B2B Buyers Buy Based on Fear, Too

Copywriters are trained to think in terms of benefits.

You know, how your software makes things better. Often what it boils down to is money or time. And frequently “more time” equals “more money.” Of course, that’s an oversimplification, but you get the point. The point is, benefits = good.

The “PAS” technique (“PAS” stands for “Problem, Agitate, Solve”) turns that on its head. When you’re writing PAS copy, you don’t focus on what the prospect wants. You focus on their fear.

The basic template is this: First, you bring up the problem the prospect faces. You talk about that for a word, a sentence, a paragraph—length will vary depending on what you’re writing.

Then, you agitate the problem. You know…just twist the knife a little.

Then when things are good and agitated, you bring up your solution.

It’s a powerful technique. It’s also an old one; it’s existed since the days of print and direct mail. But it works just as well in any platform. And—some people might be surprised about this; I was—it also works in B2B.

It doesn’t sound like a B2B technique, right? B2C buyers are emotion-driven—but B2B is supposed to be rational. Buyers are dealing with huge budgets and lots of stakeholders and their jobs are on the line. There are no impulse purchases here.

I was on a call with the SEO Content Institute the other day, though, and the conversation turned to PAS. Heather—who is an SEO copywriting rock star—was mentioning that content marketers’ testing has been showing PAS to work extremely well for B2B. I started to think about some of my own best client projects. Some of the projects that got the best results did follow a PAS template.

Sometime, I’d like to run a split test of benefits-based and fear-based copy in the B2B space to see which performs better. I’m sure people have done this. But in the meantime, I can see how powerful this technique can be across a wide variety of mediums. Social media, email marketing, even PPC ads—anywhere the copy has to do a lot in a very small amount of space, and it’s not asking for much—just a click.

There’s a post over on CopyBlogger that talks about using PAS in social media. I can see how very effective this can be, because the B2B buying process may leave very little room for impulse buys—but clicking on a link (or opening an email) is an impulse decision.

Those tweets, PPC ads, email subject lines, and other short-form content aren’t there to convince the buyer to buy. They’re just asking for a click. Once the buyer is on your site, they can check out your more educational content—and, ideally, fall into your funnel.

I can see why it works well for pieces at the end of the funnel, too. Pieces like white papers and explainer videos. Picture this: your prospect has narrowed the field to five software vendors. The other four talk about the features (and yeah, features are important—even critical, if the buyer is a SysAdmin or something. I’m not saying talking about features is bad).

But your white paper or video leads with the exact problem they’re looking to solve—and what a hassle it is for them. From there, it breaks down—in a clear, step-by-step fashion—exactly how your solution solves that problem.

I was on a very informative SpiceWorks conference call a few months ago with some IT pros who regularly make software buying decisions for their companies recently, and the overwhelming takeaway was that IT buyers are very busy. They want to see that you get the problem they’re trying to solve, and they want to see that fast. The PAS system—when done right—does exactly that.

I also came across a very informative SearchEngineLand article about the irrationality underpinning the B2B buy cycle. I believe, based on my own experience of what has worked for my clients, that it’s erroneous to assume the B2B buy process is emotion-free. In fact, the stakes are so much higher, especially for enterprise-level software, that certain emotions are heightened—particularly fear of screwing the purchase up.

Software marketers have to keep that fear in mind at every phase of the sales process.

When the PAS system doesn’t work in B2B, I believe the problem may not lie with the technique itself—so much as the pain the marketer chose to emphasize.

I think there’s a good reason PAS works more frequently with B2C audiences instead of B2B that goes beyond emotion and impulse buys. With many B2C markets, the problems are easier to understand. In B2B, the problems are often very specific to an industry, a company, and a job. It’s a lot easier to get that wrong—or not so much to get it wrong, as not to get it right enough.

The electricity of PAS happens when the reader recognizes their pain in the copy. When they feel like yes, this company gets what I’m dealing with. They speak my language and they get what keeps me up at night. Because if they see that you get their problem, it’s a short leap for them to believe you have the solution.

This is why good research is so crucial. That’s especially true when you already feel like you have an insider’s understanding of the buyer. It is very easy—and I’ve seen clients make this mistake in the past—to assume that you know a buyer inside and out because you come from the same industry. My experience is that sometimes, it’s people with insider experience who have the biggest blind spots—because they don’t look deeper into what the person in the buying position specifically is dealing with.

This mistake leads to a pain point that’s right, but not exactly right. And in B2B, because of the huge demands on buyers’ time and the high stakes involved in the buying decision, there’s no room for error when choosing the P in PAS.

PAS isn’t right for every situation, of course—but it’s a very powerful tool for any software marketer’s arsenal. Use it effectively, and I predict you’ll see great results.

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