The challenge: customers are self-nurturing most of the buying journey
A recent survey of 304 U.S. technology buyers, 101 sellers, and 103 marketers, conducted by Bain & Company and Google, revealed a discrepancy between technology buyers’ behavior and seller’s or marketer’s beliefs. Bain and Company cited possible explanations for this in their brief, Great Unmet Expectations: Tech Buyers Deserve Better from Sales and Marketing. Basically, the improvement in digital content quality has allowed tech buyers to self-educate to a greater extent, giving them more control over the sales process.
The study also revealed that by the time a potential buyer reaches sales they are “purchase-ready” versus “sales-ready.” This ultimately shortens the length of the traditional sales cycle and diminishes the notion of “marketing qualified leads” versus “sales qualified leads.” This has a big impact on the way sales and marketing interact within B2B companies, but also the ways in which marketing can influence purchasing behavior.
To understand this challenge and how vendors can adapt to buyers who want to control and self-serve part or all of the buying journey, TrustRadius Founder and CEO Vinay Bhagat sat down with B2B marketing guru and serial CMO Rishi Dave, Expert Partner at Bain & Company.
TrustRadius’ Trust Talks series highlights B2B executives’ approach to building a culture of listening to customers, activating the customer voice, and creating a customer-driven company.
As Expert Partner at Bain & Company, Rishi works with CMOs and executive teams to build world-class capabilities and drive marketing transformations. He has held global chief marketing officer (CMO) roles at public technology and cloud companies, including Dun & Bradstreet, Vonage, and MongoDB. Prior to these roles, he served as Global Head of Digital Marketing for Dell’s B2B businesses. He is an author, keynote speaker, and presenter in global media, including Forbes.com, VentureBeat, CMO.com, and MarTech series.
The customer: new-age millennial tech buyers
Bain & Company’s Great Unmet Expectations survey results
What do we know about these new-age buyers who seemingly self-serve part or all of their buying journey? For starters, we know that buying is no longer a linear path from reading sales materials to contacting sales.
In our Trust Talks video, “Customer-Centric Strategies to Attract the New-Age Buyer,” Rishi Dave explains a few themes discovered in Bain & Company’s recent survey:
- Customers at B2B companies are self-nurturing, and when they do eventually contact a sales team, they are much more likely to buy
- New-age buyers increasingly rely on trustworthy peer reviews, like the ones found on TrustRadius
- Buying groups are increasing in size; users now have a say, which results in a broader group of decision-makers
- There continues to be blurred expectations of what marketing vs. sales is doing to drive new customers
According to the survey results, 94% of prospective buyers are already fully or somewhat informed before contacting a vendor representative. This chart shows how today’s typical customer navigates the discovery, evaluation, and purchase stages. As you can see, the customer is much more informed prior to speaking with a vendor representative and buyers are spending less time in the evaluation stage.
“I do think buyers, whether in their consumer life or as a B2B buyer, are much more comfortable in leveraging technology, researching on their own, etc. They’re comparing their experience with a potential B2B tech company to their last experience with Amazon or with other great tech sites.”
The solution: influence the early, self-nurturing stage with digital discoverability
Regardless of whether you’re a product-led, sales-led, or marketing-led company, we know that shifts in technology and purchasing behaviors are shaping today’s B2B buyers to become much more self-sufficient. We also know that Gen Z (age 24 and under) and millennials (age 25-39) make up the majority of buying committees, and they’ve become increasingly comfortable with making decisions virtually as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the pandemic, one of the big moments in B2B selling we found was that buyers feel completely comfortable making big buying decisions for enterprise technology, especially SaaS technology, without ever meeting anyone in person.”
Utilize word of mouth as a marketing channel
One of the main ways new-age buyers source technology is by word of mouth. In today’s terms, word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) is defined as user sentiment of a product or service through recommendations, reviews, and customer photos or videos online.
Marketers routinely think their website is the biggest source of information, but forget that customers visit various other channels before ever reaching the company site. In fact, according to the Bain & Company and Google survey, word of mouth outranked vendor web sites and sales reps as a source of information in both the discovery and evaluation stages.
As you can see below, the majority of buyers prefer word of mouth early on and in the discovery (58%) and evaluation (57%) stages. Interestingly, industry influencers (56%) and word of mouth become the most important at the follow-on and renewal stages (43%) as well.
The fact that customers are primarily researching your product by word of mouth begs the question, “What is your digital discoverability?” says Rishi Dave. With all of the self-service and self-nurturing that is happening, how discoverable is your brand in the buying process?
