Understanding B2B buyer behaviour and digital self-service – PODCAST

Explore the evolving B2B landscape where self-service and digital experiences are reshaping buyer behaviour, expectations, and the sales process.


Understanding B2B buyer behaviour and digital self-service – PODCAST

Explore the evolving B2B landscape where self-service and digital experiences are reshaping buyer behaviour, expectations, and the sales process.


Meet the author

Simon Blosse

Principal Consultant

Tom Carpenter

Principal Consultant

Discover the transformative trends in B2B buying as digital self-service experiences gain prominence.

In this episode of CX Talks, hosts and customer experience experts Simon Blosse and Tom Carpenter delve into the changing dynamics between B2B and B2C, the impact of generational shifts on buyer behaviour, and strategies for engaging modern customers, in this episode of CX talks.

Listen here or read on for an edited transcript.


Tom Carpenter: I’m Tom Carpenter, one of our Customer Experience Specialists at Clarasys, and I’m joined today by Simon Blosse. Simon, do you want to introduce yourself?

Simon Blosse: Hi everybody, I’m a Principal Consultant at Clarasys and a CX transformation specialist. 

Tom Carpenter: Great to have you with us today, Simon. 

Simon Blosse: Thank you. 

Introduction to B2B and B2C digital experiences

Tom Carpenter: Today we’re going to be talking a little bit about the similarities and differences between B2B and B2C in terms of the digital self-service experience and some of their propensity to do things online in a B2B environment that they may not have done before. 

So we’ve been reading up on this a little bit. A lot of our customers also are B2B and we’re seeing some of these trends with some of our customers at the moment as well. I think there’s still quite an assumption that B2B needs quite a lot of high touch, in order to close deals, particularly ones that are over 50,000, for example. But in reality, we’re not seeing that anymore. A lot of B2B decision-makers are making decisions online without the need to talk to a salesperson, which is obviously a lot more similar to B2C environments. So Simon, what’s your thinking and why do you think that is? Are you seeing that with some of your customers as well? 

The shift in B2B buyer expectations

Simon Blosse: Yeah, we have seen quite a significant shift in the way that B2B buyers are willing to spend a significant amount of money. So probably in the region of £50,000 is quite common. 

Whereas before there was this illusion that that would not be the case. I think this has come from both the assumption that B2C is not relevant to B2B, but actually we are seeing much more commonly that the customers that are buying from a business perspective are those that are very familiar and very comfortable with buying large purchases through digital channels. And so therefore they feel very comfortable doing the same thing when they are on behalf of the business. 

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, I think people are on the go a little bit more than they used to be. We’ve got virtual working, people don’t necessarily go into the office. And although people still will do deals online, through video conferencing, etc. a lot of people, let’s say it’s a subscription to some sort of online collaboration tool and you want to adapt your subscription or you want to try something out. You don’t want to go into an office, talk to an account manager, do that. You know it’s a great tool, let’s pick one of the collaboration tools, for example, where you do virtual whiteboarding, maybe. You know the tools are out there, you’ve done some research beforehand, why not just sign up? There’s limited risk in doing that. Although let’s say the subscription lasts you for a year and it’s 50,000 in value. If there’s more flexibility in the subscription, that’s reducing the risk to you doing that. And even if you do, you’re not wedded to a decision there and then and certain things protect you. And we’ve seen that from a B2C point of view as well. There’s a lot of consumer protection about what you do online and your ability to backtrack decisions that you’ve made within a couple of weeks maybe more in some cases, return things online, so people are quite willing to part with cash knowing that they can send things back or they can pause or undo the subscription, but a lot of that can and should be true for B2B as well, which reduces people’s fear of signing up online and then making a mistake potentially.

The changing nature of business partnerships

Simon Blosse: I think that’s exactly the theme of our chat today. If you think about businesses, everyone assumes there’s this big corporate meeting that happens to make a decision about what software, what system we’re going to be using. Yes, that used to be the case. The way that it works today is that people are trialling things on a day-to-day basis. The quicker you can convert that trial into some financial investment, the better you are. But that requires you to think differently when it comes to looking at your business partnerships. And actually, look at them as individuals buying. So, for example, we’ve worked before with marketing teams who already have a whole portfolio or suite of tools that they have just bought. They are using on a regular basis and maybe they work, maybe they don’t. And I think your point around the subscriptions being possible to stop or start really easily is critical to the success of them. 

