Author: Dennis Chepurnov
Most marketing and sales professionals are familiar with the concept of the buyer’s journey map. It’s a visual tool that helps align your organization’s marketing and sales tactics to the needs of your target buyers as they go through the process of selecting and purchasing a service or product.
Most buyer journey maps include the following six stages: identify need, determine solution, explore options, select vendor, justify internally and make purchase.
This model has worked adequately for many decades, but lately I find it lacking. This buying model has failed to keep up with changes in the market; specifically, the advent of software as a service (SaaS). Intended to transform how organizations deploy and pay for software, SaaS also has profoundly affected how customers go through the buying process.
Buying enterprise software used to be an onerous undertaking that involved six to 10 months of requirements gathering, business case development, discovery, vendor evaluations and demos. It also entailed negotiations with IT and procurement and budgeting for the capital expenditures needed to acquire hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of required hardware and licenses. Several more months of deployment, customization, testing and training followed. During much of this process, customers had to commit key stakeholders to the buying process and deal with the resulting business disruption. Vendors also had to contribute considerable time and efforts from their account teams, professional services and training staff.
This still happens with large enterprise software deployments, but much of today’s business software buying has transitioned to SaaS and other subscription licensing models. This shift impacts both customers and vendors.
SaaS pricing and delivery make it easier for customers to invest in and—unfortunately for software vendors—divest from new software solutions.
The SaaS deployment model reduces the post-sale touch points with the vendor, for better or for worse.
SaaS has altered customer behaviors and expectations, even with non-SaaS products.
Although SaaS often costs more in the long run, buyers like it because it simplifies their lives. Vendors like SaaS because revenue is more predictable and often requires less involvement of professional services, which can be hard to estimate and staff.
The Vendor Trade-Off
It sounds great to have this perpetual subscription revenue, but there is a flip side: The buying process is never really over. With every subscription payment, customers have an opportunity to reflect on the value the software provides, then compare it to the cost they are paying.
The perpetual pricing model places the burden of ROI on the customer after the purchase; SaaS pricing effectively shifts it to the vendor.
This is a fundamental shift in the dynamics of value generation. With perpetual licensing, buyers staked their professional reputations—and sometimes their jobs—on significant investments of time and budget to acquire a technology solution. After the purchase, customers were responsible for ensuring the investment paid off.
With SaaS, a customer’s up-front investment is considerably lighter. Given the lower up-front investment of time and budget, the incentive to stick with a product is also lower. If a customer fails to see rapid value from your product, they are likely to move on to one of your competitors.
It’s often easier for customers to try a new product than to work with an existing vendor to ensure that the product works the way they need it to. I have witnessed many organizations sign on with a SaaS vendor only to drop them several months later and try another.
From the customer’s perspective, signing a SaaS contract doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the buying process. In fact (and this is where the floor drops away), while your sales team is ringing the gong and marketing celebrates another pipeline goal attainment, your customer may still be in an extended stage 3: exploring their options.
“It’s often easier for customers to try a new product than to work with an existing vendor to ensure that the product works the way they need it to.”
What This Means
Most marketing teams disengage from the customer’s journey at the point of purchase, just as the customer embarks on the most important stage of the whole experience: building business value from the product we sold them.
Buyers are our champions inside their organization. As a marketer, it feels somewhat disingenuous to abandon them just as they sign the contract. True, they may now be in the hands of other departments like account management, professional services and training, but those teams engage in tactical endeavors, and they often interact with different
customer stakeholders. But what about the decision makers we’ve catered to throughout the buying process? What happened to the strategic visions we painted for them? The industry insights we shared? Why should the story end here?
The customer’s journey does not end with the purchase, and we have SaaS to thank for making this painfully obvious. Marketers must extend the journey map beyond the purchase, continuing to support buyers as they derive business value from your product.
To that end, updated buyer journey maps should include a seventh stage: derive value.
Any organization that wants customers to succeed (and remain customers) needs to reassess the effort and focus they dedicate to this seventh stage. While many technology vendors promise to be their customers’ partner for success, few have actual programs to back it up, and fewer still engage product marketing—the authority on buyers and technology solutions— to help drive this effort.
Here are four thoughts to consider:
Customer retention is not the refunds department. Sales and marketing professionals are acutely aware that it costs more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one, yet many organizations still view retention as a reactive measure used to salvage unhappy customers. Instead, customer retention should be a strategic marketing function to match demand-gen. Customer retention should work closely with product marketing, campaigns, sales and services groups to develop programs and touch points that actively help customers reach their business objectives and move forward.
Don’t stop being strategic after your prospect becomes a customer. Many organizations shift to end-user marketing after the purchase (“here is our feature-of-the-week email campaign”). Facilitating end-user adoption is important, but not at the cost of ignoring decision-makers. After the go- live, your target buyers are still there, evaluating your product for success. Are you confident they will still believe they picked the right vendor when they pay your next invoice? It’s important to stay engaged in their efforts and continue to add value and inspire them. For example, developing and sharing a maturity model can help position your products alongside their long-term strategic business objectives and establish a framework for partnership going forward.
Think of it as a buying cycle within the buying cycle. Many organizations “buy to try” SaaS solutions and look for rapid proof of value as an indicator of success. Think of it as an early proof of concept at stage 3. If your organization can proactively take on some of that burden of proof, you stand a better chance of turning stage 3 into stage 7.
Celebrate the contract. It’s a big deal to sign a paying customer, and a lot of people work hard to make it happen. But for customers, the purchase is just the beginning, and your team should view it as a milestone for your marketing strategy, not the end goal.
We live in an era of seemingly endless options. Consider how many times you have downloaded a new app on your phone, tried it for a few minutes and then promptly uninstalled it when you realized it did not meet your needs. Today’s B2B buyers have a similar mindset. If you fail to help buyers actualize the value of your product after purchase, it won’t take them long to start looking at the next vendor.