“The way I look at it is, what’s your digital discoverability? It’s good old-fashioned execution of your strategy … when they go to search and ask questions, are you showing up? When they go to your website, are they getting the content they need? Review sites are another one. It’s about making sure, as a brand, that you show up in all those different places.”
According to Rishi Dave, this ties back to your content strategy. Obviously it’s a combination of things like technical SEO on your website, search terms, review sites, online communities, influencers, and owned/earned paid strategy that contribute to digital discoverability. But, content is what helps your company show up in results when customers search for what they need. As a senior consultant to B2B marketing leaders, the two questions Rishi always gets asked are, “what content should I be creating?” and “how do I scale it?”
“It’s about building that content strategy on your site, but also investing in communities and review sites like TrustRadius that change a lot, have a lot of community components, and show up in search results very well.”
Activating the voice of the customer (VoC)
“The VoC is everything. It’s the way you determine the ‘what.’ What content is the customer actually asking for, what will help them in the buying process, and where it will help them best in terms of self-nurturing.” —Rishi Dave
Creating content that is authentic, credible, centered around problems customers are currently facing, and written in the way people search performs best. This can be informed through the VoC or review sites like TrustRadius.
“Increasingly, companies are realizing they need to drive digital discoverability, and that one of the big levers is content. They then realize they don’t have the ability to scale it themselves. If I can get third parties, customers, or prospects to write the content for me, then I can scale better.”
“It’s scaling the content (not creating or sourcing it) which is actually the most challenging for companies,” says Rishi Dave. User reviews or VoC are critical for content scalability, allowing you to create synergy across all of your marketing channels.
Embedding VoC content and activating intent data
Embedding VoC Content
A review program focused on generating high quality reviews can be a scalable approach to generating voice-of-customer content. Adding this content contextually to your website and landing pages, positively impacts SEO and conversion. Review content is often key word rich so syndicated quotes help brands rank for more key words. In addition the presence of social proof of web pages increases on page engagement, sending a positive signal to Google. Lastly, it’s possible to mark up pages such that search engine results display social proof (i.e. count of reviews, star ratings) improving click through rates. More traffic means more opportunities to convert.
Buyer intent data
“How do you make yourself discoverable to the self-nurturer buyer? Content and scoring (intent data) is a critical component.”
Intent data in its simplest terms is the collection of behavioral data from unique website visitors. It’s a digital footprint of which products or content customers search for or interact with on a given site. It can take on various forms such as whitepapers they downloaded or items they added to their cart. On software review platforms like TrustRadius, where B2B purchasing decisions are made, intent data provides vendors with invaluable insight into who their in-market customers are, what they’re interested in, who they’re comparing them to, and where they are in the buying journey.
According to the 2021 B2B Buying Disconnect survey, “Buyer intent data can help replace some of the lost intent signals that were previously gained from in-person meetings, field marketing, sales events, and industry conferences.” This explains why 40% of B2B vendors have already started leveraging intent data.
Rishi Dave says intent data by itself, although exciting, is not enough. To create full synergy across your marketing channels, companies must use it in combination with everything else they know about the companies.
“Intent data, in combination with other data that you use to score leads or score accounts, becomes very powerful. Companies I’ve seen that have been able to leverage that data along with other behavioral data (attendance at events, what they’ve downloaded, etc.) are very powerful in prioritizing accounts they want to go after or pass to sales.”
Sales vs. marketing showdown—whose lead is it, anyway?
Rishi goes on to say that because of valuable customer insights, like intent data, the relationship between sales and marketing is adding complexity for companies. It’s becoming increasingly complicated to determine when leads stay in marketing and when they go to sales. More and more companies are challenged with creating processes to collaborate marketing with sales on these opportunities, allowing for a better lead hand-off.
“The number one mistake people make is they get overly excited about the intent data by itself, and it’s a great way to lose credibility with the sales team. When you have intent data along with behavioral data you can begin to build the picture of what’s the next best action to take and when you hand it off to sales.”
- The 2021 B2B Buying Disconnect research report
- How Intent Data Can Move Prospects Along Their Buyer’s Journey
- The 2021 Ultimate Guide to B2B Intent Data
- Engage Your Customers Faster on 6sense with Downstream Intent Data from TrustRadius
- How Optimizely Used True Intent Data to Close Deals
- What You Need to Know About Intent Data in 5 Minutes
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