Understand the Customer. Understand the Market. Create Preference
The split between customer interest and an actual sale is yet another great difference between B2B technology marketing and consumer marketing. In most marketing scenarios, if you have the attention of the customer, offer them something they want and need at a price they can afford, you are almost all the way to making a sale. Not so with technology marketing. Take the iPad, for example. Though the popularity of this device may soon change this reality, right now, it is quite difficult or even impossible to sell iPads to corporate buyers. Most business people see the iPad and love it. They want it. Indeed, many of them buy it for themselves for personal use in their jobs. However, if you went to the IT department at their company, you would more likely than not hear something like, “We like the iPad too but we don’t support it right now.” Period. End of story. You are not going to sell iPads to that customer no matter how much better it may be than comparable tablets.
The iPad situation shows the dichotomy between the user and the buyer in a B2B technology sale. The people who make the purchase decision are not always the same people who actually use the product. In a lot of cases, the end users want something that the company will not buy for them. How could this be, you might wonder? Wouldn’t it make sense to equip your workers with the technology they prefer, tools that will help them do a good job? It’s complicated… Generally, the IT department is the main purchase decision maker in a B2B technology sale. And, IT will only buy what it knows it can support. They cannot acquire every technology that people want. In most cases, IT has made commitments to service and support technology to some defined level – a “service level agreement” that binds it to performance criteria to the managers of the business. Untested, little understood technologies simply cannot meet these criteria, at least initially.
The problem with many consumer technologies that people want to bring to work is that they lack enterprise management features. For example, even if Windows isn’t your cup of tea, your IT department benefits from all kinds of elaborate management systems that can help them oversee thousands of Windows PCs without spending too much money and tying up all kinds of personnel. Not all personal computing technologies come with this kind of administrative support technology.
Even proven enterprise technologies cannot always be adopted if they cannot muster support. You might love an Oracle application, but if your company is an “IBM Shop,” it may be a tough sell. There are good reasons for this, in business terms. When an IT department commits to a given technology, it creates an efficiency that is hard to replicate when there are too many varieties of technology to maintain.
Does this mean that end user opinions are unimportant in B2B technology marketing? Not at all. End users are extremely important in the equation, though they almost always lack actual purchasing authority. Business managers are not stupid. They want their people to have the right tools to do their work and they will usually listen when people suggest or request new technologies in the workplace. In cases where a business does acquire a new technology, very often an end user, or users, will be recruited to serve as a “champion” of the product to ensure broad adoption. Searching for the champion can and should occur before the sales process is finished. Smart technology vendors identify potential champions early on in the sales and marketing cycle, hoping to build enthusiasm for a new technology in the workplace that will translate into management support and an IT-drive purchase decision.
I like to think of the customer in terms of a hierarchy of engagement with the product purchase process. Each level of the hierarchy is important to the process, but plays a different role.
Role in Purchase Process
|Optimal Marketing Approach|
|End User||Though not always considered, their point of view can weigh very heavily on decision makers.||Market to the end user emphasizing features that will make their lives|
|Influencer||People whose opinions matter in the purchase process.||Understand their pain and speak to it.|
|Decision Maker||The person who can pull the trigger.||Understand their pain, in the context of their relationships with end users and influencers… and speak to it.|