But I think that’s very different to exactly as you said that world where before it used to be a very senior board meeting that would come into play an agreement with a marketing firm for the next four or five years. Whereas now, we’re seeing that’s not the case and it’s not what people need to do their jobs effectively and there’s a lot more freedom in the individual within businesses.

Customer success and product engagement

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, I agree, and it’s about serving ultimately what those customers need and to make it easier to do business with you and a lot of our customers and this is pretty common amongst B2B customers particularly as well, focus on products. They have really great products and services. And often the customer satisfaction, therefore, of using those products and services is really, really high. And one of the reasons that a lot of our customers, but also others in the B2B market, leave, or don’t renew or choose other competitors is because it’s so difficult to do business with them. And I think a lot of organisations today are seeing that as, ‘we need to work on our customer success function’ and ‘we need to invest in customer support channels’. Those are still quite high-touch ways of doing business. In reality, if someone’s using the product, they want to forget about trying to pay the invoice and work out tax liabilities, depending on what country they’re using it for, and being able to add seats and remove seats, or being able to change the services that they’ve got on a regular basis. They don’t want that to be massive burden to them. They need the product to be great and all of that to just be in the background. And the only way in this day and age you’re really gonna be able to do that is through utilisation of more self-service capabilities. So that you can just make some of those changes on the move without it being a massive effort to you and to track down your account manager, for example.

Simon Blosse: I think there’s something quite interesting about the fear of self-service as well though, because there is an element that businesses we’ve spoken to get worried that people can just turn off the subscription, they can just stop using it. But in essence, it’s focusing on what your customers are genuinely using it for and what the product’s about, and what benefits they’re getting. It makes you have to think as a B2B business a lot more like a B2C one. Because you have to be thinking, okay, there is a Tom or a Simon using your product on a day-to-day basis, and they love it. And they will be your biggest advocates within the business. They will be the ones fighting with their CFO to get it approved. They will be the ones that say don’t turn this off, we need this subscription, I can’t do my job without it. The moment that stops, you then have, of course, back to the old style of ‘oh, I’m going to have the conversation with the C level to convince them that they still need it’. But if you haven’t got users dedicated to that product, loving it, getting what they need every day, then they are going to turn that off. 

I think it comes back to that CSM side, but it’s also looking at it from a basis of what are the real benefits that people are getting from your service. And making sure you’re mindful of that is critical to the success of your continued subscription.

Involving users in the decision-making process

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, and I think you made this point earlier and you kept building on it a bit there, which is decisions aren’t readily made now with senior execs in boardrooms.We don’t have to have big meetings about it. However, there is a bit more collaboration in the decision-making process. We get involvement from the people actually using the products, like you were saying, but different functions have different needs.

So yeah, it’s really important that you have that advocacy from the actual users themselves and ultimately that will help drive some of its usage. But you still do have different personas and players, which is a little bit different to the B2C market, I guess. You’ve got your person in finance who’s having to pay the bills. You’ve got ultimately your CFOs looking at their balance sheet and thinking about whether they can afford it. And you’ve got the actual users themselves. And it’s important to consider how you provide some sort of self-service for all of those individuals. So, for example, for the person using the product, ensuring they’re getting the most from the product, getting some in-product training support in product marketing, showing them what they can use, how they can use it. And I think that this is a big thing about if someone’s going to continue to use a product, repurchase it, renew, buy something else in your suite, it’s about them really engaging with the tools that you’re offering them within the product and service itself. And therefore, marketing products are considerably more interconnected than they ever have been before.

Simon Blosse: Yeah, I think that’s such a good point. I think we’ve talked about this before where there is this different lens you need to apply when you look at the product you’re trying to provide to a business. There are those that are buying it, there are those that are using it, and there are those that are getting the benefits from it, and sometimes they are completely different people. And too often, I think in the concept of B2B, we’ve seen there is an element of, ‘oh, the business is buying’. But that’s not the case. What we’re seeing is, in the context of both, the self-serve, the self-buying, the self-orienting of what I need to do my job. You need to think a little bit more about the personas of the individuals that are doing that 

Those could be very different people from, if you think about those who are actually saying, ‘yes, I will spend this much on the subscription per year. I will spend that 50,000’ compared to those who are genuinely getting the benefit from using that tool. The challenge I think you have to recognise there is that there is a need to define those roles differently from what has been done before. And that comes back to the point of what are they actually getting out of your product? What are they getting out of your service? And what are the buyers seeing as a value? And really differentiating that proposition is the crucial element to getting success I think.

Omni-channel interactions and trial opportunities

Tom Carpenter: And seeing the omni-channel nature of, maybe not the whole service is digital, for example, some of it is physical, but being able to interact with you across those different channels. 

Simon Blosse: But there’s something really cool about the idea when you give people the opportunity to trial stuff. And I think often we see that very familiarly in B2C world. ‘Use our product for a month and see if you like it and then we’ll charge you per month’. In B2B I think sometimes we forget that can equally work. You have the option of like, ‘oh, look at this new cool feature that we’ve added to our tool that you’re already using. Look at this new way that you could get information that’s going to drive your decision-making to the next level. Look at this new system or suite of tools that if you want to trial, go for it’. And then if you can convert that to a sale, you’re laughing. That’s very B2C, if you think about it and that is not common for the B2B world. But I think it is the future when it comes to the buyers of that, and also what they’re used to doing, right? That is common for Millennials, Gen Z, who we are seeing across the board are now those decision makers.

Generational influence in B2B buyer behaviour

Tom Carpenter: I think that’s a great point. So we were looking at a survey done by TrustRadius earlier. And in that, it states that 100% of the people they surveyed, who make buying decisions want self-service options or at least some part of that. And as you say, we’ve changed. We’ve gone from the era of previous generations in boardrooms making decisions, it is the millennials making the decisions. And they want to play with things and see how things work before they use them. They’re keen on this free trial thing. They’re willing to make decisions online. And then we’ve got Gen Z coming through at the moment, too, as well. And they’re going to be even more keen to interact in digital channels and make decisions themselves more autonomously without, you know, having to speak to an account manager for example, so it really is shifting quite drastically.

Simon Blosse: Yeah, I remember the days when I would meet with CIOs and they would genuinely be pulling their hair out, being like, ‘I’m fed up with the fact that marketing are always buying products without telling me’. It’s now no longer just marketing that’s doing that. It’s pretty much everybody. And as a result of that, if you are head of IT or department of IT or managing your investments as a CFO, there is that real challenge around how to actually make sure that the investments being made as a business are what people need, but also that they see as the most value, but also it distributes that responsibility a little bit more than maybe many are comfortable with. But coming back to your point, Tom, around the difference of expectation of millennials and Gen Z when it comes to that buying decision, there is that want of just, ‘well, I should be allowed to buy what I need to do my job with’.

The evolution of B2B sales and marketing

Tom Carpenter: Yeah. And there’s also the patience point as well. So maybe 10, 15 years ago you would’ve been okay that you spoke to an account manager, they told you, ‘yeah, we’ll get you a free trial, no problem. We just need to configure that for you. We’ll get that set up. We’ll send some engineers over to talk to you about it’. And then your service will be ready for you to test in about six to eight weeks. Ridiculous. Six to eight weeks. Okay, the only thing you’re probably waiting for six to eight weeks for in this day and age is a sofa. Everything else you could get immediately. You’d expect to be able to self-serve that free trial. And if the product is so complicated that I need someone to bespoke, and configure it, I’m being put off. I’m bored by that not interested. I need something that I know is going to work for me. I want the organisation that’s selling that product to me to understand how I might use it. So I type in, this is the kind of lifestyle I have. Let’s say I’m buying a food box or a coffee subscription. I tell it, I make coffee in this way or I eat these kinds of meals. And it’s for me and my partner, or it’s just for me, and it will tell me what I need. And already a lot of B2B buyers are expecting the same kind of thing. Let’s go back to the collaboration tool. I’ve got this many users. I use video conferencing software. I want to be able to collaborate virtually. This is how I want to use it. I’m expecting those providers to understand my use case. I’m not expecting them to be like, Oh, ‘let me just go away and bespoke configure that for you, sir. And then, you know, we’ll come back and make that work’. And therefore self-service, like free trials, I think it’s a great point. Self-service of free trials is a given, an expectation now. I would not be expecting it to take that long, but a lot of B2B organisations are really lagging. Quite a few of our customers and others in the industry are still trying to work on ways where they can provide free trials instantaneously. So if you can get ahead of that, now is the time. It’s very much you’re on the wave now with B2B where the customers are expecting the self-service, but a lot of organisations are still lagging behind in being able to offer it. 

The rise of self-service and instant gratification in B2B 

Simon Blosse: Yeah. And I think the interesting thing I’d add to that is when you have a product or a service that has a really clear, carefully constructed learning path for those users, you will see, I think Gartner was saying like 150 or 147 something percent, more likely to buy it as a result. Because they get what the products about they get how to use it. That never used to exist before. Products literally would be delivered and you would have to have a whole training team behind it to bring that on board and change obviously as part of that. There is an expectation now that if you are somebody who is going, ‘I’m gonna take a risk with this product and I’m gonna buy it’ or ‘I’m going to take a risk with this service and buy it for a month or so. I need to be upskilled in it within that time.; And the success rates of those products that have a really strong learning path on the back of that are those that win. Because the client or customer ultimately gets the value out of that product or service quicker and they’re able to then shout about it and talk about it in the way that you were saying, around the context of no longer having to go to a senior lead and be like, ‘please can we have this’? Instead, it’s like, ‘well, look at the value I’m creating on the back of it’. 

The shift to user-driven learning and product adoption

Tom Carpenter: And I think also with the free trial, you’ve obviously got quite a short period that you’re trying to prove that, so you don’t have the time to go through different training programs and try and get up to speed. you just wanna start using it within the product itself, understand how it can really help you. So like, maybe there’s some pre-templates in there, describing how to get the most of the service, as you’re going through it gives you some hints and tips. And some of that’s within the product itself. So yeah, as you were saying, if you’ve got that self-driven learning pathway within the product itself, fantastic, but it doesn’t just have to be that. You can give nudges through other means, which is in effect marketing and product working together through that trial period. So you get some emails saying like, ‘Oh, have you logged in and done this today? Or did you know about this feature? And did you know about that?’ 

Generational changes and the impact on B2B buying culture

Simon Blosse: Yeah, and I think the difference that we all need to recognise is that before, there wasn’t this sort of self-importance, dare I say it, of being able to buy products. But if you look at, coming back to that point about generational differences, Millennials and Gen Z just expect to be able to do that. And if you as a business support that and encourage it, you’re going to save yourself a lot of money because you don’t have to have a huge procurement department going out there doing lots of RFIs, lots of RFQs and trying to work out what’s out there in the market because your people will be naturally doing that. If they are passionate about marketing they’ll be finding the best marketing tools. If they’re passionate about sales, they’ll be finding the cool things that need to be adopted. And so I would really suggest that as a business there’s an element of just embracing that rather than trying to push that down. 

I have seen it before where, particularly in businesses that think that they should be able to control more around what products and services are being used by the business, are actually limiting their ability to be adaptive and responsive to the markets. You have a huge amount of assets, which are your people of that generation, who naturally search for these cool new products and find them for you. Before you had to have like a whole team to do that. And I think there’s something really quite exciting about that shift in the way that the buying culture of businesses is moving.

The changing role of decision-makers in B2B purchases

Tom Carpenter: And I think you are right, there are a lot of lessons that B2B organisations can take from going back to the fact there are different personas. In a physical, high-touch sales conversion model, you’re very quickly trying to get an understanding of who the decision maker is. Normally you’ll do things like RFPs or business cases to ensure that the business is bought into it. Now that often does still exist, but instead of being driven by senior decision makers, as you say, that’s often driven by the people who actually use the product on a day-to-day basis. And I think for that reason, we see quite a lot of organisations almost trying to hurry to the decision maker. And you absolutely do need to try to get to the decision maker still as a B2B buyer. But in effect, the sales cycle is longer. But not because the decision maker struggles more to make the decision, but because you’re getting more insight from the actual user. So as you say, if you’ve got a bit of self-service and they can log on and get a trial, that’s the actual end user that’s interested. The decision maker might not even know there’s a decision to be made at this point. So it’s good you’re getting more insight into how organisations might want to use your product earlier by offering that self-service. But then there’s an expectation, I think, that the sales cycle is still the same and therefore the decision maker comes to you and they’ve already thought about it a lot and they’ve done all their research and they know what to do. Whereas now in this new world, where we have much more millennials interacting with products they don’t know, they’re just like, ‘let’s give it a go, let’s see. I’m not ready to make a decision yet. I’m just trying some stuff out’. And I think organisations also are struggling a little bit with how to adapt their, predictions maybe of their sales cycle and how they interact with the customers to allow them a little bit more time to decide and maybe probably a more complex make up of people who are going to help make the decision.

It’s not just that senior figure who’s like, ‘yep, we’re getting this product because I like it and we’re doing it now’. There’ll be more consultation and more collaboration in the decision-making, and therefore that sales cycle could be a little bit more drawn out. But, in effect, are just seeing it earlier.

Simon Blosse: Do you think there’s anything in terms of the approach you take, therefore, to buying new products that engages more with your users than before?

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, absolutely, I do think that. You still need some of the more classic things of making the business case, ensuring that seniors are bought into it because ultimately they need to make the decision. But if you can get…15, 20 people in an organisation really enthused about using this product and they can articulate its value then a lot of organisations now are open to less structured ways of making decisions. They have those more agile ways of working, more collaborative ways of working. 

Marketing to users vs. decision makers in the B2B Landscape

Tom Carpenter: I think now you’re trying to target towards ensuring people really understand the product and can immediately gain some value from it. So you’re almost pre-proving it. Rather than in the old 10 to 15 years ago sense, where you had to prove that it would be valuable before anyone touched the product in any way at all. Once you’ve got that business case, then you might start to look at how that service or product is consumed within the organisation, whereas you’ve almost flipped that completely on its head. You know that bit, you can get those free trials out there, they can understand the product a bit more. 

Simon Blosse: But then, so I suppose if I’m a business lead who’s trying to sell a product in that context, what do we think in terms of the way to go about that differently, to maybe how we used to?

Tom Carpenter: Often marketing in a high-touch sales model is trying to get somebody to talk to the salesperson right. I think marketing in this more self-serve, let’s try and explore thing, is trying to get someone to use the product. So one, you’re marketing more to the actual users of the product and less so to the decision-makers than you would have been. Also persona-based marketing, so you’re marketing very different things to each of those groups. And often you see on websites, where they’re selling marketing sites where they’re selling the products, they go extreme in one of those two ways.

Simon Blosse: What do you mean by that, in terms of extreme? 

Tom Carpenter: Either you’re saying ‘the product is incredible, this is how you use the product, this is how it interacts with your day-to-day’, so you’re not selling as much of the decision maker, you’re selling more to the user 

Simon Blosse: Right. 

Tom Carpenter:  Or you go to selling to the decision maker. So you’re like, ‘we see 79% R.O.I. in marketing conversion by using our marketing products’. Whereas the marketers themselves, yes, of course they care about the R.O.I., in reality, they want a product that’s easy to use. It’s intuitive. It allows them to do something that’s a little bit different. It’s, innovative. It’s cool. So you’re marketing to two different audiences. So persona-based marketing needs to be more deeply considered. And if you consider when we say digitalisation if I’m the actual user of a product, to be honest with you, I don’t want to go and talk to an account manager because immediately I know they’re going to try and sell to me. I’m not the decision-maker. I don’t want you to sell to me. I want to understand the product. 

So in reality, at that point, you’re actually better to, if you want to allow someone a bit of self-serve and then go back to a physical service model is then put them in touch with some of the product team and the CSM and as you were saying, the training teams as well, because that’s how they’ll really understand and utilise the product, not the sales team.

Simon Blosse: I think there’s something really interesting about using the users as your advocate for selling. I think that’s a really quite complex challenge But comes back to exactly your points around You’ve got to make sure they believe in the product and then they become advocates of your product or service that literally Means that they go and have those meetings for you. Which is kind of like a bit of a dream really when you think about it because you don’t have to have that sales account meeting, you can just trust the fact that our products brilliant and as a result of that we know that there’s going to be those conversations being had in the background.

I suppose what I’m trying to get my head around a little bit when I come to that is what does it look like in terms of a sales process as a result? Is, are therelike two parallel ones going on? One is like, we’re kind of engaging with buyers at the same time as engaging with users, or are we relying on users to engage with the buyers?

Engaging users in the B2B customer journey 

Tom Carpenter: Well, all of those things really. If you build on what you have already. So let’s say you’re marketing to decision makers, you’re saying you get this ROI using our product. The first thing to do is try to build a process which is engaging the users. So from a marketing point of view, then go into a free trial. Then when they’re interacting with the free trial, instead of the salesperson talking to them, it’s the CSM team so you’re not going to suddenly go from high touch, so gradually building that up. And then for long tail, you could take out physical completely and you’re marketing to the individual, to the user, you get them to sign up to a free trial and then within the product itself, alongside potentially some email marketing too, you’re encouraging them to get the most of the product. And then you’re applying interventions of do you really like this? Do you want to buy it? This is the process you need to go through to purchase this product. And then eventually you can take out all physical contacts and allow them to buy tokens, for example. And that takes away, like we’re talking about, like, well, I need to sign up to let’s pick like a massive SaaS software provider. We have to sign to a three to five-year deal where we’re spending hundreds of thousands a year. It’s very unlikely that as a user I can make that decision, but you could try and make it that the user can make this decision. Let’s say they buy some tokens, and they can use the product on a consumption basis, by buying these tokens that they apply. 

