Want better copy? Ask deeper questions

I can't stand the term "best practices" in the discipline of copywriting.

And neither can our friend & direct-response pleb David Ogilvy:

People always ask for best practices, and I say the same thing every time.

They don't exist, and stop looking for them.

The answer to 9 out of 10 of copy questions (like most marketing questions) is "it depends".

So in this post, we’re going to dig deeper into that “it depends” zone.

This piece should provide more color on the right information to document and clearly define before you hammer out some championship-winning copy.

B2B SaaS Growth Plebs need to answer the following questions (more or less) to at least be in the ballpark:

1 — How sophisticated is your market?

  • Gene Schwartz coined the concept of market sophistication in Breakthrough Advertising. Basically, you need to define the level of maturity your specific product category has evolved into. You explain “CRM tools for sales teams” much differently than you explain “AI Recommendation Engines for Discrete Manufacturers”. Businesses have clear expectations and existing mental models for how CRM tools work and why they’re valuable. But AI Recommendation Engines for Discrete Manufacturers will need a much more robust explanation. These are two extremely obvious examples, but you need a solid idea of where your product sits on the market sophistication spectrum.

2 — Does your market have clear leaders?

  • Market leaders tend to win on existing market penetration and don’t need to differentiate and niche position like later entrants do. You may or may not use any intel in your copy (and I’m not suggesting you drool over your competitors), but I am saying don’t be a solution looking for a problem. Position your product as a solution that fills in white space that hasn’t been filled in by 10 other clone products.

3 — What’s different about us that we’re not going to apologize for?

  • Another overlooked, yet salient important point to consider is… what flag are you planting? What do you stand for? What do you see the market that you absolutely cannot stand? Most B2B SaaS companies really struggle with this and prefer to talk all about the product, but not the problem it solves. I position my content directly against fluffy, obvious marketing bullshit that doesn’t meet an acceptable standard of quality and marketing fundamentals. I consider myself a garbage man driving around the B2B SaaS industry doing my best to help clean it all up.

4 — What are we obsessed with that no one else is obsessed with?

  • Zappos obsessed over customer service. Apple obsessed over design. Notion obsessed with not looking like every other productivity platform. It sounds weird, but in marketing if you’re not obsessed with a concept or a market shift, you’re probably going to get tuned out. What’s the one concept you can latch yourself to where there’ll be no question what you’re all about?

5 — What are your most meaningful traffic sources?

  • This one’s simple but it still makes the list. The sources your traffic comes in from will influence the level of intent they have when they land on your conversion assets (websites, emails, case studies, etc.). I’ve had clients where their traffic was coming from high-intent Organic transactional keyword searches or referral traffic tends to be high-intent. But organic B2B social content tends to be lower-intent so will require more of an explanation.

6 — Which segment is the most profitable and obvious to target?

  • Again, we’re playing in “it depends” territory here. But when you’re writing to your market and are aware, for example, that 90% of your clients’s revenue is coming from it’s enterprise segment and only 10% is coming from self-serve onboarding — there’s a huge business case to be made that you should position your content and copy directly for the enterprise segment and that segment only. Of course, so many companies will have multiple segments, but who says you have to talk to all of them in your copy? I’ve been doing this professionally for years and have worked with 50+ high-growth B2B SaaS companies, and I’m here to tell that the more uniformly you can define your audience in your copy, the higher conversions tend to be because you’re talking directly to one person and people respond to laser-focused messaging way more favorably than generic messaging. Put another way, talk to your bread ‘n butter segments.

7 — How has your market shifted in the last decade?

  • This matters most for high-ACV, high-ticket B2B SaaS products with a consultative & high-touch sales process (especially in crowded categories). Your marketing materials exist to help prospects drop their baggage that’s weighing them down and position your solution as what’s coming next. How is the ground shifting underneath us? What does that mean for our bottom line? What’s the cost of sticking to the status quo? I love using the “market shift story” on SaaS homepages and user onboarding funnels. Philosophical alignment makes sales and marketing so much easier. Deserves credit.

8 — What is your POV on that market shift?

  • Your strongly-held beliefs and opinions are what command your audience’s attention. And not everything has to be a hot take. It’s just being genuine about where you believe your market is going and thinking beyond just now and explaining how your business will be around for the long-term. In most categories, it’s not enough to go “Here’s our product, and here’s how it works”… but again, no hard and fast rules here and that’s why we analyze unique situations and apply unique solutions.

9 — What would customers use if you didn’t exist?

