Why you need both Plumbers and Persuaders in B2B marketing
There are two kinds of content marketers in B2B: Plumbers and Persuaders:
Plumbers are focused on the pipes, couplings and elbow joints of demand generation.
They design increasingly complex nurture flows, set them up in their chosen marketing automation platforms and (I hope and trust) link them to their CRM systems so they can associate clicks to revenue.
Persuaders are focused on the things that go on within each content experience or interaction.
They spend their time thinking about the ability of a piece of content to actually move a reader (or viewer or listener). At things like voice, story, structure and strength of argument; at design, format and user experience.
Here’s the part where I say, “Here’s the thing”:
Here’s the thing:
Plumbers and Persuaders are both critically important.
If either fails at his or her job, the machinery of B2B sputters to a halt, the MQL reservoir runs dry and the VP of Accountability & Ass-Kicking (EMEA) comes thundering in to harvest someone’s head. (I’m picturing the bastard love-child of Quentin Tarrantino and David Brent).
If it’s an equation, it goes:
Great Plumbing x Great Persuading = Great Results
If either are set to zero, the output is zero.
Wonderful nurture flows full of lousy content? <fart sound>
Amazing content stuck in little islands? <quack quack>
Everyone would probably agree with that math (and those sound effects).
But here’s the other thing:
Today, B2B marketing is in danger of swinging too far towards the Plumbers at the expense of the Persuaders.
As the power of MarTech becomes clear to everyone, most marketing teams are spending almost all of their time, energy and resources on identifying the right tools, assembling them into a working stack and twiddling the many knobs and dials to try to optimize the machine.
That makes sense.
This is a new discipline. Marketing automation and analytics are new tools. So are all the other crowded boxes on Scott Brinker’s ChiefMarTech supergraphic (next year’s will come with a free electron microscope).
Getting good at all this new stuff takes focus.
But if we swing too far towards the plumbing of B2B, we lose sight of some important things:
Content is not a colourless, odourless fluid that we pour into our new machines, then stand back to watch the money squirt out.
If the content itself does not actually change the person reading/viewing/hearing it, you haven’t moved them along the mythical buyer’s journey (even if your nurture flow says you have).
Changing a person is still as hard as it’s ever been (maybe harder).
If this sounds like the desperate ravings of a frightened, aging, precious, old-school, Madison Avenue, copywriting snowflake that may well be because it’s the desperate ravings of a frightened, aging, precious, old-school, Madison Avenue, copywriting snowflake.
But it’s also the pragmatic warning of an enthusiastic, data-snorting, right-brained, bespectacled martech-geek who’s hugely excited about the power and potential of making B2B better through science.
Because here’s the last time I say ‘here’s the thing’:
What if we can master both?
If we can bring together the best Plumbers with the best Persuaders, we can build invincible marketing robots who will stalk the land, squashing all pretenders underfoot, micro-detecting every flicker of intent and suctioning the last bitcoin from the pocket of every unsuspecting prospect.
If we can build friction-free marketing machines AND fuel them with smart, clear, delightful, compelling content… we can conquer the world (or at least the world of supply chain management software).
If we bring together amazing content strategists, writers, designers, developers, marketing automators, analysts, demand-gen ninjas and data scientists—then get in some wood-fired oven-baked pizza and someone to remove the fucking pineapple… we can rock the night away and make sweet love till the dawn ignites the morning sky and… the… birds of… happy… sing their… songs of… (never mind).
Here’s the absolutely last time I say, ‘Here’s the thing’:
I’m a career-long Persuader wearing the dirty coveralls of an apprentice Plumber.
I’m deeply invested in both kinds of B2B marketing (I unashamedly believe we employ some of the best Persuaders AND the best Plumbers in the biz—though we’re always, eagerly, looking for more).
So this is not an axe-grinding thing.
This is a balance thing.
That content is not a node on a drag & drop process map.
It’s a story made to move a person.
If it’s made well, it will do that.
If it’s not, that node on that drag & drop process map is guaranteed to be a dead end.
So let’s work hard to become amazing plumbers.
But let’s never forget that what we’re plumbing is content designed to move people.
And that if we fail at this old job, we will never master the new one.
Wanda Coustas, Work Your Content | October 13th, 2017
Hmmm, never thought of myself as a persuader. But, when compared with a plumber (and I can safely say, I’m no plumber) I would have to accept the mantle of a persuader.
Could there be another category? Because most of what I write ends up being the answers to questions my clients have posed during content coaching sessions – where would those fit – plumber or persuader?
I’d be interested to know what you think?
Doug Kessler | October 20th, 2017
Yeah, I’d put that under the Persuader flag. It’s just doing it without pushing sales messages in people’s faces. But I guess I see the role of marketing in general as persuading. Nicely.
Iain, cc:halpin | November 6th, 2017
Nice post! I’m also a lifelong persuader but I think people sometimes get confused between explaining and persuading. It feels like persuading happens at the front of the sales funnel and explaining comes after…
Doug Kessler | November 9th, 2017
Yeah, it’s hard to come up with a term that encompasses the whole enchilada—and starts with a P.
I like ‘persuaders’ because it exposes the not-so-hidden agenda behind even the most helpful, educational content. But I do agree that not all content is in full persuasion mode all of the time.
Though you could argue that educational content is there to persuade you to follow the best practice discussed…
Henry Cazalet, The SMS Works | November 24th, 2017
As astute as ever Mr Kessler.
I would like to propose a simple theory as to why we may be drawn towards the plumbing rather than the persuading.
Plumbing is easier.
I take the apprenticeship, put in the hard graft, pass the exams and before you can say flush valve, I’m nurturing my flow with the best of them.
Now the persuaders have a tougher time of it. Their persuasiveness is to a large extent due to an accident of birth. Are you a good writer or not? Can this be taught? Not easily, I would argue.
So loads of us are OK at persuading but very few are superb. Those lucky few get the jam doughnuts, the rest of us, the crumbs.
Doug Kessler | November 27th, 2017
I think that’s exactly right, Henry.
Plumbing is concrete; persuading is fuzzy and abstract.
Also, plumbing is the new discipline. The whole market is learning it at the same time.
Maybe that means no one feels too far behind.
color switch, google | February 13th, 2018
Oh! This article has suggested to me many new ideas. I will embark on doing it. Hope you can continue to contribute your talents in this area. Thank you.
Doug Kessler | February 13th, 2018
Ah! This comment has suggested to me that this is comment spam. I will embark on breaking the backlink but retaining the comment as an example to others. Hope you can contribute your talents elsewhere. Thank you.
Manuel Baize, Plumbers Midland TX | May 10th, 2018
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Doug Kessler | May 11th, 2018
Um… Manuel. It’s a metaphor.
But I love your spam so I’m keeping it (changing your domain name so you get no link juice from it).
Get a real job.
(The spamming part. Plumbing is a real job).
Farhan Saeed, Offside Technologies | December 30th, 2019
nice post great work thanks for sharing