The classic stereotypes of B2B tech buyers no longer hold true. They are more likely to arrive tattooed and in sneakers and jeans than a suit and tie, and like the consumers they are outside of work, they don’t want to be sold to. Deals no longer hinge on cold calls, as B2B tech buyers want to shop anonymously for as long as possible. Most importantly, they want to buy on their terms. Some of this can be attributed to the rise of service-minded e-retailers like Amazon, a standard setter across B2B and B2C. But it is also due in large part to the increasing involvement of Millennials in technology buying committees, where they already make up 45% of committee participants. Their preferences significantly impact the buying – and thus selling – process. B2B buyers, especially Millennials, are driving their own buying journeys and want sellers that partner with their businesses to produce outcomes.

One of the main shifts to the traditional B2B purchasing journey is the rise of self-directed research and information gathering that kicks off the buying process. Younger buyers are well trained in the art of online research from their consumer purchases and are less reliant on sales representatives for the initial stages of their (re)search. Rather than interacting with a sales representative during their discovery phase, 84% of buyers now prefer continuous self-discovery. This means you not only have to have high quality content available online for potential buyers to read and interact with, but your sales representatives are also going to be in conversation with much more informed buyers. It will be less a matter of selling to these buyers, and more about partnering with them to help them solve a problem and achieve business outcomes.

Is lead capture through gated content a thing of the past?

The once novel approach to inbound marketing of offering up quality content in exchange for your personal information is not as effective as it once was. 81% of Millennials have skipped downloading gated content, and over a third of business buyers say that they’ve entered false information into lead capture forms, because they didn’t want the vendor to think they were interested in their products or services. Rather than fight against Millennials’ tendency towards self-directed research and evaluation, companies must develop a content strategy that reaches buyers where they are looking for information and inspiration, and invest in relevant content in engaging formats. Content must be strategic, well-placed, and consistently excellent to drive impact. Even though gated content may not be as effective as it once was, content still rules. After all, buyers consume an average of 5 pieces of content before ever talking to a sales rep.

B2B buyers also increasingly expect personalized content. Most importantly, they’re looking for content that speaks directly to their industry, their company, and the business challenges they’re facing in their respective roles in the organization. Content that highlights success stories from peers facing similar challenges is particularly effective, and 96% of buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders pertinent to their own business outcomes. In terms of formats, buyers in the research and consideration phases of the journey prefer short, interactive content that educates rather than sells. Micro-content is particularly effective with Millennials, as it matches their mobile-first (and sometimes mobile-only) approach to getting informed. Short-form video and other “snackable” content highlighting industry trends and case studies encourage buyers to “binge” and propel themselves further in their discovery and learning.

The importance of building trust

When buyers are ready to talk to a salesperson, they tend to be well informed, armed with questions and have their “sales radar” on high alert. They want to be educated and counseled, not sold to, and are looking for a true partner for their business.

Millennials are an experience-focused generation, which means they’re measuring your company on every interaction, not just on the product itself. Much of this orientation towards experience plays out in the post-sale period, managed by a customer success team, but it’s also a process that can be started by the sales team. Right now, only 18% of buyers classify sales representatives as trusted and respected advisors. This signals a real need for a shift in selling tactics. Younger B2B buyers don’t just want to know what your product can do, they want to know how it will bring value to their business and improve their standing – and they look to trusted advisors to help them realize this value over time. These are just a few tactics modern SaaS companies deploy to build trust:

• Full transparency: Atlassian, the company behind the wildly successful JIRA project management solution, provides a pricing calculator on their website even for enterprise size deals. To the buyer, this signals that JIRA respects their preference towards a self-driven buying journey, and that the company trusts them to evaluate the offering fairly.
• Customer advocacy: From Salesforce to Slack, SaaS providers go beyond the traditional case study and connect buyers to existing customers directly. Sharing customer stories and making customers available as references are ways to overcome Millennials’ skepticism towards brand-focused marketing and selling.
• Evolving communication channels: B2B companies must show up and engage their buyers on their turf with a nuanced understanding of what makes them tick. Millennials switch seamlessly between platforms and devices, fluidly blend working and non-working time, and are comfortable conducting business in a multitude of communication channels, including SMS, social channels, video calls and screen sharing.

Sellers who understand that they will be talking to well-informed prospects and view their role as a trusted advisor helping buyers make decisions, not selling to them, will succeed in engaging Millennial “sales avoiders.” Those sellers will then be well-positioned to move from a transaction to starting a long-term relationship, a relationship the customer success team will deepen for the benefit of the customer and the business.

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