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In the age of the self-service buyer, what brand content still matters?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher July 14, 2022
The self-service buyer is in control. What does this mean for enterprise software vendors? An emphasis on user reviews, communities, and analyst assessments for starters. Barb reviews new data from TrustRadius.


Confused business team holding a question mark sign

In the latest TrustRadius report, 2022 B2B Buying Disconnect: The Age of the Self Service Buyer, we learn that buyers have replaced vendor-provided content with other sources. These other sources include review sites, communities and forums, and analyst rankings.

On the one hand, I get that. There's a lot of overly promotional marketing and sales content that doesn't tell the real story about a product's usefulness. And there is a ton of other content put out by brands that is "more of the same" to stay competitive with other brands. But at the same time, I don't believe brand content is a lost cause.

Where are buyers getting their information?

In this report, the respondents were asked what resources they used when evaluating new purchases. It compared the responses with those of the 2021 report. The top resources were product demos and free trials, followed by user reviews and the vendor's product website. However, the vendor website, talking to sales reps, reading marketing material, and looking at customer references and case studies have all declined over the past year. 

Instead, we are seeing growth in other areas such as user reviews (from 45% to 55%), communities and forums (from 27% to 37%), and analyst reports (from 21% to 35%). 

I think it's worth noting that user review sites like TrustRadius and G2 are partly filled by brands asking their customers to submit reviews (the happy ones, anyway). Also, some analyst reports have a "pay to play" component that some brands cannot afford. 

I point these out not to say they are wrong (although I think they need to be put in proper context) but to show that brands reach customers in many ways, some of which are not openly obvious to buyers. 

What are buyers' self-service expectations?

We know that many buyers expect self-service from brands in terms of readily providing the information they need to make decisions and enabling some element of "try before buying." According to the TrustRadius report, 87% expected self-service in 2021, and today it's "virtually 100%." 

This self-service information includes information like pricing (71%), user reviews (35%) and customer stories (27%) on the website, and product demos/free trials (70%).

What do buyers not like?

Along with the resources buyers want to help them with their purchase decision, there are a few things that make them less likely to want to buy from a brand, according to this report.

No pricing on the website and unclear messaging are two issues. Fifty-four percent look for pricing in their initial research, while 29% look for pricing after the demo or later stages of the buying process. Also, 16% will cross a brand off their list if the pricing isn't readily available.

I think having pricing on the website is smart. It helps potential customers know if the product is within their price range and reduces the amount of effort they will have to go through talking to a brand they can't afford. It's also good for brands because they don't have to spend time talking to companies who can't afford them, wasting time and resources that are best spent on right-fit companies. However, posting pricing is not easy for some products because many variables could go into the final price. Trying to explain that on a web page can get tricky.

Then there are the cold calls. Sixty-four percent said they would be less likely to buy from a brand that cold calls them. I would add here "cold emails." I can show you from experience that sending sales emails after someone downloads a whitepaper or signs up for a newsletter does not result in a sales opportunity, nor do hard-pitch cold sales calls.

I think there are ways that cold calls and emails can work if you approach them with the mindset of sharing and learning from the customer and not hard selling. 

Another thing buyers say they don't like is having to contact sales to get a demo or a free trial. In terms of free trials, it seems like most people sign up and expect immediate access to the environment. This might be simple, depending on the application and how it's set up. In other cases, although the brand has a SaaS or cloud-based application, they may need additional information to set the environment up; that requires a conversation.

Some brands also want to help their customers get the most out of their trial by helping them through the initial stage. That's fine, as long as it's not a hard sell. It's also a way to weed out the people who aren't serious about purchasing (how many people have signed up for a trial looking to learn how to use an application so they can add it to their resume?). 

As for demos, gated access to a product demo makes sense, letting the customer watch the demo when they are ready, with sales outreach if the demo is watched or marketing outreach to encourage them to watch it. Another option is the product tour (I will tell you more about this another time).

My take - vendor content that counts

You would expect that vendor content focused on how their products work is still important to buyers. And it is, at least in terms of features and functionality. User stories are another excellent tactic for vendors who understand the use cases around their products and can demonstrate that through visuals like short demos, product tours, infographics, and even customer stories. 

Sales reps also still play a crucial role; it's just that the role is evolving from hard-core selling tactics to a more consultative relationship where they support buyers with expert knowledge. A chief evangelist is a great role, too if you have the right person.

Finally, we often forget the importance of non-product content in the buying experience. A brand that understands the market it's creating products for, knows the when, where, why, and how of the business processes, and should be able to design a content strategy that speaks to those processes, not just the product itself. Unfortunately, this type of content is missing from many brand content strategies.

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