TechBytes with Megan Headley, Research Director, TrustRadius

Megan-Headley TrustRadius

Megan Headley
Research Director, TrustRadius

Authenticity and validation through independent resources are key factors for all B2B buyers. TrustRadius recently released “The 2018 B2B Buying Disconnect” report. This report included the vendor’s perspective, enabling a direct comparison between how vendors attempt to influence buyers versus how buyers make purchasing decisions. To learn more about how B2B vendors could benefit from this, We spoke to Megan Headley, Research Director, TrustRadius.


What was your main objective in publishing the report?

We published our first B2B Buying Disconnect report in 2017. At the time, there had been a lot of research on trends in the B2B buying journey, showing that B2B tech buyers were behaving more like consumers and becoming more empowered to do independent research. However, almost all of these studies focused solely on the buyer, or occasionally solely on the vendor. Since TrustRadius sits at the nexus of the B2B technology purchasing process with solutions for both buyers and vendors, we wanted to do a comparative study to look at how buyers buy alongside how vendors try to influence them.

We surfaced a number of disconnects between buyers and vendors in 2017. This year we wanted to look at year-over-year changes, but we also took the study a step further to see what we could learn from vendors who are doing a better job at bridging that disconnect. Our goal was to provide actionable takeaways for both buyers and vendors.

How would this report enable marketers to bridge the gap between products and buyers?

Many of the gaps we discovered last year persist. For example, four of the top five tactics used by vendors were the least influential and least trustworthy resources according to buyers. We discovered a new gap as well: While 85% of vendors said they aim to be forthcoming about product limitations, only 37% of buyers felt they succeeded.

We also zeroed in on buyers who described their vendors as being very influential, to see what those vendors did differently, which allowed us to surface specific tactics that help vendors build a better relationship with their buyers. Notably, vendors who proactively bring a diverse mix of resources to the table were better poised to impact their buyers. That means creating authentic, useful branded content; making it easy for buyers to get hands-on experience with your product and connecting your buyers directly with your customers to get the balanced feedback they need.

What are the major limitations for vendors dealing with a relatively mature set of customers in the tech industry?

Today’s buyer is savvy. They are already doing independent research, both to direct their own discovery process and to validate what you share with them. Attempting to ignore or even diminish product limitations is not a sustainable strategy. Rather, ensure they get the whole truth directly from you to help ground the relationship in trust.

These savvy buyers are also savvy customers. The move from on-premise to on-demand software has also changed the dynamic between users and vendors. If the product doesn’t perform as expected, they have no reason to renew their contract and will readily move on. Establishing a happy customer base begins with honest marketing and a transparent sales process.

How could vendors offer buyers hands-on-experience with products and insights from customers?

Hands-on experience with the product, and insights from customers are two critical resources for buyers. The top three most influential resources were different forms of hands-on experience: prior experience with the product, free trials, and product demos. The next three most influential were forms of peer recommendations: referrals, consultant recommendations, and user reviews. Among the vendor-provided resources, which generally scored the bottom of the barrel, the most trustworthy and influential source was vendor-provided customer references.

How you enable hands-on experience matters. While many vendors provide a standard demo, vendors whose buyers described them as “very influential” were twice as likely to provide a custom demo. When buyers see your product in action for their specific use case, they get a better picture of whether it will be the right fit for them.

When it comes to connecting buyers with insights from customers, one key factor to embrace is authenticity. For example, connect them with customer references who can provide balanced feedback. Share reviews from a third-party site, which include pros and cons. And try to send case studies and testimonials that match their unique situation or use case.

With respect to peer reviews, are you referring to the B2B Partners and Influencer Marketers? How do peer reviews work in a recommendation-driven tech ecosystem?

Relying on peers takes many forms in B2B tech. In general, buyers trust their peers above other sources of information. The most trustworthy “peer” is yourself – your own prior experience with the product. The next most trustworthy type of peer recommendation is a referral from a friend or colleague. But both of these resources are not always available to buyers. Less than 30% of buyers were able to use their own prior experience with a product as an information source, and only 25% had a referral from a friend or colleague.

User reviews are the next best thing. While reviews often aren’t from individuals you know directly, they are from other professionals like you, using the product day-in and day-out. They are also a more accessible resource for buyers who might not have the right contact in their network directly. Reviews were the second most used resource by buyers and were in the top tier of trustworthy and influential resources.

Analysts are still a common resource for B2B buyers, but they are often an expensive solution which limits their reach — only 30% of surveyed buyers used analyst reports and rankings. Third-party publications and independent media were slightly below that with 27% of buyers utilizing them as an information source. Consultants and agencies were even less popular, coming in second-to-last at just 17%. It is clear that buyers are more likely to turn to real users over professional experts.

How do millennial buyers dominate the B2B marketing technology ecosystem?

In our survey, the majority of buyers fell into the millenial age bracket — 45% of were 25 to 34 years old, and 4% were under 25. Millennial representation was even more pronounced for buyers of marketing technology, where 53% of respondents were 25 to 34 years old. This matches trends in other B2B tech buyer surveys.

What’s interesting is how millennial buying behavior differs from older generations. Compared to buyers over 35, millenials were more likely to use free trials and user reviews, and less likely to use product demos, or talk to a vendor representative. Millennials also found vendor representative less trustworthy. While authenticity and validation through independent resources are key factors for all buyers, it’s even more important for millennial buyers.

What major disruptions do you expect in the way buying committees influence tech adoption?

Buying committees now dominate B2B, with a mere 5% of buyers making the purchasing decision on their own. When it comes to their role in the buying process, the most common function was identifying or researching products (67%), followed closely by trialing or evaluating options (58%) and engaging directly with a vendor representative (55%).

That means marketing and sales need to focus beyond the traditional economic buyer to influence a collaborative group of decision makers. It is important to develop tactics and assets that speak to every member of the committee and to understand that any given resource could influence the entire group. One of the best ways to achieve this is by elevating your diverse customer base, whether that is through reviews, references, or case studies.

Thanks for chatting with us, Megan.
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