In the technology industry, software and hardware manufacturers tend to focus on the needs of the companies they sell to. When prospecting an organization, they look at what the organization as a whole needs to move its business forward. The idea: if you understand the functional requirements of an organization, you can align your solution to those needs and convince decision-makers to go with your product.
On the surface, this approach seems rational, but in reality, successful sales to business customers calls for a different approach. Studies show that the needs of the people in the organization play a crucial part in the buying process. For instance, a study conducted by the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business suggests that although many stakeholders are involved in a purchasing decision, the process and decision are often dominated by one person.
When you sell to an organization, you are in fact selling to the people within it. And when you’re selling to people, emotion – not logic alone – is a factor in the decision. As a recent MarketingProfs article points out, the role of emotions in both business decision-making and consumer decision-making is the same. If you are a tech company that is building hardware/software/solutions for, selling to, and supporting organizations rather than the people at those organizations, you are missing an opportunity to know your audience and connect with them more deeply.
Humanizing the tech buying process unlocks insights
It is common to set aside the human side of doing business in the technology industry. It’s not hard to see why. Tech companies are some of the most data-rich organizations today, so there is a temptation in this industry to rely solely on the data available. Customer and market analytics can provide useful information about the individuals you are trying to sell to, but they make an incomplete picture. Analytics from Big Data can tell you what people have done, but it can’t tell you why.
To get more context and learn the emotions and inner drivers that influence purchase decisions, it’s crucial to engage with individual buyers directly. A recent Cisco market understanding initiative provides a great example. In partnership with the technology research division of Market Strategies International, Cisco took on a three-step research approach (this LinkedIn article is visible to logged in members) to learn about the needs of the individual buyers, learning in the process that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for the company’s target audiences.
By engaging with its buyers, Cisco verified its hunch that different individual buyers have different needs and aspirations. Systematic use of both quantitative and qualitative methods revealed that there were four distinct types of buyers Cisco needed to consider—four very different personas that required different information and support from the company. The project provided a richer picture of the people that Cisco talks to and delivered insight on how the company might shape its marketing and sales tactics.
Buyers want to participate and engage
In technology marketing, connecting with people not only provides valuable insight about business decision-making – it also humanizes the buyer and your brand. This was one of the takeaways when Microsoft, another Market Strategies client, embarked on a listening tour to learn more about the needs of companies building apps.
Through this research, the project stakeholders engaged directly with the app developers. Not only did they learn about perceptions of various tech companies, and use and preference of tools and services – insights that are extremely useful to clarify the right path forward – they also experienced the passion and energy of the individual developers.
Participants were excited to have a human-level connection with Microsoft and all shared candidly throughout the process. Most were downright eager to meet and talk with the Microsoft team – some were especially excited to learn from the team – and some showed no interest in learning or exploration, and were simply content with ‘go with what I know’. Keeping this range of priorities, interests and desired connection levels in mind can be enormously helpful in planning.
Turning analytics into insights
These examples highlight the fact that understanding the individual needs of people isn’t merely a nice thing to do—it is a pragmatic and effective way to learn about your business and the space in which you’re competing. The functional needs of the organization are important, but it is equally critical to understand the needs of the people championing the technology and making the buying decisions.
From a market research perspective, this means you need to use methodologies that keep the individual in mind. This can be done through market exploration techniques like listening tours, but qualitative market research isn’t always required. We have found these elements can easily be incorporated in quantitative research with a bit of forethought and planning.
In the end, to drive sales and growth, you need to make your products and solutions meet the needs of the buyers–not just the organization you are targeting. Remember that there is a person making the decision and championing the purchase, a person with unique needs, interests, communication style and more. Your approach has to work for that individual, and your product or solution has to deliver value to that individual. Keeping this in mind throughout the whole customer lifecycle—and using market research to get a more accurate read of that individual’s needs—provides valuable insight tech companies can use to gain a real competitive advantage.