  • These are not necessarily any direct competitors. Most B2B SaaS companies are actually mostly competing with some combination of spreadsheets, emails, paper, or manual legacy business processes. Again, nothing here that goes directly into your copy. But being aware of the competitive set instead of just competing companies will give you a more objective view of your buyers’ day to day. B2B software exists to optimize stale or entrenched process at companies. Once you know what the competitive set is, you can frame your selling points in the context of how much sticking with their current tools are costing them from a financial and opportunity cost perspective.

10 — What’s the market category that puts your product in its best context?

  • Probably 99 out of 100 companies don’t need to create a category. They’re perfectly suitable for sitting in an existing category, but finding the niche white spaces that exist and dominating them. I could call myself a “Messaging and Positioning Strategist” and it would most likely raise eyebrows for a lot of potential clients. The “Copywriting” category is has much better awareness and expectations for what Copywriters do, so I’d be better off not trying to create a category (for now).

11 — If your product is the hero, who’s the villain?

  • I’ve asked clients in the past the fun question: “What are you built to destroy?” Unless you’ve built a Zero-to-One technology (vast majority hasn’t), you need to let prospects know the thing you’re ripping out or replacing. Otherwise, it won’t be clear. And confused prospects don’t buy. It doesn’t have to be an existing product you’re replacing either. It could be a stale or out-dated process or legacy way of doing things (see #9). Fathom Analytics is built to destroy Google Analytics. Dooly calls themselves “a fresh coat of paint on Salesforce”. In any case, finding your competition and pitting yourself against it can be a solid strategy.

12 — How easy is it for prospects to switch to your product from what they’re currently using?

  • Answering this question a little more tactical. And it boils down to how you remove risk from the process of buying from you. Does your product involve a tough onboarding curve? If it involved work for your prospect to get set up, don’t apologize for it (see #3). This is where you highlight key integrations, customer service, and onboarding specialists. For my copywriting clients, I make it very clear that there’s some work involved on their end that involves filling out questionnaires, agglomerating and sharing internal resources, and answering detailed questions in a prompt manner.

13 — What are all the things you’re not? Who are you not for?

  • Make a list of all the things you’re not and figure out how to get prospects to understand that in your copy. This is busting misconceptions about your product, market and category. Most B2B SaaS websites don’t make it clear what they’re not, and then they’re surprised when people reach out for discovery calls for something their product doesn’t do. Asking about features that don’t fit within their ICP. Again, this ties in with our other points and reinforces how niching down can make everything easier from a marketing and sales perspective. Alienating people is a good thing. Crisp copy comes from setting constraints and guardrails and then executing on them over and over again.

14 — What are the top 10 objections we keep hearing?

  • Perhaps the most bare copywriting (and sales) fundamentals is understanding and handling objections. It’s super simple, go listen to sales and onboarding calls, dig into survey data, mine customer reviews, and audit all other sources of customer data. Then write down rebuttals for the 10 most common objections you keep hearing and weave them all together in your copy. This is my Master List of B2B SaaS Buyer Objections I’ve accumulated over the years.

15 — Do our calls to action match our target audience’s needs & expectations?

  • This one can be tricky to figure out, but execution is simple. For example, if you’re an enterprise B2B SaaS and it’s really hard to set up your product and it has to be a high-touch sales and onboarding process, you don’t have to feel bad about not having a PLG-grade self-serve flow where you click a button and boom, you’re in the product. You can’t go north and south at the same time, so it’s prudent to choose a direction and stick with it. In that case, it would be discovery calls, data scoping sessions, stakeholder meetings, SLAs and so forth. On my website, I have prospects hop on a discovery call before we even talk about what their project pricing would be. Of course, I publish a minimum project price of $10k on my pricing page to give them a ballpark, but the nature of high-ticket copywriting service is that it’s going to require talking to me, more touches and custom pricing based on the unique client needs and deliverables. So it is with especially higher-ACV B2B SaaS companies. Your CTA funnel should match your intended positioning.

As you can see, we’re in territory where there are no right answers, but solid frameworks to understand and build on top of.

The more years you work in copywriting, the more you realize that things like website tear-downs are nothing more than surface-level tactics.

Nothing wrong with that (I used to do them), but they don't get anywhere close to the root cause of problems. And the root cause is where the real business value is.

When I audit SaaS funnels, every time I end up with more questions than answers.

Dig deep into these questions, and it’d be super hard for your copy not to at least 5x…

But again (and I have to reiterate), all of this is up to you to implement.

None of this is meant to be like a checklist. It’s supposed to give you a framework for deeper levels of thinking on these topics. It’s much more focused on process and principles.

If you’re a founder, marketer then maybe you take some of this back to your intelligence strategy at your copy. or if you’re a copywriter or consultant, maybe you start embedding these into your next client engagement.

It’s all up to you my laser-eyed friends.

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