The cloud changes your business model and how you market your solutions to the organizations.
In the old world of information scarcity, organizations adopted a linear path. Marketers found the names of potential buyers early on in the decision cycle and passed on those names directly to sales.
Nowadays, with an abundance of information, buyers buy differently than in the past.
They tend to research and self-educate long before they engage with the salespeople. By the time they engage with the sales team, they have already made a decision.
According to a report by McKinsey & Company, 88% of the research is done online before purchasing offline
Additionally, given the cloud business model, the buying cycle does not stop when they have purchased your solution. It goes well beyond that until the time these cloud buyers become your advocates.
Stages of the Cloud buyer’s journey
According to IDC, a cloud buyer goes through 6 stages in his journey from exploring a solution to advocating it.
To help illustrate this, think about how you go about buying a new car. Before going to the car showroom, you identify which segment of car you require: Hatchback, sedan or an SUV.
Then, you research various car models within that segment, read their reviews and check their prices against features available.
At this point in time, you are ready to visit the showroom of the car of your choice to take a test drive and see if it resonates with what you have already read.
This is the same journey followed by cloud buyers (popularly known as ROBO: Research Online Buy Offline)
From prospect to customer – Explore, Evaluate and Purchase
Explore: This is the first stage of the cloud buyers’ journey. In this stage, they identify the challenges that they are facing in their business and start exploring various solution options.
Evaluate: Once they have explored various solution options, they evaluate them by reading reviews and case studies and by taking product trials.
At this stage, the buyers start sharing their information with you and that is how you know that they have shown an interest in your solution.
Purchase: Once they are convinced about the utility of your solution by taking a trial and subsequently discussing your solution with your sales team, they are ready to commit and purchase it.
This is when your prospect has become your customer
When you are buying a car, this is where your journey stops. However, with the cloud business, the situation is a bit different.
It is not a one-off sale. With cloud solutions, you are dependent upon recurring revenue streams to grow your business.
“One of the biggest challenges faced by SaaS companies and those selling cloud solutions is getting the employees to adopt the solution.”
This means you need to prove your value even after selling the solution. That is how you will continue on to grow your business.
Hence, the journey of the cloud buyer extends to 3 more stages:
From customer to advocate – Expand, Renew and Advocate
Expand: Now the customer has purchased your solution and started using it. This is when he is ready to move from pilot to a company-wide rollout.
Renew: As discussed above, you need to prove your value even after selling the solution or else the customer won’t renew it.
This is the stage when your customer really validates your solution i.e. by paying renewal fees.
Advocate: By now, the customer has purchased your solution, adopted it in his organization and paid renewal fees for the same. This implies that your customer loves your solution.
This is when he is ready to turn into an advocate of your solution.
How to market to the cloud buyer to move him across different stages
Once you have understood your customers and the journey they follow, it is time to create digital assets that span across their buying journey.
Your content and collateral assets should be able to solve the challenges of your prospects. This is what would enable them to sell their decisions internally.
Now, let’s have a look at the goals of your buyers at different stages, what they look for to achieve those goals and what kind of content do they consume.
At this stage, the cloud buyers’ goals could be raising productivity, increasing engagement with customers, optimizing costs or responding to a threat.
To solve this challenge, they are looking for information through search engines, social media or blogs.
Hence, you should increase your visibility by having an SEO optimized website, accounts on popular platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) and rich content on the blog to build thought leadership.
Smart tip: Pitching your product at this stage of the buying journey dissuades the buyers from buying your solution. Hence, you should focus on creating educational content to build thought leadership and not product-focused content.
At this stage of the journey, the prospects are looking to establish the validity of the vendor claims and compare it with other vendors.
They do this by taking product trials, attending events, getting recommendations from peers and by reading whitepapers and e-books.
Hence, you should have these components easily available over the web. Since prospects do not mind sharing their information at this stage, it also allows you to also capture their interest.
You can use this to engage with them early on in the buying journey.
Once the prospects have validated your solution, they are committed to deploying it and negotiating the terms and conditions of the proposal.
This is the right time to prove the value of your solution by providing proof of concepts, case studies, ROI tools and offers to accelerate the sales process
As discussed above, the journey is still not over once the customer has brought your solution. Given the fact that your business is dependent upon recurring revenue, you need to ensure its adoption among the customers’ employees.
Hence at this stage, the cloud buyer is looking for case studies, additional functionality and fast-track resources to increase adoption.
This gives you a chance to up-sell and cross-sell your services to increase the adoption of your solution to reduce the risk of its discontinuation.
At this stage, the customer is assessing the performance of the solution to decide whether to continue with the solution and the provider or not.
This is the stage where you can review the customer satisfaction levels with your solution.
Hence, it becomes important to go beyond providing a great service to the customer and also focus on increasing its adoption among the employees.
You can do this by sending regular e-mails on how to use the product and case studies of other organizations on increasing adoption. Additionally, you should have a customer success manager who is responsible for addressing any customer queries and drive its usage post-adoption.
Once your customer reaches this stage, it means he is happy with the solution and has successfully integrated it into the company processes.
This is the right time to develop a strategic partnership with him and turn him into an advocate to actively promote the success of your solution.
You can do this by asking him for referrals, testimonials and case studies.
Marketing today is digital and has the power to reach more people
It allows you to engage cloud buyers early on in their decision-making process and develop relationships with them to move them across the buying journey from a lead to an advocate.
This requires you to having not only an understanding of each stage of the buying journey but also capabilities to tap those stages.
How do you market to the cloud buyers at different stages of their journey? Please comment below