Joel York has written extensively about the new breed of B2B buyer and the changes to the B2B sales process, especially for SaaS products.
A quick recap …
The good old sales process according to Joel
“The process went something like this: ask the analysts about the next big thing, collect requirements into and RFP, get a list of vendors from a roundup in an industry magazine, go to a trade show and collect collateral, solicit and evaluate RFP responses by mail or fax, call in a short list of vendors to do a dog and pony show, follow up with a technical drill down meeting, maybe do a bake-off or a pilot, select a vendor, call a reference account, negotiate final pricing and contract terms, and wrap it all up by planning out phase 2 of the project: a complex and expensive implementation.”
The new breed B2B buyer: it’s self-service stupid!
“With such a treasure trove of information available online, the Internet is the 21st century B2B buyer’s first stop for researching products and services. Your strongest strategy is to give the prospect efficient self-service access to your content.”
“In the case of most SaaS and cloud applications, the entire B2B buying process is cheap: trial is free and purchase amounts to a monthly subscription that can be canceled at any time. So in addition to reading about the product, the barriers for a customer to go ahead and just try your product itself (even without a lot of upfront research) are low.”
Long story short, the key to the wallet of the new B2B buyer:
Instant online gratification through efficient self-service
So it’s no surprise that many SaaS companies spend their marketing dollars on content creation and inbound marketing, and invest in marketing automation to track campaign ROI.
Good. But not enough. According to Joel.
“Inbound marketing or simply getting found by a prospect is not enough. Once you are found, you must engage with that prospect frequently and consistently throughout the entire customer lifecycle, because if you don’t, your competitors will, and what is easily found can be just as easily lost.”
What’s worse, simply accessing your content may no longer be a reliable indicator of purchase intend. Joel uses the term “fuzzy funnel” to describe the undeterministic process that customers follow these days: the new B2B buying process is anything but linear, deterministic and under the B2B salesperson’s control.
So what comes after inbound marketing? If accessing your content is no longer a reliable indicator of purchase intent, then how to best measure customer interest?
I asked Joel some questions on it via e-mail and got his permission to publish his answers on this blog:
- Do you see more B2B buyers demanding instant and self-service access to the product or service (rather than just to information and education about the product)?
Joel: I think in general, B2B buyers want a trial whenever it is possible. A brochure or a video is great, but they are no substitute for test driving the actual product you plan to buy. It’s more educational, more convincing, and more comforting to see the real thing. And, given the choice of getting it immediately without a salesperson looking over their shoulder vs. scheduling a demo or a pilot that will be designed to hide any flaws, most B2B buyers will choose the former. However, I prefaced all this with “whenever it is possible.” Some products are so complex that it is simply too much work for the buyer to go it alone, especially those that need extensive configuration, imported data and integration and before they are useful, and in these cases the buyer will actually prefer to lean on the advice and assistance of a salesperson.
2. Do you see a strong correlation between trial sign-up and product usage and the conversion to a paid customer (as compared to say, downloading a white paper)?
Joel: Absolutely. Test driving the real thing demonstrates more interest and requires more commitment on the part of the buyer than reading a piece of content.
3. Do you see marketing automation systems, which you mention in your article, integrating trial usage related metrics into their lead scoring algorithms?
Joel: If they are smart marketers they will. As I mentioned, trial and usage demonstrate interest and commitment. If the statistics are segmented, e.g, what is tried and used, they also show interest at the feature/function level, which can be used in both marketing campaigns and sales calls. For all these reasons, trial and usage statistics are probably some of the strongest indicators you could integrate into a lead score.
Of course, I very much agree with Joel. Participating in a trial is the best possible indicator of potential customer commitment. Of course, I also believe that not all trial customers are created equal. As we discussed in a previous post: a prospect with many users and many hours of trial usage is a hotter prospect than a trial user who only logged in once. And yes, of course Totango can help you figure out who these hot prospects are!