B2B Wins #8: B2B Buyers in 2023
B2B buyer engagement has reached a tipping point
Way back in October, it does seem like a lifetime ago now that we're swirling into December, I shared some of the prognostications that analysts were making about B2B marketing in 2023. But now the prediction season is in full swing. Just in the past few days I've seen several more of these prediction articles land in my inbox.
Everyone has a view of the key trends. Some are even supported by data. One of the most interesting was a report from TrustRadius that shows how B2B buyer behavior continues to change. While there were many findings in the report, the thing that shocked me was how unimportant our sales reps are in the buying process.
Aren't we supposed to be doing our best to manage a funnel that delivers high quality prospect to reps? Isn't it preferable that it happen sooner vs later? Certainly the reps think so. But not, it turns out, the buyers.
No Reps. No, really, no reps.
As marketers, our whole job is to create both immediate and long-term demand for our company’s products and services. We're sending messages to potential buyers to make them aware that we have a solution to their pain. When they get that message, really get that message, we want to connect them to a sales rep. Isn't that the whole game?
Well, it used to be. But this whole digital thing has been futzing with well established processes for well over a decade. I remember the good old days when only half of pre-sales research was done before contacting a rep. That's so 2016.
This year, we reached a tipping point on the role of the sales rep. Reps were always a top resource in exploring new solutions. This year, for the first time, they slipped from the Top 5 resources identified by buyers. We've know for a long time that buyers want to talk to reps very late in the process. It turns out it's later than we think.
Who replaced our hallowed reps as a source of information? Review sites and communities!
Self-Service is key
Virtually 100% of buyers want to self-serve part or all of the buying journey--up 13% from 2021 - TrustRadius
Before we talk about the role of communities and review sites let's be clear on what's going on here. Buyers want to be in control of the buying process.
Some of this is generational, those digital natives we keep talking about, but yours truly is a boomer and I'm firmly in the self-serve camp. What's changed dramatically is that not only have we learned the behaviors of doing our own research but the tools have improve tremendously.
You don't have to have a Gartner license these days to get the latest Gartner report. You get it from the top company who uses the report for marketing purposes. "Look at us, we're a leader!".
Digital data sources, both free and subscription offer myriad choices.
Technology Profilers: BuiltWith, Wappalyzer, NetCraft. SimilarTech.
Review Sites: G2, Capterra, SourceForge, TrustRadius,
News Sites: TechCrunch, TheVerge, Wired, Digital Trends, Crunchbase
"Bloggers" (or whatever we're calling them these days): Medium, Substack, Quora
Socials: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit
Websites: Yours and your competitors
And there are dozens of functional specific sources. For example, tech buyers are hanging out on GitHub, HackerNews, Discord, etc.
All this information is available as we consider our problems. And Google taught us to be good researchers. Self-serve. Get used to it.
While many self-serve sources are outside your control you should ensure that you have plenty of self-serve content available to support the discovery process on your website. Pricing is a area you should address in some manner because it’s a key question from buyers. Self-serve can also include demos and trials that are totally automated. More on this later.
The implications for all those sources outside your controls is that you're going to have to be more proactive at monitoring those sources. Subscribe. Set-up Google Alerts. Stay informed. Get your best customers posting reviews. More on this in a moment.
It's happening in the dark
Traditionally when marketers think about online communities we're thinking about those that we control. User groups. Community Sites. Support Sites. Some moderated. Some not. All ours.
But that's not what's driving a lot of learning and discovery today. Those community discussions are often happening out of our view. Social channels, self-publishing/bloggers, Reddit, Quora, these are all places where your buyers are going for answers. These discussions are almost too numerous to catalog much less monitor. But at least you can see them.
Chat technologies like Slack and Discord allow niche communities around your product or category which will contain conversations that are totally in the dark. Unless you happen to stumble upon one or get a tip from a buyer you will never know where these discussions are occurring.
The implications for B2B marketers and sales reps are that we're going to have to get really good a monitoring discussions about both our product/brand and our category. We have to understand the intent, sentiment, and trends of these discussions. Companies like Converseon are doing this for social channels. Technology can help with your discovery process and will be critical to figuring out what's being discussed and how you should incorporate this information in the buying process.
Review sites, not your site
The rise of review sites is nothing short of amazing. According to Similarweb, G2 alone gets 6.4M visits each month and each visitor is looking at 2.5 pages. Capterra gets 2.5M visits. Trustradius 1.1M visits. There's a lot of research going on there.
