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Documentation is a big part of a customer’s purchasing process

Content is king. But if you have amazing content that’s not easily accessible, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.

We know that customers use our documentation after they purchase our product or services, but they also use it before they become our customers.

Our technical documentation can be a helpful step in the buyer’s journey. 

So what keeps content from being a lead-generation asset? 

Often, it’s content delivery. Content is useless if it isn’t delivered in a user-friendly way. 

Rather than focusing on what you can do to improve the content itself–there are tons of other articles that cover that–let’s focus on how you deliver it.

Documentation Delivery within Your Organization

We did a small survey of 149 technical communicators, and we asked them what was driving them to change their documentation delivery. 

77% of the technical communicators we surveyed felt that current content delivery methods are outdated and are no longer adequate. What’s more, 54% reported pressure due to customers demanding information in new ways. 

People are demanding higher quality experiences, whether it’s the ability to verbally ask questions and get a spoken answer, or in-app guides that are contextualized based on the part of the app. The days of flipping through printed manuals are numbered. It’s time the rest of the organization realized the gap between customer expectations and what they are delivering.

Unfortunately, for years documentation has been treated as a necessary cost, a chuck-it-in-a-box-on-the-way-out cost. But not only do customers prefer to read documentation rather than call support, but prospective customers would also rather read your documentation than talk to sales early on.

“Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete.” (Source: Google)

Prospects are searching for helpful information about your product or service. One of the first places they’ll turn is to your documentation, and they’ll definitely read it before buying. And if your documentation isn’t high quality and delivered in an easily accessible way, they’ll head to your competitors’ sites.

“B2B researchers do 12 searches on average prior to engaging on a specific brand’s site.” (Source: Google)

Here’s a screenshot of a prospect’s interaction with the content on our website before filling out a contact us form.

Hubspot Interaction

(Source: Screenshots taken from Hubspot timeline tool)

This is just one example. But take a look at your analytics and see what your typical customer journey looks like. 

Barriers to Successful Content Delivery

To see what was preventing the respondents from improving delivery, here are the respondents’ biggest barriers to success.

Barriers to Success

Half of all respondents reported that they are not getting the support they need from managers. While there are many reasons for this support gap, management should take it seriously.

If technical communicators can’t deliver quality documentation, customers will move on to products with better documentation. 

The end goal for any customer is to get the deciding information they need in the fastest way possible. This means that the quality of your documentation delivery is directly connected with the value customers place on your product. Still not convinced?

77% of the technical communicators surveyed felt that current content delivery methods are outdated and are no longer adequate. (Source: Heretto Infographic)

In our digital age, content delivery needs to adapt quickly to changing methods and technologies.

Steps on making toast

Imagine a customer is looking for a toaster. They visit your site, look around at a few options, and then to see if a particular toaster will work the way they want, download that toaster’s manual. They scan through a colorless, unsearchable PDF with multiple languages to try to get the information they need.

This is sadly an all too common scenario.

It’s cringe-worthy to think of the millions spent on branding and marketing materials only to find that an organization’s product documentation delivery doesn’t reflect that effort. 

How to deliver your documentation in a way that increases leads

Customers want clear, helpful, and relevant information before making purchasing decisions. No argument there. A technical documentation manager’s role is to ensure that customers have access to high-quality information about your products so customers can be confident in what they’re buying. 

So, here are some next steps to help you improve your documentation delivery to help promote the sales process and put your organization earlier into a prospect’s purchasing process.

  • Talk with your Technical Communication team. Ask them what they need to succeed and help them get what they need.
  • Get the data. If you haven’t set up analytics on your documentation, we recommend doing that now. See for yourself how many people review your documentation before speaking with or purchasing from you.
  • Build a project report. Once you see how many prospects are reading your documentation before making a purchasing decision, outline what you need to improve your documentation.

What is ideal documentation delivery?

We’ve all seen poor documentation — there’s a whole Twitter account devoted to it. 

But what does the ideal documentation delivery look like?

It’s searchable: Having relevant search results is paramount. Whatever content system you’re using, your team should be able to create content that your end users can easily search.

Searchable text

It’s personal: High-quality documentation allows authors and end-users to filter the content by user type, product version, language, region, etc., while hiding irrelevant information. Most content systems call this conditional profiling.

Personalization

It’s dynamic: Users can access and read the documentation on any device or publishing format. This will require an advanced publishing pipeline. Advanced documentation systems allow for customized publishing scenarios so a single document can be published in various ways depending on the desired output.

Dynamic Content

It’s current: High-quality documentation needs to be up-to-date with the current version of software, service, or product. Keeping your documentation current will likely require finding a tool that offers streamlined publishing workflows so content can be reviewed and updated easily.

It’s reusable: Your documentation should be reusable to ensure accuracy and make content creation more efficient. Look for single-source solutions. They keep everyone on the same page throughout a workflow and allow for content reuse, not duplication.

Content Reuse

It’s well-spoken: 20% of mobile searches are voice searches. Documentation should be equipped to answer in natural language for these conversational searches or even via chatbots. Chatbots are a powerful self-service tool, but they can only be as helpful as the content they pull from.

Chatbot

It’s helpful: With the rise of AI, users need documentation to be able to perform tasks for them with little guidance. More and more software can follow task instructions using task documentation. Or course, this only works if your task documentation is set up to be easily searched and followed by a computer.  

Helpful AI

And even if your documentation won’t be aiding machines in task performance, it’ll be aiding people. 

Provide prospects and customers with the high-quality documentation they want to see. The sooner you can provide relevant and accurate information to prospects, the sooner you can become a trusted advisor in your potential client’s purchasing process.

 

 

(Post updated in May 2022)

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