The New Split: How the enterprise software buyer’s digital habits and information needs are changing (new findings)

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It’s not your father’s enterprise software buying environment.

The #ensw buyer today is a different buyer with different research habits and information needs. In fact, there is no longer just one type of enterprise softwre buyers, but a nearly 50/50 split between GenX/boomers and GenY decisionmakers who have very different ways of looking for and consuming information. The latest content marketing framework from @digifieldwork demonstrates just how big these changes are.

Digital FieldWork (a B2BNN partner), analyzed more than 19,000 interactions with over 500 pieces of content on 45 channels during a six-month period across seven enterprises (with aggregate data from SqueezeCMM), and spoke with 25 ENSW and marketing technology buyers, to learn more about their digital buying habits. Here’s what we learned:

– The past five years have witnessed a dramatic shift in the enterprise software buyer marketplace. Two primary factors have driven this remarkable transformation: First, products are smaller and more geared to the individual user, as startups focus increasingly on user experience (UX) and have upended the traditional big buying cycle-big buying committees-big ticket item model that had prevailed for decades.

– Second, there has been a shift in the workforce, as traditional enterprise software (ENSW) buyers grow older and move into management positions, and a new crop of millennial-era vice presidents and managers who research, shop and buy in a markedly different manner are taking their place at the forefront. This shift in behavior and culture will impact not only marketing, but also ENSW products and the ongoing “appification” of enterprise. These demographic and product shifts have led to signficant changes in how products are marketed and sold and how audiences find them.

Digital Habits Shift: Twitter Rules; Video Chat Emerging as Leading Player

Generational differences are apparent. Adults in the Baby Boomer and Generation X cohorts tend to prefer closed networks to open communities, with Spiceworks enjoying particularly high popularity. Millennials are more open, the DFW report found. As for which platforms generate the most activity, Twitter performs best, with 90 percent of all postings. The majority of ENSW influencers’ audiences are cultivated using Twitter. LinkedIn and Google+ followed.

– It’s too early to tell what impact popular and upcoming platforms like Snapchat and Meerkat/Periscope will have. B2B video is very popular but tends to perform far better at the top of the sales funnel. Forecasters and analysts believe there will be significant convergence with video chat platforms and customer service applications aboundng, and predictions a ‘LinkedIn of video chat’ will emerge.

– The optimal use of video is at the top of funnels, the report stated. Video should be avoided in the consideration and decision phases. Long-form video suffers from a lack of scanning ability; whoever can deliver scannable video will change the game.

– The old B2B workhorse, webinars, are now underperforming for ENSW, but martech managers should still consider using them for prospect conversations vs mass webinars that tend to provide an impersonal experience that doesn’t allow a vendor to customize information for specific information needs.

Information Needs Shift— What Customers Want to Learn About

ENSW buyers, researchers and analysts have the highest standards when it comes to content marketing, partly because they have been content marketed to for longer than most. Content marketing really originated in the tech industry and it has evolved the most there. Enterprise software prospects now expect content to be both entertaining and informative. This “infotainment” content must be delivered with depth and complexity and it must also be snackable—short and attention-grabbing and, critically, good for social sharing.

What are some of the biggest ENSW complaints about vendor content? According to Digital Fieldwork, the most common issues are:

  • “This reads like someone from the marketing department wrote it.”
  • “Long on empty buzzwords, short on useful content.”
  • “Does anyone actually read collateral unless they need specs for something?”

Customers want utility, insight, and fit. They want the ability to make decisions, and access to people who can deliver the insights and information they need. The fastest way to a martech buyer’s heart is to identify the biggest pain points related to given content and create additional content around it, taking care to address questions, issues, viewpoints and solutions.

Shifting Behavior

There are emerging elements of ENSW user behavior with implications for content marketers:

  • Batch Downloading: Downloading multiple assets at once from vendor sites and not coming back – linking within assets is critically important.
  • Gating: Gating content is acceptable, even expected, for high value content wiht reasonable exchanges of information—fine in limited doses, with adherence to best practices.
  • Clarity: The longer a prospect focuses on a single piece of content, the less likely they are to act. Be clear on what you want them to do, and you will experience better outcomes.
  • Ads, ads, ads: Buyers like, and expect, ads. They understand them and respond to them. They don’t know what native advertising is and are often confused by much of the content they see. Is it an ad or is it content? People want clear labeling. They also expect to have content posted or shared on social networks but there is a common perception that paid promotional content is likely to be of superior quality.

The importance of Information/Utility in ENSW content

Information and utility are critical to ENSW buyers but not so much for martech buyers who have low expectations that platforms will actually do most of what they claim they will do. Avoiding mass confusion is paramount; such bewilderment in the martech space causes vendors to fall back on solutions they know will deliver clear value and those which are most customizable to their particular corporate culture and workflow, reporting and performance expectations.

Martech buyers also want to hear from other customers who are using the tools and platforms, as well as learn how they’re using them. This leads to a better understanding of competitive features. ENSW buyers are also eager to understand how product roadmaps are evolving in the age of the cloud.

Culture Insights

Changing cultural dynamics demand martech managers follow the money dynamics—where budget allocations go indicate which way the cultural winds are blowing. There is a clear shift in the balance of power between CMOs, CIOs and CTOs. Intergenerational dynamics are also constantly in play, and the solution to any conflict here is simply packaging different content types together.

Product Shifts
ENSW itself is constantly changing and evolving. Smaller, cloud-based apps are on the rise, and the advent of platforms such as Slack and Box are creating an increasingly porous, less monolithic environment than before. This disruption has created budget and buying confusion, and even tension. Meanwhile, the enterprise solution is evaporating. It’s a patchwork-quilt on the front end and increasingly data-centralized on the back end.

These shifts noted in the DFW report (available in May) will continue to impact marketing, and as millennials increasingly rise to positions of power, more challenges will emerge. It’s an exciting time for martech managers, who will continue to evolve to meet the challenges of an ever-changing marketplace.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons

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Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for U.S. news. Based in San Francisco, he is the editor and publisher of Moral Low Ground and is a Yahoo! Featured Political Contributor.
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