Marketing to the Paradox of Needs in B2B Technology

In an age of boundless choice, the needs of B2B technology buyers are expansive. Marketers must master the art of effective positioning while driving relevance at scale.

March 11, 2021

Two women sitting across from each other at a table, both in front of laptops

Emerging or experienced? Affordable or adaptable? These factors are carefully considered by B2B technology buyers in the modern age. With so many solutions now available across the market, challenger brands battle with established providers for differentiation — leaving customers with more options to explore, trial, purchase, and renew.

Yet the truth is that B2B buying has always mirrored the principles of consumer purchasing; more is not necessarily better. At the end of the day, we are all navigating a paradox of choice— and it’s marketing's job to position aspects of a solution which reduce risk, increase delight, avoid complication, and create the most value for all. This notion is at the core of LinkedIn’s latest insights on B2B technology purchase drivers.

Today’s B2B Technology Buyers Seek Value and Innovation, but Are Hesitant To Consider New Players

Think back to 1991, the year Crossing the Chasm was published (Geoffrey Moore’s seminal work on startup marketing and the ‘Technology Adoption Lifecycle’). Now in its third edition, Moore argues that the customer acquisition path for high-tech companies begins with capturing demand from innovators— then demand shifts to early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. During this process, however, there is a vast ‘chasm’ between early adopters and the early majority. While early adopters are willing to sacrifice certain needs or requirements for the advantage of being first, the early majority waits until they know that the technology actually offers the right kind of value and improvements in productivity. Thus, the challenge for new brands and their marketing teams has traditionally been to narrow this chasm and ultimately accelerate demand and adoption across every segment.

Source: Geoffrey Moore;

What is most interesting about the ‘big leap’ required to scale into a new B2B customer segment is the sheer number of “yes” votes needed; the buying committee is larger and more cross-functional than ever. And as mentioned, there are many criteria and qualifications to assess new products, leading humans to typically revert back to what is safe and familiar. Yet the space has accelerated massively over the past few decades. So much so that the old industry catchphrase “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” seems obsolete in a 21st century context. Each year the number of brands who could fit that paradigm changes dramatically.

In our 7th year surveying B2B technology decision-makers, our data conveyed that a ‘paradox of needs’ is very much at play in business technology purchasing. When asked which factors were most important when selecting a new vendor, value was the most pressing theme across a healthy mix of product and support factors. The data only shifts slightly when looking at various segments (e.g., SMB v. Mid-Market v. ITDM v. non-ITDM). However, the most important insight is the very illustration that inside of most customer journeys and decisions, there are competing priorities. And it is marketing’s role to help build awareness, educate, and synchronize these priorities, which can most efficiently be accomplished through:

  1. Increasing reach and exposure of your solution to more individuals
  2. Developing effective messaging and positioning that aligns your brand with its respective category entry point (see our prior post for more info on CEPs)

Source: LinkedIn’s 2021 B2B Technology Buying Survey

Another key insight we found in our data harkens back to the financial advantage of known, appealing, or established players. Given the time often required to research new brands, our report found that most technology buyers still err on what’s most familiar — as two in three technology decision-makers remaining hesitant to try a new product or vendor. In fact, fewer than one-third of surveyed buyers said they would follow through on awarding business to a new entrant. To compete with existing vendors, challenger brands must go above and beyond to demonstrate their solutions’ greater relevance and superior value to the target market— from versatile features to post-sales support.

Source: LinkedIn’s 2021 B2B Technology Buying Survey

The Way To Guide Buyers Through Uncertainty Is Through Effective Marketing

In this era of fast-growing technology solutions, we know that buyers seek defined outcomes and there is a fair amount of hesitation to buy from new entrants. Reliability is and always will be an attractive quality for potential buyers; 76% of respondents said they wanted a vendor that could demonstrate deep experience and knowledge.

Source: LinkedIn’s 2021 B2B Technology Buying Survey

However, reliability on its own isn’t enough. Over half of buyers told us they are considering other vendors when going through the renewal stage of a business technology purchase. So established brands can still lose their edge on experience as potential customers explore challenger brands. Our survey found that nearly half of buyers will consider a new product if it’s more innovative and can solve problems better than well-known brands.

Source: LinkedIn’s 2021 B2B Technology Buying Survey

Fortunately, marketers can guide decision makers not only through this paradox of needs, but through the buyer journey itself. By using top-of-funnel messaging on LinkedIn to help buyers navigate change and uncertainty, marketers can demonstrate innovation and reliability – two important drivers for purchases that have been reinforced by the global pandemic. To gain attention, marketers must cut through the noise with content that resonates. Their messaging must build consensus amongst committee members with paradoxical needs. Use cases, thought leadership, and case studies are the types of content that can build the right kind of demand and dependability. 

How Salesforce’s Brand Communicates Both Innovation and Reliability

LinkedIn’s B2B Institute recently released their 2030 B2B Trends Report, in which they examine Salesforce as one of the rare B2B brands that has managed to bet big and feel familiar. 

“Instead of making small distributed bets on lots of content, Salesforce pours enormous resources into big franchises like their ‘State Of Sales Report,’" shared Peter Weinberg, Global Lead at the B2B Institute. “This B2B blockbuster may cost a million dollars to develop, but it generates millions of dollars in profit, paying for itself many times over. And just like Disney movies are designed for massive audiences (children and grown-ups all over the world), Salesforce’s content is designed for broad B2B audiences (anyone who works in sales). This is highly relevant, fun, and familiar macro content for macro audiences.”

The report continues on to explain that this strategy isn’t only relevant for thought leadership. It’s just as valuable in top-of-funnel brand advertising. “Salesforce has recently launched a lavish brand campaign that explains its business to potential buyers. Based on the production values and media placements, it is safe to assume that this campaign was a massive bet, and big bets are more likely to break through,” Weinberg says.

Source: LinkedIn B2B Institute 2030 B2B Trends Report

These examples of ‘content big bets’ signal Salesforce’s investment to stay relevant and top-of-mind for their broad array of audiences and the challenges they face.

However, the secret to their success is that they couple these high-production initiatives with consistency over time. Salesforce “has been developing their ‘State of Sales’ report every year since 2015. It’s a sequel, and every new edition capitalizes on the equity of the prior edition. It contains some new information every year, but it’s mostly the same (aka surprisingly familiar). The new brand campaign from Salesforce features the same characters — one of the most effective tropes in B2B — across all Salesforce creative. This is how you de-risk your big bets over time—by betting [big] on what’s worked in the past,” Weinberg shared.

Marketers can tap into the power of being “surprisingly familiar” by producing big-bet, innovative content in a consistent way that their audiences can look forward to and expect.

Marketing has a significant role to play in shaping perception, driving familiarity, demonstrating relevance, and helping buyers navigate change and uncertainty (all at the same time!)

Today’s B2B technology buying committees are spoilt for choice. Innovation, stability, flexibility, affordability: they seek it all. That’s why marketers must take action in a way that cuts through the noise. To put that ‘noise’ into perspective, 3.4x more sponsored impressions were targeted at tech buyers on LinkedIn in October 2020 than in November 2018— and that density of competition is continuing to increase. Strong content and engaging creative that “stops the scroll”  is key. Both challenger and legacy brands must explicitly prove how your product or service addresses the buying committee’s paradox of needs. The right messaging will guide your potential customers through uncertainty in order to cross the chasm— and keep you one step ahead of competition.

We hope you continue following along as we dive deeper into trends for technology marketers in this Age of Agility. Our next installment will discuss how to harness the power of social proof to drive growth and build a strong community of loyal customers and advocates. To get all of the insights for technology marketers, make sure to subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog.