1. Fury road
Have today’s buyers gone mad? You might think so based on the stats: They seem to be running wild, conducting evaluations free of any sales contact, roving the B2B ecosphere in huge buying packs, and taking their sweet time drawing out cycles as long as they please.
What is a salesperson or a marketer to do? How do we tame them?
Well for one, you can banish the idea that the problem is something you’re not doing, and accept that the problem is what you’re already doing. It’s your content plan, your sales structure, the lead-based demand-gen model, and all the ways you unwittingly contribute to the growing B2B buyer information apocalypse.
Buyers aren’t having trouble buying because your team isn’t marketing hard enough. They’re having trouble because they’re passing through a hailstorm of messages. They are getting so much content from so many companies on so many channels that it makes it exceedingly difficult to hear, well, anything.
"77% of B2B buyers say their last purchase was very complex or difficult."
2. Hard questions to ask yourself
This is a moment of reckoning for product marketers for a number of reasons. First, there’s a pandemic and that has more than 100 countries and billions of people locked down, and that adds stress. If you thought buyers’ attention spans were short last year, picture them homeschooling their kids. And second, the pandemic has put every budget at risk. CFOs are no longer the elusive signatory who asks your salesperson to shave off a few percent—he or she is actively torpedoing projects at the earliest sign of evaluation.
In this world, it’s incumbent upon product marketers to look in the mirror:
- Why are customers not responding to our value propositions?
- Why does the voice of the customer suddenly feel so shallow?
- Why does it seem like customers won’t take action?
Several possible answers:
A. Lack of Insight
One answer could be that your organization doesn’t understand buyers well enough, or doesn’t understand them anymore. Today, many product marketers view it as their job to sharpen their company’s message—to make it crisp, colorful, and catchy, and to convince buyers that their product is the best. But Gartner research has found that buyers don’t want the best. They want “good enough.” If your messaging has wandered into the realm of hyperbole, it has become less credible and is now decoupled from the things buyers actually search for.
Yes, it’s neat that your marketing software features artificial intelligence. But right now, your buyer really just needs to send an email.
B. Lack of Discipline
Another answer could be a lack of discipline. Product marketers are often under tremendous stress to deliver quick results. But without a messaging structure, a narrative, market data, and buyer insights, “going agile” will only speed you to your decline. Nothing shakes leadership’s trust in your ability like betting big on a message that flops.
C. Lack of Authority
Another far less popular answer could be that your team has been demoted to secretary. Rather than uniting sales, marketing, and product, they’re taking orders. Maybe they’re being treated as the company content vending machine, chasing last-minute RFPs and creating the ebooks and emails for launch rather than helping product plan it.
All of these scenarios lead product marketing teams and their businesses to produce content that’s threadbare. And worse, threadbare and verbose. Buyers are drowning in ill-conceived content and struggling to make sense of it. The average buying committee spends 15% of their evaluation reconciling and prioritizing conflicting information, reports Gartner.
"15% of evaluations are spent untangling conflicting information." - Gartner
So rather than skip on through to a quick purchase, buyers get bogged down and have to call for support. They summon the IT team to make sense of technical documentation. They call in the controller to make sense of the pricing and packaging. (Wait, what's an uplift?) And they loop in other teams who’ll touch the software or service because if it fails to deliver as promised, they don’t want to be the only one going down with the ship.
What might the evaluation look like if you designed it the way buyers want to buy?
3. Get to the buyer
Nobody wants to be an unqualified prospect who bungles their way through an evaluation. They don’t do it because they like it. They do it because they are overwhelmed.
Stop studying your market for a moment and give more attention to the journey your buyer goes through and the struggles they face therein. It’s a wonderful opportunity because nearly everyone else is making things tough for buyers. If you make it easier—if you provide the cross-vendor comparison checklist that satisfies their IT team—if you meaningfully unpack what your product means to them personally—you win.
Below are four steps to begin. They aren’t easy. But they are much more effective than buying ads and shouting even harder into the void:
A. UX-Design Your Buying Process
Visit any B2B website and review their Solutions tab. You are looking at a miniaturized version of their org chart. That’s how they think about the world. But what about their buyers? How do buyers think about their solution? Did anyone ask? You'l find the same thing throughout the sales and marketing cycle.
Do I want to be bothered by a junior salesperson for merely downloading a white paper? Certainly not. But their sales quota compels them to pester me. Do I want the first salesperson I talk to to not be able to answer difficult questions and then pass me off to a more senior salesperson with whom I start a new relationship? Nope, but it’s economical for the sellers.
Companies’ marketing, sales, and success processes are external manifestations of their internal structures and it often increases their buyer’s hardship. What might the evaluation look like if you designed it the way buyers want to buy? And how might they then see you in comparison to the competition?
B. Eliminate Unnecessary Messages
Presented with too many options, we tend not to make a decision. This is called the paradox of choice and it’s well-documented in the consumer world, though apparently foreign in B2B. When you offer buyers too many options, it generates anxiety. It increases the cognitive load of selection, and it draws out buying cycles.
What if you were the one vendor with a simple, succinct message and you stuck to it? Vendor consolidation is a hot topic right now and part of the reason is teams like IT manage as many as 11 simultaneous vendor relationships. It’s got them so busy they can’t focus.
Research by Gartner found that the strongest driver of account growth was the confidence customers have in their ability to make good buying decisions—to ask the right questions and make the right choice. What if you were the one vendor that freed people up and didn’t offer a 99-page ebook that languishes on their desktop? What if you provided just what they needed to be able to decide, and nothing more?
C. Teach Customers About Themselves
This may be the most important point. Content requires substance. If you don’t spend as much time creating what Gartner calls “commercial insights” as you do designing value propositions, “you’re implicitly accepting commoditization.” You have to understand your buyers’ industry well enough that your thought leadership actually contains thoughtful insight. Otherwise, your collateral are vanity pieces.
I am endlessly astounded by the things companies choose to gate. Much of it is for the sake of having something to gate, not for adding value to buyers’ lives. Aim to make your content so good buyers would pay for it. Only then, gate it.
D. Challenge Buyers’ Thinking
If you don’t educate buyers on why their current state is no good, you’ll never sell a dream. They’ll never gather up the gumption and spend the organizational capital necessary to make change. The pain of sameness has to exceed the pain of change, says Gartner. Related to point C, too few product marketers understand their buyers’ existing state well enough to explain why it’s no good. These companies generate leads, but have very, very long sales cycles.
What it Feels Like When You Get There
You’ll know you have what it takes to guide customers out of the information apocalypse when they start coming to you with questions. When you have focused on understanding them and their pains so well that you have solid answers, you have the most important ingredient for marketing.
Here are more signs you’re on the right track: When you talk to analyst agencies and they confirm your conclusions. When you talk to prospects and customers and they not only understand, but get excited. And when you tell top sales reps and they begin borrowing your phrases.
When you make yourself a disciplined center of insight for your industry, you turn down the information apocalypse. You become the shelter from the storm. And when you get there, there’s no need to tame wild buyers. They’re confident and clear on how to solve their problem. And many will, with you.