The New Rules of B2B Software Marketing

How to market to today’s software buyers

Not so long ago, marketing to software buyers was a fairly straightforward process, based on time-tested and proven methods: A lead downloads a whitepaper or attends a webinar, gets added to a nurture cadence as an MQL (marketing qualified lead) until they engage with sales, and then, if they purchase, the marketing team celebrates with a round of high-fives (virtual or otherwise).

But times have changed, and today’s software buyers don’t follow the “buyer’s journey” of yesterday. Nowadays, buyers are self-driven, doing much of the leg work themselves before committing to a software purchase. 

What’s more, B2B software purchasing has undergone a sea-change in recent years. According to Tackle’s 2021 State of Cloud Marketplaces Report, 83% of respondents said they are likely or extremely likely to purchase software through the Cloud Marketplaces. That’s a lot of buyers shifting their entire purchasing approach, from research to renewal, which means marketers and software companies must adjust their strategies to suit.  

In a recent Tackle webinar, OutSystems’ CMO Robson Grieve and Tackle’s VP of Marketing Nicole Smith explored the new normal of B2B software marketing today and how companies can set themselves up for success in this evolving landscape.   


The Funnel Isn’t What It Used To Be

The idea of customers arriving at a company’s doorstep through a linear marketing funnel is no longer the norm, and chances are most buyers nowadays won’t follow a horizontal line from visiting a software company’s website from an organic search, then immediately requesting a demo, and making a software purchase. “Customers are going to teleport through parts of that funnel,” says Robson. “They’re just going to appear and you’re not going to necessarily know why.” In essence, the buyer is now squarely in charge of the purchasing process and may be ready to buy after a series of “invisible interactions” with a company.

“We’ve seen a really big shift in the rise of dark social – the invisible shares that happen in your channels, like communities, messages, emails, text, and things like that,” Nicole says. “It’s the buyers driving this and getting the information that they need without someone selling to them. This is how buyers buy now.”

So what’s driving this transformation? Expectations based on consumer purchasing habits. 

B2B software buyers have been influenced by the consumer buying experience to research, compare options on their own, ask friends and peers for insight, and make a purchase without a lot of fuss. By the time they’re ready to talk or make a purchase, they’ve already combed through all of the relevant information they can find.

Read more: Debunking Marketplace Misperceptions for Software Sellers

Robson compares the process to shopping for an automobile. “You read opinions from trusted people who do reviews, get pricing information from pricing sources, and you’re able to do a lot of the work on what to expect without talking to the vendor or a sales rep,” he says.

“We’re seeing a demand on the B2B side that buyers are going to want all companies to operate more like e-commerce companies and give them that consumer-grade buying experience.”

Software buyer expectations also go beyond the research and information-gathering phase. Because consumers have come to expect a more streamlined and efficient purchasing experience for everything from cars to clogs, that same expectation is translating to the world of B2B software purchasing. “In the past, if a buyer requested a demo, they’d have to wait five days to get on a call with an SDR to qualify them, and then wait another two calls to get pricing,” says Nicole. “We’re seeing a demand on the B2B side that buyers are going to want all companies to operate more like e-commerce companies and give them that consumer-grade buying experience.”

For B2B software purchases, the stakes are particularly high, not only because of the costs involved for enterprise-grade software, but also because of human psychology. “B2B buying is one of the riskiest things, personally, that any human can do,” says Robson. “The stuff you buy for work really says a lot about you to your peer group, as well as the boss who’s going to do your review and decide whether or not you get a raise. [Sellers] have to understand and accept that your role is to help people get comfortable with a really big decision.”  


Be Where the Buyers Are

Tuning in to the behavior of the buyer is key to navigating this new era. 

For B2B software, Cloud Marketplaces are rapidly becoming the preferred arena in which to buy and sell software. Buyers are gravitating toward Cloud Marketplaces such as AWS Marketplace, Google Cloud Platform Marketplace, Microsoft Commercial Marketplace, and Red Hat Marketplace in increasing numbers, since the Marketplaces provide the kind of flexibility and efficiency that reflect what can be found in a B2C selling/purchasing motion.  

