Welcome to our series examining the way the B2B technology buying journey has changed.
In the digital age, and as more millennials take up their positions as key business decision-makers, how technology companies sell must adapt. Buyers now have all the information they desire at their fingertips – search engines, social media, analyst reports, media and other digital channels. This has made it easy for buyers to independently research solutions to their problems, rather than waiting for sales teams to contact them and share insights.
We’ll be taking a look at how PR, AR, marketing, content and sales can work together for full impact on sales and revenue growth.
As part of our series, we asked Simon Ratcliffe, Consultant and Board Advisor, to share his expertise and experience from his seat as an interim CIO.
THE CHANGING BUYER LANDSCAPE
By Simon Ratcliffe, Consultant and Board Advisor
The way buyers of IT services operate has changed in recent years. From a reasonably structured and well-understood process, a much more fragmented, less formal process has emerged in which people with the authority to buy what they need have all the resources they need to make an informed buying decision.
Most users of technology and buyers are far more tech savvy than they used to be. This puts the buyers themselves in a difficult position. Whereas in the past IT would spend time translating business needs into technical solutions they could then buy and negotiate with a small number of preferred vendors, the business users themselves are often dictating the technical requirements or even connecting directly with potential vendors. The number of buyers has grown enormously and the more traditional procurement processes have evolved but, in many cases, tech savvy users are buying directly without a structured procurement plan.
Within this rather chaotic framework, it is becoming increasingly difficult for technology vendors and IT service providers to differentiate themselves. The tech savvy employees have learned the value of information and are becoming more demanding in the quality and provenance of the information provided by those who seek to sell to them. A 2019 Gartner study highlighted that 69% of IT providers are rated as average or below average in their efforts to differentiate themselves from their competition with only 1% being rated as extremely effective in communicating their competitive advantage.
Buyers are using their ability to access a wide variety of reliable information to challenge a lot of the claims that providers have often made during their sales pursuits. The same Gartner research shows that buyers prefer to rely on trusted independent sources of information as well as analysts, influencers and professional associations and communities. On a scale of preference, marketing activities by the provider rank a miserable 7 out of the 8 sources reviewed, with only the provider website itself scoring lower.
The message is very clear. In this world of tech savvy and well-informed users where buying power is highly decentralised, trying to win the trust of a prospect is challenging. The buyers will research providers and check, re-check and cross check all their claims, seeking to determine as much tangible evidence as possible before even granting an initial audience.
And when that audience is granted, the approach needs to change. The buyers want to see live demonstrations and hear from existing customers. They may look at white papers, blogs and webinars as well, but these are background. It is the ability to prove a real understanding of the prospect and to prove that you have a solution that is tangible and used by multiple other organisations who are prepared to discuss it that become key.
Above all, prospects value stories. Not fictional accounts of what the provider can do for them, but well-crafted stories that show that the provider understands the prospect, can articulate their problems clearly and has a strategy to solve these problems for them.
Story telling is one of the oldest forms of communication, and the power of a great story is as powerful today as it has always been. A really great story will elevate the storyteller from somebody who is simply providing lots of information, to somebody who has understood the issue and is providing the right solution at the right time in the right way.
However great the story is and however well it is told, it will not have impact unless it is told to the right person. The biggest challenge for the seller in the world of multiple informed buyers is determining which of the buyers is genuinely able to drive action within an organisation. There are many and varied theories for identifying and connecting with the agents of change in any organisation, but it must be noted that telling a great story to the wrong person is a waste of time.
It is critical to identify who the buyers trust and ensure that they are who you're targeting. They will never trust you unless they have heard of you but they will not trust those traditional marketing led approaches.
Buyers need to hear authentic stories that resonate with them and can be validated by independent sources. It's important to guide them towards these sources, to go above and beyond and become their trusted adviser. As the number of buyers proliferate and the buying journey becomes more complex, providers have an opportunity to guide buyers through to purchase through multiple means.
About Simon Ratcliffe
Simon is an IT evangelist, innovator and board advisor for some of the UK’s largest organisations. Simon has served as a Virtual CIO, CIO Advisor and Leadership Mentor for over 10 years. He is the chair of the Digital Skills Special Interest Group at the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF). He prioritises promoting the value of IT within organisations by developing a single strategic vision that unites business and people. Simon holds a Master of Arts from University of Cambridge and is a trained psychologist and former Finance Director.