The target audience for business-to-business marketers is changing, argues Ashraf Kamel, head of sales for EMEA Tech at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.
We used to live in simpler times. Logically, marketers would focus most of their resources at the top of an organisation – after all, when it came to buying a new server or communications network, the CTO or CIO was likely the person signing the cheque.
Today, it’s not so straightforward. In 2017 there are few, if any, roles that don’t rely on some form of technology – and that means more and more people are having their say on what’s in and what’s out.
For example, one global communications brand recently mentioned to me that marketers play a key role in communications network infrastructure decisions, because the quality of their marketing webinars, driven by young and exciting marketers, depends on the quality of their company’s network.
With more and more digital natives entering the workplace, now is a good time to find out the extent to which they’re influencing technology’s adoption within their organisations. Is the tech buying committee – those influencing, deciding and implementing purchases for their company– being disrupted? And how can marketers engage with those who are actually influencing, and making, the decisions about the tech that we use every day?
If you’re a marketer, knowing who you’re selling to is fundamental if you’re going to successfully influence those involved in purchasing decisions.
Understanding the committee make up
The tech buying committee isn’t a new concept, but it is one that is continually changing, evolving and expanding. And understanding who is a part of today’s committee poses important questions for both sales and marketing strategies.
That’s why the team at LinkedIn conducted a global study to better understand the roles that Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000) and Gen Xers (born between 1966 and 1980) play in the workplace, and the influence they have within the tech buying committee.
Whilst 44% of decision makers are in tech roles, the committee has representation from a range of internal and external facing functions, including sales, finance, legal, HR and marketing. As decision making processes are continually democratised, more than half of decision makers are working with three or more committee members. And those from non-tech departments are not only influencing decisions, they are making them, some even hold the budgets.
The committee’s members are also keen to learn from each other: 90% are open to trying new tech brands and a strong majority of Gen Xers mirror their Millennial counterparts when it comes to sharing opinions about tech, recommending products and services and asking colleagues for advice.
Rather than solely focusing on those who hold the purse strings, converting members at every level of the tech buying committee should be top of a marketer’s agenda. And with Millennials sitting right at the core of the tech ecosystem, working alongside Gen Xers, marketers need to ensure they’re approaching buyers holistically, not relying on outdated generational stereotypes.
Marketing to the tech buyers
What should come as music to any marketer’s ears is the notion that tech buyers know what they’re looking for – they prefer sales reps who understand the individual needs and roles of their business and market to them accordingly.
So, how should marketers go about successfully engaging this group?
1 – Know the target business – and sector – inside out
It may have been said many times before, but the importance of really knowing who you’re marketing to can never be overstated. Before even introducing yourself, make sure you have a bulletproof understanding of what your target business does; what their individual company needs are and those of the wider sector in which they’re operating.
Anecdotal evidence can help your cause here too, make sure you have a knowledge of industry trends and forecasts, and pepper this with your own insight into the products other companies are considering, or even implementing. By getting ahead of the game and knowing the industry inside out, you instantly prove your worth to any buyer and start converting sales.
Once you know who you’re talking to and have a clear understanding of their challenges and demands, approach them with content that’s both highly relevant, and personalised. Personalised communication is much more likely to gain cut through with tech decision-makers across the board – but it’s particularly important to younger Millennials.
2 – Vary the type of content used depending on its purpose
Brand information and expert opinions with a defined point of view should be used as an entry point for marketers starting up conversations with prospective buyers. During the input and decision making stages, the buyers across the committee value expert opinions and industry news most highly. Ensure this content is short and easily digested, to provide a quick and clear view of the products and services on offer.
Further along the purchase funnel, more in-depth media becomes important. At the point of implementation, for example, learning guides are the most sought after content. And when it comes to budgeting, opinions, reviews and service information from tech brands come out on top.
Overall, Millennials and Gen Xers rank blog articles as their number one type of content, and white papers as their least favourite.
3 – Embrace social selling
Globally, the majority of tech buyers across all generations say it’s important that marketers and sales reps engaging with them demonstrate key social selling behaviours. Put simply, social selling is the ability to use social networks to build and nurture relationships as part of the sales process.
For marketers, that means having a professional brand and a network of trusted connections; taking a relevant approach to every conversation and leveraging valuable insights. For buyers, social selling behaviours are hugely important and help drive key sales outcomes.
But when it comes to performance in this area, the committee reports that there’s significant room for improvement – a prime opportunity for both sales and marketing teams.
The future of tech buying
As the tech buying committee continues to grow and evolve, brands and marketers need to not only understand its challenges and needs, but ensure they’re communicating with influencers and decision-makers across every level and function.
With no significant generational divides emerging in today’s tech buying committee, marketers should avoid unhelpful stereotypes. Instead, digital fluency should be the name of the game; content must be relevant, genuine and useful if it’s going to be helpful to professionals navigating the complex challenges their businesses face.