Faster and longer: the new IT buying process

Are you rapid and responsive enough for today's market?

November 20, 2014

Faster and longer: the new IT buying process

As B2B marketers, we know that the way people make decisions matters – and we like to give potential customers what they want. If they need us to be fast, rapid and responsive, giving them all they need to buy us quickly, then we can do that; if they require longer deliberation and don’t want us pushing our agenda at them, we can work with that too. But what happens when decision-makers want both?

One of the most striking findings of LinkedIn’s Nurturing the IT Committee Lead research is that buying committee members need to consume seven pieces of content on average before they are ready to engage with a sales rep. This clearly shows the risks of trying to fast-forward decision-makers’ buying timetable before they are ready. It suggests a deliberative, self-educating process. But we shouldn't assume that deliberative necessarily means slow.

At Tech Connect London, where LinkedIn brought together a heavyweight line-up of IT marketers and influencers, speaker after speaker described corporate environments where decision-makers are under pressure to choose and try solutions quickly; where nimble ‘learning by trying’ is increasingly preferred to cumbersome decision-making processes.

As technology marketers, we face an environment where our audiences demand the ability to educate themselves – but need to do so quickly. And that leaves us with a dilemma. If we push them towards a sales conversation too quickly, we risk alienating the decision-makers we are seeking to influence; but if we hang back too much, are we inviting them to take a quick decision in favour of another supplier?

Success in this environment comes through thorough preparation of the ground for your target audience’s decision-making. If their aim is to educate themselves about an issue or opportunity in order to make quick decisions – then you have to make sure that your content is competing effectively for their attention – and that it is relevant to all of the points in the consideration journey they will rapidly cycle through.

Discoverability is key. Ensure that you promote your best content – and the content addressing the issues that you expect to motivate buyers – on the channels where buyers are most likely to do their research. And don’t just promote your expertise once. Once you’ve staked out a thought leadership position on key issues, find ways to approach it from different angles, providing different routes back to your high-value ‘big rock’ content items.

Ensuring that your content on the key issues is discoverable will only do so much good if you misjudge the transaction involved in engaging with it. LinkedIn’s Nurturing the IT Committee research reveals that 37% of buyers are less likely to consider a vendor if the first piece of content – and 71% say they are less likely to consider vendors who gate all of their content. Judging when to gate content and on what terms to do so is one of the most important decisions that you will make in navigating the new, extended and accelerated path to purchase. It’s a key goal of marketing to capture leads, of course – but as the decision-making process speeds up, the value of being the vendor that delivers content to shape a decision-maker’s thinking might well be higher.

Whatever approach you ultimately take to gating, it’s worth remembering that there are other potential approaches to securing a follow-up. For thought leadership pieces, designed to help set the agenda on key issues, an invitation to connect with key members of your team might well be the natural next step – and one that enables the target audience members themselves to decide when the conversation is ready to move to the next stage.

Above all, a fast-moving environment demands constant intelligence. It’s never been more important to monitor the issues that motivate potential members of your buying committee – or to monitor the success of your own content, and identify the themes that resonate best for your business. When you identify a thought-leadership strength, leverage that expertise to the greatest extent possible. After all, as buyers educate themselves more rapidly, the benefits could accrue to you all the faster.