Simon Blosse: Explain the tokens to me a little bit more. 

Tom Carpenter: So let’s say it’s a content product, so something like the Financial Times, but for businesses. So it’s giving me insight, let’s say… This is CX Talks. It’s giving you insight into customer experience practices. Instead of me having to sign up for a year-long subscription where I pay a certain amount, I get ten tokens a month and I can use that to download different pieces of content. So like Gartner do that, for example. To make it more accessible to a smaller customer who has less money to spend on those things. It’s accessible. So you could try doing those kinds of things where they do make the decisions themselves. Or this is now about understanding how different organisations would buy different things.

So some products, even though they’re quite high value, let’s say a software subscription product, depending on what it is, some of those pieces of software, they would make a decision quite quickly and buy whereas something which is like a fundamental change to their architecture like a new CRM platform or a new ERP platform, they’re probably not going to buy tokens and someone is just going to implement it So it’s worth considering how your product is going to be introduced, what the impact of that product is going to be. So let’s say it’s an automation product and you can just spin up and start using a few use cases. You can try it out. It’s probably more likely the decision-making process for that is gonna be quite quick and therefore you could introduce that digital self-service. But for something like a CRM or ERP platform, if we’re talking about technology solutions, that’s probably not gonna happen at this point.

Scaling B2B sales and the transition from individual to company-wide adoption

Simon Blosse: There’s something interesting in that around the scaling of this. So we’ve been banging on about the fact that individuals will be buying, will be trialling. There is that obvious point that comes about with any business-to-business sale, which is at what point do you start doing those deal negotiations about scale? And saying like, okay, yeah, you’ve had ten people using our product for the last six months and they love it. You have a hundred people in your department. Why are they not all using it? Is that when we bring in the conversations that are a little bit more account-oriented, a little bit more sales-oriented, than the self-serve, the self-driven 

Tom Carpenter: Yeah. and again, I think like we’re not gonna suddenly digitalise the entire buying experience for all customers, so full digital will make sense for your smaller customers. So those who have less than 10 seats, let’s say? As soon as you start getting into the realms, you’re talking about where it’s like 50 to 100 to 200. You could do a lot of that digitally. You absolutely could. And you see a lot of this where you’ve got this quasi-account manager where is that actually a real person or not a real person? So you can mimic some of that for more of the mid-size. I think the key accounts though you are still gonna need that high-touch service. Part of the initial, let’s say currently you have a completely physical high touch service today. You still can introduce some digitalisation of that because in effect you’re casting a wider net by doing that and then you’re right then you need to make an assessment at what point do you introduce account management into the mix, and ultimately that’s about understanding the organisation’s buying processes. 

The intersection of sales and client success in B2B

Simon Blosse: And there’s something really interesting, I think around the balance between it being a sales conversation and actually a client success conversation at that point. Because if you genuinely have got, using my example, 10 people using your product in marketing and they’re loving it and they’re living the dream, is that actually the right time for the client success manager to be like, right how do I make sure that you’re actually maximising the benefits from this? How do you then, back to our point around using those users as sellers rather than you having to bring sellers to the fore? I do think there’s an interesting challenge there, which is going to naturally hit a lot of companies who are selling to other businesses of subscription-based service-based offers that they have to think about what the right moment is to introduce an account lead, introduce the sales lead rather than maybe a customer success lead. Maybe that role itself is one to be discussed.

Utilising personas to navigate the B2B sales process

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, I mean, I’d love to say that there was a magic answer to that question. We often use personas as a tool and I always find it quite interesting where some people make a very valid point, which is like, these individuals…How do we know they’re the ones interacting? I don’t know that specific person is interacting. And that’s exactly the point. You don’t. The point of personas is you’re trying to understand that you’ve got some very, very different archetypes. So, different kinds of individuals But individuals that are in very different roles and therefore have a very different type of interaction. And you’re not trying to work out ‘Simon, you’re in box 3A and therefore you must go through this route of 3A’. What you’re trying to do is be like, ‘I know that Simon has a limited amount of time available to him. He has some decision-making ability, but he’s ultimately going to need to raise a requisition. He’s going to need to get that signed off by the CFO and he needs help in making that decision’. So basically I’m going to set up a process where I want to buy this. And it’s going to say… ‘Great. Do you want to put that on your credit card?’ And you’re like, ‘Oh no, I can’t do that I think I need to raise a requisition’. It’s like, ‘fantastic, would you like us to help you with that process?’ ‘Yes, I absolutely would.’ Now you get a call from an account manager, it’s like, ‘let’s set up a call and we can try and help you in how you use this product’. 

Simon Blosse: That’s really interesting cause I think that’s a very different process when you think about it. It sounds so obvious when you spell it out, but that’s new right there. There is not that commonality of ‘okay, I, as an individual, want to buy this. Oh gosh, that’s actually quite a lot of money I need to spend. I need to go to my procurement lead or I need to go to my finance officer or whoever the right person is’. The idea they’re making that easier is a really interesting development on that whole concept because before it would be like ‘just do that yourself. Off you go’. Whereas, and I think the success factor is almost how do you help a client or a customer to make that process easier. And that’s that conversion from individual buyer to company buyer. And I think that’s what we’re trying to get to. I suppose in this whole concept of B2C application to B2B, you are going to have to deal with individuals buying your products and services if you are going to be successful. The transition point between it being an individual buying it and the whole company buying it is where maybe there needs to be more focus. 

Simplifying the buying process and reducing friction

Tom Carpenter: And I think, like we’ve seen quite a lot of organisations where they’ve done self-serve purchasing journeys, but they have two options 1. full self-serve or 2. full high contacts. You’ve gotta dip your toe in initially so it’s not a ridiculous thing to be doing. That is okay but in reality, you need this scale from no touch at all to high touch, and then you can start to try and introduce basically what you’re trying to do is work out how far someone gets through the buying process which is very similar to B2C analysis as well, right? ‘Why did we lose them then? What happened then that made them drop?’ Maybe it’s something in B2C like they tried to apply a discount code, it didn’t work, they tried to apply another one… ‘Okay, they were clearly hoping to get a discount they didn’t get, let’s just send them a discount code’. You’re trying to do the same as that in B2B 

The problem with B2B is there are quite a lot more factors. It’s not quite as simple as that, but you can do things like ‘they got to a point where we asked for a credit card and they disappeared.’ Okay, maybe they didn’t have the authority or they couldn’t use the credit card so I need to give them another option. So you’re trying to stop dropouts by considering the different routes that they could go through. And in an ideal world, before you just did self-service, so full e-commerce versus not, you could start to think about what some of those likely friction points would be. 

Simon Blosse: There’s something really interesting in that credit card to invoicing shift, the difference between an expense and an actual business invoice is quite a significant factor to think about, I think, in this context.

Tom Carpenter: And there’s a middle ground at the moment, which a lot of organisations are doing, which remarkably isn’t actually that well used in B2B, which is direct debits. Yeah, I mean, a lot of organisations will raise requisitions and purchase orders for things, and you can do that on a more recurring basis. But a lot of organisations now are more comfortable with working on flexible direct debits, because obviously that value goes up and down. And therefore, historically, a lot of organisations don’t like that unpredictability. Whereas when raising a purchase order, you’re allocating funds in your finance system. You know that money’s going somewhere. You’ve given someone authority to do it. There’s much more control over that than the direct debits, but that’s an in between ground between credit cards and the invoicing process. And going back to the point of friction. We talk a lot about friction being a good or a bad thing, most commonly a bad thing, right? But friction in some ways kind of does exist. like people don’t like parting with money, particularly in organizations where it’s very unclear who actually has the authority and how those decisions are made. You basically have to start from the point that it’s assuming this is not going to be like B2C, It’s not going to be easy. It’s not like I just decide what I’m going to buy. I buy it or I don’t buy it. Okay. Also, I obviously need to sign off from my partner to buy things or not buy things. But I try and make decisions myself. Whereas in the B2B world, it’s like having 17 different partners in your ear, like, I’ve got to please them, I’ve got to please them, like that will happen.And therefore you are just trying to work out like what some of those points of friction are going to be and giving them almost like the tools to have a conversation themselves or get you into the right conversation at the right time or giving them flexibility in how to purchase call off periods, for example, basically just giving them as much flexibility as you can. 

The strategic use of friction in the B2B customer journey

Simon Blosse: And there’s something interesting, I think, around the purposeful use of friction in that context as well, which I think we’ve talked about before, but, in the context of those experienced journeys and like, okay, this is the point when you need to make a call. Do you want to just go for a full out everyone in my department uses this service or product because I’m gonna get massively discounted options, or do I, just wanna trial it for a while? But I think that’s where the organizations that are selling that kind of service have to think a little bit differently about the way that they package that up. Because it is going to be an individual making that call rather than this assumption it’s gonna be a business.

Empowering B2B clients to become advocates 

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, that’s making me think of something which is really interesting. So, at Clarasys, we have a seller-doer model. So that means we consult, but we also sell our own consulting work to clients. And, Simon and I therefore spend time with some of our more junior consultants explaining sales. And I think actually, a lot of organisations think of sales in, like, I am trying to convince someone to buy something. Whereas if you flip that on its head a little bit, I’m trying to make sure that clients understand the problems they have and what things I can do to help solve those problems. That’s my goal. And if that results in a sale, that is fantastic. So basically what organisations are trying to do here is make sure that they understand the problems that the individuals have, and they’re putting their best foot forward in showing how their products can deliver on those challenges and those problems.

That removes the I’ve got this person being like, close the deal, close the deal. I’ve got to close this deal. Obviously, you do want to make sales, but if your product is good, you understand its value and can articulate that to your customers, then that reduces the awkward friction of feeling like you’re being sold to and someone keeps chasing you like, ‘are you buying this, are you not buying this’. If you want it and you need it and it adds value, and you can articulate that value across different personas in your organisation, people will buy your product. 

Simon Blosse: Well I think that comes back to our earlier point around, if you have self-service as a priority, people are going to be naturally looking at your product on their own. They’re going to be buying it on their own your dream is they then shout about you around the entire of their department, around the entire of the company, and they are like ‘we need this business’, or ‘we need this partnership’, ‘we need this software’, ‘we need this service’, ‘we need this opportunity’. That’s the dream, right? Because you are then having advocators created within the organisation you’re trying to sell to. That was like the classic kind of absolute dream state you could get to and if you do that right and therefore it comes back to that point of like what’s the real value story that that person is going to adopt for you? And really honing in on that and being really crystal clear like ‘this is what having our product or service does for yo’u, and ‘this is how you can then sell it’. I’ve also seen that being quite a common thing in terms of that conversion point we were talking about a little bit earlier around ‘How do I convert from an individual to making more like an advocator?’ It’s sending them that information. So rather than being like, ‘would you like to buy this for a hundred’? It’s ‘this is how to talk about us to your fellow department. This is how to talk about us to your C level. This is how to talk about us to our directors’. It sounds strange when you say it, but so obvious at the same time. That’s the way you convert because you have your advocates who believe in the value of the product, the service that you have provided to them. And that’s where you have to make sure you are doing that. But secondly, giving them… an easy route to sell that internally is actually a blessing, right? I have been in a similar circumstance where I found a product I really want to use. I really want to use this service and I want to make sure that we can buy it because I want to have access to all of the services that it provides or products it provides. But you need to be able to convince those who do have the credit card back to your point of like, okay, how do I actually get the money to invest in this? And providing that for them could be, in most cases, a really valuable way of converting that to a broader sale.

Tom Carpenter: Yeah, I totally agree. So that is about all we’ve got time for, for this podcast today. But just give a bit of a summary of what we’ve spoken about. So it’s really important to try and consider how introducing self service and digital opportunities now, into, your currentjourneys or into new journeys. You need to consider different personas of individuals who are involved. There’s an expectation there willbe some digital elements of your service throughout. We’ve got new generations of buyers and decision makers now, which just expect that. Also really understanding therefore those personas and how they’re going to interact with it and how they can make the case what their buying process is and understanding some of the friction, um, that they may experience and how you can make that friction a little bit easier, by giving them the tools necessary, to speak to whoever they need to, to make decisions about that.

There’s so much more we could probably talk about, with, some of the similarities with B2B to B2C. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed that episode and thank you so much, Simon, for speaking with me today. 

Simon Blosse: More than welcome. 

You might also like