How to overcome the curse holding back B2B tech businesses


Duncan Begg


27th January 2023

Product experts at B2B tech companies tend to be immersed in the logic, conventions and vernacular of their business.

So when they’re called upon to explain what their tech does, all too often they revert to a series of abstractions that are impossible for a less knowledgeable person to understand.

The effect of these substandard explanations can ripple out wide across a business – affecting customers and employees alike. For example:

—New joiners, whose every nod of feigned enlightenment increases the awkwardness of admitting their knowledge gaps at a later date.

—Board members, who after several years of seeing the product team’s slides still have knowledge blindspots (which make it that little bit more difficult to set an optimal course for the business).

—The sales and marketing team, who aren’t quite able to connect the dots between features, benefits, and the market at large.

Even worse, the explanation becomes The Truth within the business. People develop a misguided faith in its tangibility. After all, they’ve heard it so many times it must make sense.

But most seriously, a company’s sales and marketing efforts can be blighted as the dodgy summary appears in website copy, ebooks, sales slides, PR pieces and other pieces of content for years to come.


The introduction of a curse

To varying extents, flavours of this above scenario play out in every B2B technology company every day. And there’s a reason for it. In fact, this reason even has a name:

The Curse of Knowledge. 

Identified by psychologists in the 1970s, the Curse of Knowledge can be defined as the inability of an expert to imagine what it’s like for someone else not to know something that they know.

In other words, it’s an inability to put yourself in the shoes of a less informed person.

The Curse of Knowledge explains why so many intelligent experts (from academics, to civil servants, to our product expert) don’t pass on their knowledge nearly as effectively as they should do.

It’s important for businesses, and the people within them, to recognise this curse. But this is way more difficult than you might imagine. We don’t notice the curse because its very nature prevents us from doing so.

With this in mind, it falls upon the business’s lead storytellers – marketers – to appreciate the curse’s power and to mitigate its effects.

A solution

The primary focus of a good B2B marketing agency at the start of a new relationship with a business should be to get under its skin. We should work hard to extract all the information needed from the depths of the organisation. We should pore through documentation and interview the experts – from product managers to coders, from system architects to engineers.

Naturally, many of these experts will suffer from the curse of knowledge (we’re all susceptible). So our job is to interrogate. We should (repeatedly) admit when we don’t understand. We should digest. Reframe. Interview others. Triangulate. Retrace steps. Double check. We should question shallow abstractions and seek deeper meaning.

In these moments we’re advocates for the customer and every company stakeholder. But our job isn’t just to translate the tech. It’s to tell a story – or more accurately a series of stories – about the company, the product, its place in the market, and how it can change the lives of customers.

Telling a story

A seemingly disproportionate amount of research time needs to be spent at the start of a marketing effort to tell this overarching story. Too many agencies don’t do this (especially those without a long B2B technology heritage).

This is a shame. Because when you spend enough time, and do enough thinking at this stage of the process, you can lay the foundations of a clear and credible story.

A lazy summary of a piece of tech might well blight marketing efforts for years. But a well-crafted story – researched with the perils of the curse of knowledge firmly in mind – can keep it on course for just as long.

For more details on how B2B technology companies can build competitive advantage through storytelling, read the Storyful Brands and how to build them guide.