In the more than 20 years that I’ve worked with or at technology companies to market their products and drive adoption, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry. I’ve watched as technology companies radically reorganize to meet the challenges of customer-driven sales cycles and changes in revenue models brought by the shift from physical software delivery to the cloud subscription model—and with this shift has come added complexity to the technology-buying process.
We had a strong hunch at Yesler that technology buying looks different than other B2B purchases, so we launched a research project to find out more. The results suggest it’s time for a new, nonlinear model of the technology-buying journey.
The challenge: a continuous, dynamic buying cycle
In the past five years, the new technologies that have helped make marketing more precise also have put increasing pressure on marketers to prove the value of what they do. Both have contributed to making marketing more complex.
Our clients call on us for help when they struggle to create and prove the value of marketing programs that take full advantage of martech and adtech capabilities like ABM and personalization. The golden promise of these technologies also requires new specializations, such as the skills to create hyper-targeted content and to set up and run the systems in your martech stack—not to mention the increased need to be in lockstep with sales.
In its updated report on the technology customer lifecycle, Gartner recently validated what we’ve all felt. Yes, technology buying has become a more complex process.[*] Specifically, it is:
- Customer-driven: Technology buyers want information when they want it, on their own terms.
- Continuous: The shift to cloud-based subscriptions services and the continuous access to new information about products and technologies means that companies are “always shopping,” even after a sale.
- Dynamic: The buying process isn’t linear, as typical B2B models suggest.
The upshot: Marketing’s job is tougher and more expansive than it used to be. We must continue to focus on the prospect and customer throughout the entire customer lifecycle, from the moment they learn of a product or service, whether they are known to us or not, through to attrition—because at any stage, a prospect or customer can exit and reenter the cycle.
What do the buyers think?
After working through these complexities with our clients, we decided to do our own investigation on whether existing models still accurately reflect the technology customer buying journey. We wanted to find out more about the current mindset of IT buyers, their information preferences, and their experiences with marketing to better inform our approach and the work we do for some of the fastest-growing tech companies on the planet.
This research project was one of our priorities for 2019.
We started by surveying more than 400 people who make technology purchases as part of their role at work. The research involved:
- Qualitative interviews that asked open-ended experiential questions about terms buyers actually use to describe the process they go through and how they think about buying.
- Nuanced surveys that gathered demographics and asked about buying committees, content preferences, attitudes toward technologies, and how those views influence whether they advocate for or against a technology.
Next, we began to crunch the numbers. We have a rich trove of data we can run comparisons and tests on to see how, for example, content preferences vary by role, the factors that influence whether someone is more likely to advocate for a technology, and the kinds of activities that foster advocacy. And much more—more than we can release at once.
Today, I’m delighted to introduce you to the 5A Framework for the Technology Customer Lifecycle, which we composed from our findings on how IT professionals make technology purchasing decisions, from Awareness to Attrition, and the kinds of marketing activities that have influence at each stage throughout the lifecycle. The 5A Framework offers a structure to help you create marketing programs that facilitate technology purchases.
[*]Gartner Research, “Tech Go-To-Market: The B2B Customer Life Cycle for Technology Products and Services,” February 4, 2019. PDF.