developed brand personality that can really speak to potential customers.  

So what did the Dark Side teach me?… That combining product knowledge, an understanding of your end user and communication skills is key to getting your message across effectively: marketing, basically.

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