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Michelle Bandler, managing director, Tech B2B, Google

The sales funnel is quickly becoming a relic of the past. The old paradigm of forcing business buyers through a chute and nudging them along with emails, calls and other forms of communication doesn’t work in today’s world of tech-savvy business buyers.

Technology continues to change everything about how people shop for business products and services, as well as what they’re buying, so modern marketers and sales teams need to learn to meet prospects where they are on the purchasing journey.

Google’s recent survey of more than 500 U.S. technology buyers, sellers and marketers, conducted with management consultancy Bain & Company, offers surprising, game-changing insights for today’s B2B marketing community.  

It takes a village: The crazy, maze-y world of B2B tech purchasing

What follows are five modern trends in tech marketing and purchasing, along with insights into what marketing and sales professionals must do to engage with B2B prospects today.

1. Buyers are better educated than ever before

Business technology buyers do their research. They talk to their peers about the product or service they’re considering, read online reviews, visit the vendor’s website and more. By the time they’re ready to engage your sales team, 94% are partially or fully informed about the product or service in question.

2. Buyers want to make the first move

With so much information available online, getting to the point of a sales conversation can take longer than before. Sales teams must be careful not to overreach: In fact, about three-quarters of buyers prefer to initiate interactions with a vendor in the evaluation and purchasing stages, rather than having someone from sales reach out.

Emailing or calling prospects too soon could be a big mistake: 22% of respondents rated “sales rep reached out too early or too often” as one of their top-three reasons for not purchasing from a particular vendor. On the other hand, when a prospect does reach out, sales teams must be ready: 22% of respondents said “response times from sellers were too long” was also among the top reasons for taking their purchases elsewhere.

3. The path to purchase is not funnel-shaped

Buyers don’t travel from discovery to purchase in a straight line. They tend to take a more roundabout route, relying heavily on word-of-mouth referrals from peers and external industry websites in the discovery phase. Perhaps surprisingly, social media is not a great channel for sales engagement. While 48% of buyers said they follow industry influencers on social media and 37% use it to learn about new brands, engaging with vendors through social media didn’t even make the cut.

4. Marketing and sales are important, but other influences have more clout with buyers

From discovery to purchase, marketing and sales can provide the information and assistance B2B buyers need to acquire the right technology with confidence and ease. But there are other factors that influence buyers to buy or not to buy.

For example, 37% of survey respondents said that a lack of transparent pricing is among their top three reasons for not purchasing a particular product from a particular vendor. This is followed by not receiving tailored or personalized information (35%), analyst/expert reviews (35%) and not being able to find the information they needed to make a decision (28%).

While vendors have little control over analyst/expert reviews, they can make sure their websites feature up-to-date pricing and offer enough information to make a decision. And any outreach in which sales and marketing engage needs to be personalized and tailored to the buyer’s needs.

5. A group, not a lone buyer, decides which technologies to buy

Only a tiny percentage of respondents — 2% — said a single individual chooses and buys technology for their business. Nearly half said two to four people make the decision. But in more than half the cases (51%), decision makers are a sizable group of five to more than 20 people.

To reach all of these stakeholders, sales teams need to use varied and diverse channels. IT wields the greatest influence (85%) over technology purchases, but people from many other areas of the business, such as finance (40%), procurement (35%) and engineering (22%) also have a say. Marketing (38%) and sales (26%) often have members on the purchasing team, as well — and it shouldn’t be difficult to know how to reach them.

Come together: How sales and marketing teams must collaborate to win customers

Bringing the right message to the right people at the right time is both easier and more complicated than ever. Technology has increased the challenge of finding the “right people” — they could be almost anywhere, on any device, in any channel — but it also creates new opportunities for reaching them.

To take advantage of this fluidity, sales and marketing teams will need to discard old funnel-oriented models in which marketers attracted and developed prospects, then handed them over to sales to close the deal.

At high-performing companies — ones with 10%-plus growth in revenue and 3%-plus gains in market share over the last year, for example —  sales and marketing work together on all fronts. They collaborate on overall strategic priorities (100%) and scoring leads (72%), for instance — much more so than those at other companies. They also share a focus on targets, key performance indicators and incentives (83%), identifying target accounts and audience segments (72%) and their process for routing leads (83%).

Before the destination comes the journey

Business decision-makers arrive at their destination after a journey of discovery, evaluation and even trial and error. To guide them, marketers need to understand their journey, and know where, when and how to reach them along the way.

Sales and marketing must work together from the start to coax that coveted invitation from prospects to join them on their expedition. Only then can both teams help buyers find their way to their doorstep.

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