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I came across something recently that really struck me. In reading Peter Levine’s “SaaS Manifesto,” I was surprised to learn that half of all SaaS purchasing decisions are now made or influenced by operating departments, like Sales, HR and Marketing.
Now, I know Sales VPs have always had a say in which CRM to buy, and I read IBM’s study from a few years back on CMOs on track to spend more than CIOs on technology. I am also well aware of (and complicit in) the “consumerization of IT” trend. But the ESG research Levine cites really put a fine point on it: The buying patterns for B2B software are changing, but I don’t think B2B software marketing is making the changes to keep up. And that’s a problem.
By and large, with the notable exceptions of CRM and HR applications, B2B software marketers have always sold to some kind of IT person. Been that way for many, many years. Sure, Web teams and operations teams and storage teams and development teams are all different, but we were selling to technical people in IT. And we had some idea what their boss, the CIO, was like. But now, with many department heads buying Cloud applications without even consulting with IT, the target has obviously shifted. Dramatically.
Those who have read my stuff know I am a big fan of buyer personas. I think this is the time for B2B marketing teams to start understanding their buyers and building out personas. It’s not enough to shift and say, “We sell to heads of Sales.” Why? Because you need to understand what drives heads of Sales, how they think, and what words they use. We need to stop using technical terms (99.99% uptime) and use more approachable, valuable language (“We are always up at quarter end.”).
I like buyer personas because they require a process change in marketing. They are a great mandate for a head of marketing, something to rally a team around. You need to interview buyers to understand what you need to know to effectively market to them. Years of technology marketing shortcuts — so-called “feeds and speeds” — won’t work anymore.
Starting the change takes work, but it’s intellectually easy. I wrote about the process in detail here, but here’s an simple four-step process to get going:
1) Talk to your head of sales and CEO and identify your top three buyers, by title.
2) Identify five people with each of the titles (15 total) and, working with Sales, set up a 30 minute interview call with each. If you don’t have enough customers yet, use prospects.
3) I have a detailed list of questions you can ask, but start with these: What’s your role? What are your key initiatives? How to you define success? What is your purchasing process?
4) Summarize the responses and then go back and look at all of your marketing and sales training materials. I am certain you will see gaps, cringe, and identify lots of opportunities for quick wins.
I then suggest you keep at it, building out more detailed profiles and getting to know your buyers and their problems better. I highly recommend checking out the resources at The Buyer Persona Institute. That’s where I learned.
I’ll be curious to see how SaaS changes the B2B marketing mindset. On the one hand, I can see buyer focus being a lot more work for marketing teams. Selling a CRM app is one thing, but selling a reporting app or an analytics package — one that could be bought by any number of departments — will be potentially a lot more work for a marketing team. On the other hand, continuing on marketing “IT style” to non-technical people just seems like a losing strategy.