Review sites used to be the purview of small, less consequential products. Things bought through subscriptions put on the corporate card. But that hasn't been true for several years. Review sites have gotten much more intentional about seeking out the users of products that cost millions and garner multi-year license agreements.
I know it's easy to think of review sites as a home for the aggrieved but there are often many more fans of your tech than detractors. These sites are rich with honest scorecards about the thing you want your prospects to buy. That's why their popularity is soaring.
The importance of reviews to buyers was up dramatically in the TrustRadius report. While this trend is consistent across all generations--Boomers through Zs, all deal sizes, and all company sizes, the most notable gain in the use of review sites was the largest company buyers. Review sites, once the domain of low-end purchases, has gotten the attention of enterprise buyers.
For marketers who are serious about getting in front of the high-intent buyers, review sites are critical. You should be working with the review sites to get your best customers on the board. These sites have tools that companies can use to point their customers to the site. While you can't tell them what to say (don't), your customer success teams will know who to point there.
A demo without the rep
“…70% of buyers list “options for accessing a demo or free trial” among the top three things vendors do to make them more likely to buy from them. Conversely, 40% of buyers named “having to contact sales for a demo or free trial” among the top three things vendors do to make them less likely to buy.”—Trustradius
Unthinkable. Why would we ever let somebody use our tech without the guiding hand of the sales rep? Isn’t the whole purpose of the demo/trial to understand the customer better?
It really doesn't matter what your goals are. You prospect is increasingly in the drivers seat. Product demos are the most impactful resources in the buying process according to buyers. That said, they prefer if that's all done in a self-serve mode. Let me share a recent experience.
I started a trial of Mendix' low-code platform. I am pumped! Totally self-serve. Fully automated. Full featured. Little digital assistants to give me a tour and help me when I get stuck. There is no better salesperson that the prospect who has convinced themselves your product is awesome. No rep required.
Make your demos and trials self-serve. It'll be awesome for everyone.
B2B buyer behavior continues to evolve. The trend towards self-service is only accelerating, especially in the large enterprise space. B2B marketers and sellers are going to have to modify their capabilities, processes, and behaviors to accommodate.
Next week: I’ll explore OpenAI’s new chat technology, ChatGPT. I’ll leave you with a little story by our new chat bot.
Can you write a short story about how a princess rescues a hopeless knight from a dragon using a riddle game?
Once upon a time, in a far-off kingdom, there was a beautiful princess who lived in a castle by the sea. She was known for her intelligence and wisdom, and many people came from far and wide to seek her advice.
One day, a knight in shining armor arrived at the castle, seeking help. He told the princess that he had been tasked with defeating a fierce dragon that was terrorizing the land, but he was not sure how to do it.
The princess thought for a moment, and then she said, "I have a plan. The dragon is very clever, but it is also very proud. We can use its pride against it."
She then explained her plan to the knight. She would challenge the dragon to a game of riddles, and if the dragon lost, it would have to leave the kingdom and never return.
The knight was hesitant at first, but he eventually agreed to the plan. He rode off to face the dragon, armed with a bag of riddles given to him by the princess.
When he reached the dragon's lair, he found the dragon sleeping. The knight woke it up and presented the challenge. The dragon, intrigued by the idea of a game, agreed to play.
The knight began by asking the first riddle: "What has a head and a tail, but no body?" The dragon thought for a moment, and then it answered, "A coin."
The knight then asked the second riddle: "What can be seen in the morning, noon, and night, but never in the afternoon?" The dragon thought for a moment, and then it answered, "The moon."
The knight then asked the third and final riddle: "What can be seen in the sky, but never on the ground?" The dragon thought for a moment, but it could not come up with an answer.
"I give up," the dragon said grudgingly. "What is the answer?"
"The future," the knight replied triumphantly.
The dragon, furious at being bested by a mere human, roared in anger and prepared to attack the knight. But before it could do so, the princess appeared, holding a magical amulet that she had used to summon the dragon.
"By the power of this amulet, I command you to leave this kingdom and never return," the princess said, holding the amulet high.
The dragon, realizing it had been defeated, reluctantly complied. It flew away into the distance, never to be seen again.
The knight, grateful to the princess for her help, thanked her and pledged his loyalty to her and her kingdom. And they all lived happily ever after.