Free advice to vendors from my real “Customer 2.0” buying experience


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Lately we’ve been hearing terms like “social customer” and “customer 2.0” thrown around as catch phrases for today’s empowered buyers. Like any label, they over simplify.

Customers have always been social. We trust opinions from others like us more than vendor’s marketing or sales messages. Customers were social before social media became the NBT.

And there is no neat dividing line between yesterday’s supposedly clueless 1.0 customer and today’s all-knowing 2.0 customer. In my past experience in sales, buyers seem pretty darned empowered and savvy before the Internet showed up. Whoever signs the PO has plenty of power!

That said, when you think about the impact of the Internet (e.g. Google) and the Social Web (user-generated content), it’s clear that sellers can’t control information and dictate the selling process. Instead, they need to find new ways to engage with buyers, and do so later in the decision-making cycle.

Customer 2.0

As luck would have it, we’re in the market for some new software here at CustomerThink global HQ. I thought I’d share my experiences researching and interacting with some of the vendors I’ve considered.

What we’re looking for is a hosted/SaaS-based forms solution to support registration for events and white paper programs. So I’ve been researching a variety of solutions from:
* marketing automation vendors like Infusionsoft, Genius and Marketo
* online databases like Quickbase, Caspio and TrackVia
* hosted forms tools like Formstack and PerfectForms

This is not a complete list — I’m just trying illustrate that by using Google along with my industry knowledge, I was able to quickly develop a list of 10+ potential vendors. And not one of these vendors knew I was a prospect before I started my search.

Five Tips for Vendors

Anyway, here are a few takeaways from my experiences the past couple of weeks. Think of it as free advice from this Customer 2.0 trying to help vendors practice better Marketing 2.0 and Sales 2.0!

1. Help me determine if I’m the “right” customer for you

Why start a relationship with a prospect when your solution is not the right fit? Marketo, for example, in their free trial page made it abundantly clear that my modest requirements were not in their target. So I didn’t waste their time or mine on a trial.

2. If you target SMBs, show your pricing upfront

Now, I realize that for large enterprise deals, pricing is a complex affair. But as a small business, if I can’t find anything on pricing that gives me an idea if a solution will fit my budget, I look elsewhere. Seeing “call for quote” strikes me as a tactic to hide pricing and/or to force me to contact a sales rep before I’m ready. So don’t.

3. Make the free trial the complete product

Forms are simple, except when they’re not. Some of our requirements require complex workflows and the only real way to find out if a solution will work is to try it. On this score, pretty much everyone offered a free trial. But I didn’t realize until I signed up that the free trial from Genius was not the full product, which made it more difficult to test my requirements. Formstack, on the other hand, clearly shows what is/isn’t included in their free account.

4. Help me research questions easily

All vendors had online help/support resources and worked reasonably well. But I’d say as a general rule that completeness and ease of use have much room for improvement. For example, I would expect that pre-filling a form would be a fairly common request. Yet for most vendors it was difficult to find an answer without talking to someone. Put the complete user’s guide online and make it easy to search. Give me lots of example, videos and code snippets for common customizations.

5. Contact me, offer to help (not sell)

I realize automated lead “nurturing” is all the rage, but there’s no substitute for talking to a real live human on the phone! Most of the vendors followed up by email and/or phone and did a good job. I give Infusionsoft especially high marks for follow-up persistence and helpfulness. Thankfully, not one vendor gave me the hard sell or tried any closing gimmicks.

These are just some quick words of advice based on a real “Customer 2.0” buying experience. Hope you found it useful!

For those who would like to learn more about how “Sales 2.0” should engage with “Customer 2.0,” join us for our free virtual Sales Edge Summit on Oct 5-7.


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