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

Content is king. But even if you have amazing content that’s not easily accessible, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. 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documentation delivery. 77% of the technical communicators we surveyed felt that current content delivery methods are outdated and are no longer adequate.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 being able to verbally ask questions and get a spoken answer, to 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, prospective customers would 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’re going to go 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 former prospect and now customer’s interaction with the content on our website before filling out a contact us form.

Hubspot contact activity history

Here is another customer’s interaction with our documentation prior to purchasing our software.

Hubspot contact history

(Source: Screenshots taken from Hubspot timeline tool)

These are just two examples. But take a look at your analytics and see if they confirm this or not. Post a comment below on the percentage of customers that reviewed your documentation before buying.

Barriers to Successful Content Delivery

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

Chart of technical writer barriers.

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% technical communicators surveyed felt that current content delivery methods are outdated and are no longer adequate.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

Steps on making toast

Here’s a simple example of a customer 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.
It is cringe-worthy to think of the millions spent on personalizing marketing materials only to find that an organization’s product documentation delivery isn’t specific to the language of the user. 70% of B2B marketers planned to create more content in 2017 compared to 2016, why not use the internal resources you already have?

How to deliver your documentation in a way that increases leads

Customers want clear, helpful, relevant information before making purchasing decisions. No argument there. Technical documentation managers’ 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 twitter account devoted to it. Here’s what you should look for in ideal documentation delivery: 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.

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

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.

Screenshot of easydita's Conditional Profiling

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.

Documentation on a cellphone

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.

Reuse content example

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 can only be as helpful as the content they can pull from.

Example chatbot conversation

It’s helpful: The time is quickly approaching where users will demand documentation to perform the tasks for them with little guidance. There’s already software that will follow task instructions using the task documentation to do things like ordering pizza.

Example Alexa commands

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 the prospect’s purchasing process.

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