Research from a number of analyst firms over the past few years has revealed that the B2B purchasing process has changed—the new technology buyer is more empowered and conducting more independent research than ever before. What’s unclear is how technology vendors have adjusted their go-to-market strategies to match this new paradigm. In fact, some vendors see this as a threat; the message is no longer in their control and they aren’t sure how to maintain their influence.
But the empowered buyer actually represents an opportunity for vendors.
TrustRadius, a review site for B2B technology, recently surveyed more than 600 B2B technology buyers and vendors to understand what empowered buyers want and how vendors are responding to this shift. We wanted to identify areas of alignment, as well as gaps between how buyers are making their decisions and how vendors are trying to influence them.
It revealed some interesting lessons for vendors on how to better serve buyers.
What You’re Probably Doing Right: Demos
Buyers and vendors both see hands-on experience as one of the best ways to evaluate a product. More than 75 percent of buyers used product demos in their purchase process, and 87 percent of vendor respondents shared demos with prospects. Product demos and free trials were two of the top three most helpful and trustworthy information sources for buyers. Vendors also identified demos as the most effective content type for helping to convert prospects.
That said, not all demos are created equal. In qualitative responses, buyers showed a strong preference for demos personalized for their situation.
“They knew their product and were very comfortable explaining items not normally part of the demo. It was not a rehearsed script.”
“Our vendor tailored a demo to our needs and I could look under the hood in a way that helped evaluate the product, compared to our use case.”
“Demos applied to our specific problems were most powerful.”
Conversely, buyers questioned the value of demos that felt biased, rehearsed or too general.
“Product demos always make it seem simple—does not offer a nuanced view of the software.”
“The demos were not super helpful because they seemed to lack the depth of information we needed to choose a product.”
“Vendor presentations are too scripted and don’t focus enough on our individual needs.”
Key Lesson: Make sure buyers have access to a realistic demo of your product that’s targeted and relevant to them.
What You’re Probably Doing Wrong: Marketing Collateral
The biggest disconnect identified was around vendor marketing collateral. Buyers ranked vendor collateral and the vendor/product website as both the least helpful and least trustworthy information sources. However, the vendor/product website was the second most commonly used information source. It is clearly a source of information buyers rely on, but also one they treat with caution.
Vendors themselves seem to recognize that marketing collateral is not very effective: Videos, white papers, eBooks, blogs and infographics were the least effective content types, according to vendor respondents in our survey. Yet these are also some of the most commonly used content types by vendors, possibly because that type of content is squarely within a marketer’s control.
Buyers who didn’t find vendor material helpful described it as biased, sorely lacking detail and solely aimed at pushing them down the funnel.
“Vendor websites are typically wishy-washy with lots of claims and not a lot of evidence to support their blue-sky view of the perfect setup environment.”
“Vendor websites were not usually specific enough to help me make my decision.”
“A product website will obviously claim to be the best, so it’s less trustworthy.”
“Vendor websites are limited, provide little insight and are only geared to get your information for a sales call.”
“Vendor collateral is often puffery and glosses over important details.”
As with demos, not all marketing collateral is created equal. The materials that buyers preferred were balanced, thorough, personalized and detailed.
“[Re: Vendor collateral] Really helped to understand the product and service, the pitfalls, the options.”
“The vendor website clearly explained all features and what the product could offer without having to sign up for some exhaustive and boring WebEx, which is usually followed by a pitch to strong-arm you and hassle you into buying the software.”
“I liked that [the vendor] was open and did not hide anything about their product.”
Key Lesson: Make sure your messaging provides the kind of information and detail your buyers are looking for. Include claims that are honest, balanced and believable to buyers. Wherever a claim might seem like a stretch to buyers (e.g., “Our customers are seeing a fivefold ROI from their purchase”), let a more believable source do the talking—such as your actual customers.
Your Biggest Untapped Opportunity: Customers
The final key takeaway from our study is that you’re probably not fully leveraging the army of voices at your disposal that your buyers do want to hear from: your customers. What led us to this conclusion?
1. Buyers want to hear directly from end-users
After product demos and free trials, the two most helpful information sources for buyers were direct referrals from peers/colleagues and user reviews. Buyers see day-to-day users as the best resource to get a true picture of how the product works, how it compares with alternatives and whether it’s the best fit for their situation.
“User reviews on third-party sites were the most trustworthy, as these felt more balanced and highlighted the limitations of the software, which gave us the chance to plan around it.”
“We liked hearing stories from customers about the pros/cons and how [the product] could meet their complex needs.”
“There is no better reference for a product than someone who uses it day in and day out.”
“The user reviews and demos let you get hands-on or listen to others with real experience implementing the product.”
Vendor-provided customer references were also considered fairly helpful, though not as trustworthy as other information sources, because buyers expect them to be highly vetted. As one buyer put it, “Vendors provide references to satisfied customers, not unhappy ones.” However, vendor-provided references are especially helpful when they seem balanced, are relevant to the buyer’s use case and match information the buyer finds elsewhere.
“The references provided by the vendor shared the same experiences that the vendor told us to expect. There was transparency in the process.”
“Customer references were the most helpful. They were able to tell me their pain points as well as successes, and I felt that I had a good idea of what I was getting myself into.”
2. Most customers are highly satisfied
We asked buyer respondents, now that they’re using the product, how likely are they to recommend it to a friend or colleague? Most buyers ended up highly satisfied with their purchase—46 percent were promoters, giving the product a 9 or 10 satisfaction rating, and another 35 percent rated the product an 8 out of 10. Only 8 percent were actual detractors.
Depending on the size of your customer or user base, that translates into a lot of individuals who could be providing in-depth, balanced, trusted insights to your buyers—exactly the kind of authentic feedback buyers are looking for from real, day-to-day users.
3. Most customers are not asked to share their insights
Few buyers had been able to share their insights on the product they purchased in a way the vendor could broadly leverage with prospects. More than 40 percent had actually recommended the product to an acquaintance. However, this is a one-on-one interaction, which is opportunistic and not something vendors can use to directly influence prospects.
Only 20 percent of buyers had served as a customer reference, provided a testimonial or provided a case study for the vendor. Yet vendor respondents identified this kind of customer evidence as the most effective content type to share with prospects, after product demos.
Two factors could contribute to this low number: (1) Vendors often struggle with complex approval processes to get their customers on the record via an official case study or testimonial and are hesitant to overtax their customer references; and (2) vendors often feel they need to limit themselves to the happiest of happy customers and sometimes aren’t even sure who those customers are. Yet we know from buyers that they’re looking for balanced, authentic feedback, and don’t trust glowing or highly vetted feedback.
Key Lesson: Invite all your customers, regardless of sentiment, to openly share feedback about your product. You’d be surprised at how willing your customers are to speak on your behalf, and your buyers will appreciate hearing from your entire customer base, not just your advocates. Critical feedback isn’t likely to prevent buyers from purchasing your product; rather, it will help them get a full picture and trust the information you’re providing.
Make It Easy for Your Buyers
It’s clear from our study and others that B2B buyers are both skeptical of vendor collateral and empowered to do independent research, with a number of information sources available at their fingertips. However, they still need to do the work to piece everything together.
By creating materials that offer balanced perspectives, as well as proactively connecting buyers with resources they find helpful and trustworthy—even those you don’t fully control—you can build an influential relationship with your prospective buyers and bridge the B2B buyer disconnect.
The full survey report and dataset are available at vendors.trustradius.com/b2b-buying-disconnect.