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Optimizing Your Sales and Marketing Workflows for the Self Service Buyer

self service buyer

Self-service buyer journeys have been on the rise for years, but now they’ve become the norm for B2B customers. In 2022, 87% of buyers told TrustRadius that they wanted to self-serve. But, by 2023 that number had risen to close to 100%.

The change has been fueled by a number of factors. They include the shift to digital channels and the emergence of younger, digitally-native buyers. As Gartner’s Future of Sales report points out, Millennials now make up the majority of buying committees. Also, they are more suspicious of sales reps than older generations.

In order to continue to drive revenue, sales, and marketing teams will have to adjust their processes and workflows. This way, they accommodate these more “autonomous” buyers. Meeting these expectations is well within every enterprise’s capabilities, but only if you approach them in a holistic way. Rewiring the buyer’s journey to support self-service experiences encompasses the entire sales cycle.

Open up access to pre-sales content

According to a survey by interactive demo platform Walnut, close to two-thirds of today’s business software buyers consider themselves to be “educated buyers.” They like to do their own research into potential solutions and form their own conclusions about product fit. So, they seek out informational, trusted content before they reach out to sales reps.

To meet this need, sales and marketing teams should make it easy for potential customers. This way, they find the information-rich content they seek. Younger buyers are accustomed to videos as an educational medium. So it’s a good idea to add introductory videos alongside your deep-dive assets.

But it’s also important to think about how easy it is for prospects to find the top content you create. “Most sellers make it hard for potential buyers and users to experience their product,” notes Forrester Principal Analyst Rick Bradberry. “Remove access barriers with a product-led growth (PLG) approach.”

Gated content has its place. But, forms create obstacles to information and buyers have no patience to jump through the hoops. According to DemandGen’s 2023 Content Preferences report, 35% of B2B buyers complained that it was too hard to reach the content they wanted. “Consumers don’t just want software that solves their problems — they want to be able to try the product on their own, without having to deal with a salesperson,” adds Walnut’s Mendy Shlomo.

Bolster trust with third-party insights

Buyers aren’t only interested in your content. In fact, they place more trust in review sites, recommendations from peers, and objective ratings than in your own materials. Walnut reports that 60% of buyers say online reviews are their preferred way to learn about a new SaaS product or vendor. This makes it the top source for advice.

Millennials and Gen Z, with their suspicion of authority and sales reps, are even more likely to turn to review sites. Feed prospects with trusted information by guiding them toward independent reports and ratings.  You can do this through links on your website and social media profiles.

It helps to partner with objective platforms that can serve as trusted advisors, and place reviews prominently on the website.

Personalize pre-sales information

As well as being engaging and accessible, your pre-sales content also needs to be customized for each buyer. And their stage in the buying journey. “Gone are the days of cold calls and emails; today you need personalized content that drives inbound interest.” writes digital marketer Steven Macdonald. 

DemandGen reports that 39% of B2B buyers believe it’s too hard to find relevant content. And by “relevant,” they mean content that’s tailored to their specific pain points and reflects an awareness of the buying process they’ve already experienced.

This makes it imperative for sales and marketing departments to leverage CRM systems and intent data to the max, to identify what types of messaging to send to which prospects, and at what moment. Improved targeting makes it possible to tailor and serve relevant content to the correct audience from the start, while AI can track buyer progress to deliver real-time next-best-action recommendations to sales reps.

“AI capabilities give salespeople real-time next-best-action recommendations about what to do with customers,” notes Prabhakant Sinha of ZS professional services. “By using analytics-based insights to augment salespeople’s judgment, companies are improving the customer buying experience and driving better sales results.”

Build trusted buyer relationships

Supporting the self-service buyer journey requires sales reps to reconsider when and how to interact with leads. Today’s buyers actively dislike cold calls and want to be the ones who initiate conversations. While in the past, aggressive sales tactics succeeded often enough to be worth trying, the balance of probability has changed. Now you’re more likely to lose a deal by reaching out than by seeding the ground and waiting patiently for a prospect to contact you.

“Being too aggressive, overbearing, and persistent when responding to prospects is one of the most common ‘unhelpfully helpful’ behaviors some reps exhibit,” observes Amplitude’s Casey Firenze. “Your potential customers are professionals in their own right, so give them some credit.” To avoid turning off potentially valuable long-term accounts, sales reps need to focus on driving value for effective communication.

The new role for sales reps is to serve as a trusted advisor, with 87% of business buyers telling Salesforce that they want this relationship with their sales contact. Buyers ask more questions, and sales reps need to be equipped to answer them fully. As Sinha sees it, the best salespeople “leverage a variety of resources …to better understand buyer needs and preferences, tailor solutions that offer mutual value, and build long-term relationships based on trust and loyalty.”

Longer sales cycles give sales reps more time to strengthen relationships and forge trust, but they can also make it harder to maintain the pace of content delivery. Here too, CRM tools and intent data that track how prospects engage with your content can equip sellers with the insights to know when and how to connect to buyers.

Self-serve buyer journeys can reach a happy destination

As a B2B self-service buyer move slowly through the funnel, it’s important to remember that they want to keep control from beginning to end. Quality demos, free trials, and in-depth content that buyers can explore in their own time are more effective, but enterprises are still struggling to hand over the reins. Inviting buyers to access a demo or free trial are among the top tactics that vendors can do to make buyers more likely to close a deal, according to the TrustRadius study.

Although the new norm of self-driven purchase journeys raises new challenges for sales and marketing teams, the right strategy can still help them close deals and drive revenue.

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