One of the big differences between selling to businesses vs selling to consumers is the buying process. Most Consumer products are lower priced and purchased quickly because if you make a poor choice, you aren’t out much more than beer money. In B2B not only is there more money on the line, buyers often have to justify a purchase to their boss. A poor choice can cost the company big dollars and (often more importantly) damage the buyer’s reputation.
This is precisely why a Buyer’s Guide is such a powerful piece of marketing content. It is designed specifically to meed the needs of a prospect that has been tasked with making a purchase decision. It’s a piece of marketing content aimed directly at the hottest prospects in your pipeline.
The Buyer’s Guide is Targeted at a Critical Stage in the B2B Buying Process
For B2B purchases, the buying process usually includes a stage where prospects try to figure out what their options are and which ones are best suited to them. For startups selling to businesses, this stage is particularly important. Often the solution is in a new or shifting market space and figuring out the competitive alternatives is a task in itself, nevermind trying to figure out which option offers the best combination of functionality, features, support, community, etc.
For enterprise products, the evaluation phase might be a months-long process that includes a formal RFP process and/or a Proof of Concept. However for many lower-priced B2B solutions, the evaluation process is much more informal and looks more like a manager saying “Go figure out what we should buy and come back with a recommendation”. For those folks, the first task is to come up with a short list of solutions, then figure out how to compare them and how to pick a winner. In short – they have to learn HOW TO BUY before they can buy. A great buyer’s guide solves that problem for prospects while also being one of the best pieces of sales content you can create.
Why a Buyer’s Guide Works
A great buyer’s guide helps prospects set the criteria used to evaluate solutions. If you set the buying criteria, your chance of winning the business goes up exponentially. When I suggest building a buyer’s guide the first reaction I usually get is “But people won’t read my buyer’s guide because we are obviously biased!!!” Yes, you are. And yes, prospects understand that. But that doesn’t make your guide any less useful. Here’s an example – I built a buyer’s checklist where we had a feature that we felt was really important but often not included in evaluations. We included a set of items on the checklist that wouldn’t be checked unless the solution supported that feature. The first prospect I talked to that had used the guide told me “Yeah, we knew you put that stuff on there because that’s the thing that you guys are good at but you know, it did get us thinking about how important that stuff was so we added it to our must-have list of features.” We were the only ones that had it and we won the deal.
Here’s something else to remember – If you aren’t teaching them how to buy, someone else is. The risk in not trying to influence how prospects set purchase criteria is that someone else will, making it hard for you to recover later in the process.
What Makes a Good Buyer’s Guide
1/ It teaches prospects why they should value what you’re good at – The first step to evaluating a solution is figuring out what the key purchase criteria are. If you are helping to set the purchase criteria you are likely to win a comparison. A good buyer’s guide helps explain why your key value is indeed valuable – it is the ultimate manifestation of positioning for a B2B product.
2/ It speeds up the purchase process – Helping a prospect get through the evaluation phase of the purchase cycle faster means a purchase decision gets made faster and your sales resources free up faster. The buyer’s guide should be clear and simple enough that it helps prospects feel like they are now ready to make an informed decision – one that they can justify to others.
3/ It highlights the weaknesses of your competitors – Not only can a good buyer’s guide highlight the need to make decisions based on the strengths of your products, it can also serve to highlight the weaknesses in your competitors. For example I built a buyer’s guide for a solution where we were clearly a leader in the market and we put a section in the buyer’s guide around how to evaluate customer references, knowing it would trip up our smaller competitors. Similarly I built a buyer’s guide when I worked at a startup that highlighted our lightweight deployment model (How fast can the solution be deployed? What resources will the deployment take? Can the solution be deployed in stages?) – an area where we knew we trumped our larger competitors.
4/ It weeds out crappy prospects – A buyer’s guide can also weed out prospects that aren’t a great fit for your solution by making it obvious who is. This might seem counterintuitive but quickly weeding out prospects that are unlikely to select you frees up sales resources to work with prospects that are more likely to buy.
5/ It arms your internal champions with the information they need to get approval to make a purchase – In B2B often the person you are selling to needs to get the approval of folks higher up the chain to make a purchase. A good buyer’s guide teaches your champion in the account not only how to select the best solution, but also how to get their selection approved (an example of a hybrid buyer’s guide and get-this-past-your-boss-guide from Kissmetrics is this How to Pitch Marketing Analytics Software to Your Company)
6/ It’s not too long or complicated – If the guide is too long and complicated it won’t get consumed, or worse, it will convince prospects that they need to do more research in order to be educated enough to make a good decision. Sometimes a guide can be as simple as a checklist (See Upshot Commerce – choosing an eCommerce Platform, Callidus Cloud’s checklist – what to look for in a marketing automation vendor), a categorized list of key features (See the Base CRM How to Choose the Right CRM for your Business) or a combination of all of those things (See NetSuite’s CRM Buyer’s Guide or Marketo’s Things you should know when buying marketing automation).
2 thoughts on “Your B2B Startup Needs a Buyer’s Guide”
April – how much trust do prospective buyers place in a buyer’s guide written by the company vs. an objective 3rd party that covers the category more broadly?
Founder & CEO, TrustRadius
They don’t trust vendor content as much as they trust an objective 3rd party, but like I mention in the post, that doesn’t mean that they won’t consume your content too. Also for startups, in many cases there is no 3rd party covering the category so that isn’t an option for prospects. Lastly, many B2B companies have paid for 3rd party white papers or buyer’s guides and I have seen prospects question how objective the 3rd party really is.
My point is – your point of view as a vendor is relevant and prospects will consume it (in many of my startups, the Buyer’s Guide was our most effective piece of content for generating leads), even if they do so with the full knowledge that it is written from a biased company point of view.