Not so long ago, B2B software sales involved complicated, time-consuming transactions between an individual (most likely in IT) and a software company.
Times have changed quite a bit. In some ways, B2B buying has gotten more complex, with increased scrutiny on enterprise software budgets and purchasing cycles that have become longer than ever. Buying committees are also growing in size as procurement processes become more rigid. On top of that, sales teams are getting less time with their buyers, only being brought in when a buyer is near the final stages of the purchasing decision.
At the same time, buyers want uncomplicated purchasing in other ways. They conduct the majority of their own research before ever engaging with sales and enjoy free trials.
What does that mean for software sellers and how can they meet their buyers where they are with an experience that matches what they need?
Read more: Buyer Transformation: What Do Today’s B2B Buyers Want
That’s exactly the question that Amanda Malko, CMO of G2, discussed in a recent Tackle webinar. “The buying experience is becoming more frictionless, which is a great thing for buyers,” she said. “It’s easier than ever to understand the types of software that are out there and to do your own research and homework.”
Here are five lessons we learned from our conversation with Amanda.
#1. Today’s B2B software buyers crave more information about the product
G2’s 2021 Software Buyer Behavior Report, which delves into software buyers’ preferences and habits, notes that today’s software buyers aren’t getting enough detailed information about the products and their capabilities – what the product can do, who it’s for, and how it can solve problems.
“Increasingly, buyers are really craving more tactical hands-on education before they purchase to know that they can feel comfortable with utilizing it.”
One way to solve this problem is for software companies to offer more free trials when possible, giving buyers the opportunity to test drive a product before making a serious commitment. “Today, we think of education on the product experience as a post-sale part of the journey,” said Amanda. “But I think increasingly, buyers are really craving more tactical hands on education before they purchase to know that they can feel comfortable with utilizing it.”
“I think educating before marketing is really important,” said Amanda. “A lot of times, we think we have to sell differentiators and proof points – and all of those things are table stakes – but I think customers are craving really credible ‘hands-on’ and ‘how-to’ content.”
Above all else, keep messaging and content consistent across the buying lifecycle–from pre-sale to post-sale. “Start educating buyers from the first point of contact all the way through the journey, and as you go, learn more about them and continue to pass that information along throughout the process,” said Amanda.
#2. It’s critical to reach B2B software buyers at the right time through personalization
According to G2’s report, 67% of buyers say they only contact sales after they’ve already made a decision. “The better your presence, just in terms of the volume or depth of information people can find about you, the more likely they are to hopefully get to your sales team and to be raising their hands and be very excited and qualified,” said Amanda.
So how do ISVs curate a purchasing experience so that the right information gets to the right buyers at the right time?
One approach is to provide more tailored content. For example, a startup buyer would see content focused on agility, versus a mature enterprise buyer, which would see content aimed at growth and optimization. This replicates B2C engagements, in which a consumer receives targeted product suggestions based on past purchases and preferences.
Read more: The New Rules of B2B Software Marketing
Amanda also suggested that companies make use of intent data, which measures a customer’s propensity to buy. Monitoring customer buyer habits and signals across the Marketplaces can help ISVs figure out where buyers are spending their time and dollars, and that helps to focus efforts on where to target buyers and what types of personalized information to utilize.
#3. A committee is most likely making the B2B software buying decisions
Historically, the chief decision-maker for software probably sat somewhere in the IT organization. But these buying centers have shifted significantly and expanded to include multiple stakeholders from across the organization. Tackle’s State of Cloud Marketplaces 2021 Report notes that cloud budgets have moved over the last three years from being owned by either the director of IT or the director of product to an enterprise budget that’s now owned by finance.
“There are more people involved in the buying process than ever,” said Amanda. “The good news is that software is becoming more ingrained and embedded across the fabric of an organization. It’s able to deliver more value to an organization than ever before. The bad news is that there are a lot more people involved in the decision.”
That could mean a buying committee made up of IT, finance, and others. “As a seller, it’s important to know who you need to influence and how, because it is going to be a collection of people and increasingly a larger group of people who are influencing and making those decisions,” Amanda said.
#4. Your customers are your best marketing resource
Merely marketing to potential buyers is no longer sufficient. Instead, it’s far more effective to lean on customer testimonials to tell your story. “Today, we have all kinds of ways to have customers be advocates and marketers for us,” said Amanda. “Leaning into that, whether it’s through peer reviews or using customer testimonials, is really key to making the selling process successful.”
“Today we have all kinds of ways to have customers be advocates and marketers for us.”
Incentivizing advocacy can really pay off. Customers increasingly want to talk about software that they’ve had a good experience with. But how do you empower them and incentivize them? “It could be as simple as giving them a platform to share their authentic ideas about your product in a way that helps them build their own credibility or reputation.”
In other words, creating programs or spaces where customers can come together and be champions for your product – and each other – can reap enormous benefits. “Sometimes just creating a place where customers can do that can be really powerful,” said Amanda. “I think the companies that are going to succeed are going to enable more of those peer-to-peer conversations throughout the buying journey. And I think Marketplaces can be a great advocate in that because that’s where people really are coming together.”
#5. A challenging economic climate actually presents real opportunities
Recent economic news has been unsettling, with reports of tech companies laying off workers as they prepare for a tough road ahead. However, this may be a chance for software companies to seize opportunities and scale growth, extending a trend that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read more: Why Cloud Marketplaces Might Save Your Business
“What we saw during COVID was a one-quarter decline in software spending as everybody started to rein in spending to cut costs,” Amanda said. Yet during the pandemic, as companies began to see the value of business and productivity software, along with work-from-home solutions, software spending began inching up. “A lot of that is digital transformation that happened during the pandemic, as we all started to work and buy in different ways, but it also speaks to the resilience of software and how software can really solve a lot of different pain points for companies.”
Tackle’s own research bears this out, and indicates that there’s a thirst for buying software digitally via Cloud Marketplaces. According to Tackle’s State of Cloud Marketplaces Report, 61% of buyers said they had purchased software through one of the Cloud Marketplaces in 2021, with 83% saying they are likely or extremely likely to do so in the future.
Now is the time to examine your buyer’s journey and make sure that buying your software is as simple and straightforward as possible. For example, don’t construct artificial barriers through over-complicated pricing structures. Some customers may want to bypass the sales team completely to make a purchase – and you should make it easy for them to do so. “I think we don’t give buyers enough credit,” said Amanda. “Software companies often say, ‘Oh, but it’s so complicated.’ Is it though, or is it that we haven’t created the avenues for buyers to easily make a purchase?”
Although the B2B software buying experience is undergoing a rapid transformation, software companies can take advantage of these changes and scale at a healthy clip. Nimble and responsive software companies that rely on buyer-centric strategies such as these will be in the best position to move forward.
To learn more about buyer behavior and strategies to enhance the buying experience, be sure to check out the full webinar.