Tackle’s State of the Cloud Marketplace Report illustrates just how dramatic this shift in buyer preferences has been. According to the report, 61% of buyers had purchased software from one of the Marketplaces in 2021 – an increase of 39% over 2020. And those numbers are expected to grow in the coming years. Not only that, but the report also indicates an increase in the types of buyers who buy on the Marketplaces, going beyond technical roles and expanding into sales, marketing, and operations buyers. 

Read more: How to Drive Organic Traffic to Your Marketplace Listing 

“People are buying on Cloud Marketplaces because they have committed to spend with the Cloud Providers,” says Nicole. “They want to take advantage of that. It accelerates time to value, it makes the procurement process easier, and buyers are getting access to the tools they need much faster. So for a marketer, it’s a new way to go to market. It’s a new way to drive pipeline and accelerate deals – and the Marketplace supports those goals.” 

“I am a real believer in the role of Marketplaces. There’s really a buyer demand for that access point.”

And because today’s software buyers already have that cloud budget committed, it makes sense to invest marketing efforts in the channels where buyers are going to find it easy to buy. “Marketers need to be where buyers have their wallets,” says Nicole.

Robson urges software companies to take note of these emerging purchasing trends. “Be where your buyers want to be,” he says. “I am a real believer in the role of Marketplaces. There’s really a buyer demand for that access point.”


Marketing to Buyers on the Cloud Marketplace

Getting listed on Cloud Marketplaces is a critical first step to ensure that ISVs are on the same page as the buyer, but there’s more to it than that. “Marketplace is not something you just flip on, that you don’t ever touch again and it becomes the solution for all your pipeline problems,” says Nicole. Instead, the onus is on marketers to help educate buyers on how the Marketplace functions in the buying cycle. “Awareness is key, to make sure your buyers know you’re there,” she says.

To mitigate some of the perceived risks of making large software purchases, buyers will purchase from brands they trust. That has always been the case – and remains so. A strong brand still matters, perhaps more than ever, and those companies that can build (and maintain) a trusted, authentic brand will continue to cultivate a competitive edge. “We get caught up talking about ‘demand-gen’ a lot,” says Robson, “but demand-gen has a natural limiter: brand awareness. Nobody can buy a product they’ve never heard of, and so you really have to start fundamentally with some brand engagement, because that’s really the first mover to any sort of a selling relationship.”

“Brand drives demand,” says Nicole, “And if you don’t have a brand, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.” 

Any marketing pro will say that building a brand is all about trust – and one of the benefits of listing with AWS, GCP, Microsoft, or Red Hat is that a relationship with these Cloud Providers brings with it a “seal” of trust. Not only that, relationships with the Cloud Providers also opens up a host of opportunities, including joint marketing, funding, and co-selling programs.

One thing to keep in mind: the Marketplaces are not a lead generator. Rather, Marketplaces should be part of a holistic marketing strategy and can also support renewal and expansion motions for the customer base. “How you market your Cloud Marketplace listing and work with the Cloud Providers on joint programs will drive eyes to that listing and let buyers know that this is a channel that can be used as another route to market,” says Nicole.

Read more: How to Scale Your Cloud Marketplace Revenue 

Beyond these suggestions, both Robson and Nicole stress the importance of retaining the “human touch” to boost marketing strategies. Blending online marketing experiences with offline experiences, such as gifts or direct-mail campaigns, can have a big impact. “If you want to reach B2B buyers, think about how to blend those offline experiences with digital experiences on the sales side to stand out in the market,” says Nicole.

Robson also suggests hosting live events with guest speakers, particularly post-Covid-19, since many are craving personal interaction – and a live event may bring considerable value to a company’s brand. “I think there is real interest in human contact, given that many of us have spent so many years now in Zoom calls,” he says.

Although software buyers’ purchasing preferences may be shifting, one important point for marketers remains unchanged: The buyer calls the shots. “In the future, sellers are going to have to support the many different ways that buyers want to buy – whether that’s a sales-led motion, marketing-led, product-led, or combination of all these,” says Nicole. “And those who build their go-to-market engine with all of these areas in mind are going to be successful.”    


To learn more about building a successful go-to-market strategy on the Cloud Marketplace, speak with the Tackle Marketplace Experts.