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Why Marketing B2B Tech Is Getting Harder

July 18th, 2019 ON24

Only five years ago, McKinsey aptly summarized the top challenge facing the technology sector: “If a software company grows at [20% annually], it has a 92% chance of ceasing to exist within a few years. Even if a software company is growing at 60% annually, its chances of becoming a multibillion-dollar giant are no better than a coin flip.” This is as valid today as it was then.

Keeping up with the pace can be exhausting. Accelerating growth, fending off competitors and achieving a foothold in the marketplace is an exacting and resource-intensive process, but the rewards are considerable – and well worth it.

Compared to other sectors, tech providers are confident in the growth prospects of their companies and the industry over the next three years. 52% of  tech CEOs expect annual topline growth of at least 2%, compared to 44% of cross-industry CEOs. Companies also seem to be unencumbered by budget concerns. Marketing in the tech budgets sector continues to grow steadily, as CMOs in the technology sectors are most likely to say they expect them to increase by more than 5% – around a third (3%) compared to less than a quarter in most other sectors.

In Tech, Experience Reigns Supreme

Having a best-of-breed product or solution is no longer sufficient though. Providing a great experience, being a trusted partner that helps navigate complex challenges and delivers measurable results against business outcomes, and being an enabler of digital transformation are critical differentiators. The recipe for sustained success is one centered on customer needs and dedicated to helping organizations achieve innovation-based growth. Building thought leadership is a must in this heavily consumer-centric era and it’s encouraging to see that the commitment needed to make it a reality is there: almost three-quarters (73%) of technology content marketers claim they are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ committed to content marketing.

Organizations in this sector are known for embracing the challenge of technological change and keeping up with the speed of innovation, but they need to look beyond tech specs and applications. In the words of Steve Jobs, they need to “start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology”.

Before diving into ON24’s benchmark data, let’s explore some of the challenges the technology sector faces today and how organizations can turn them to their advantage.

Embed customer centricity in your content creation efforts

Selling technology used to be about features, functionality and specifications, supported by an array of technical documentation. This is no longer sustainable as organizations increasingly adopt an outcome-based approach, looking for solutions that are tailored to their particular issues and circumstances, and that deliver measurable results. One-size-fits-all products have already started to lose out to those companies that can provide a personalized, bespoke, solution to suit each individual customer’s needs.

However, as the pace of innovation and disruption accelerates, many technology organizations are struggling to have a clear understanding of who the customer actually is. As their expertise continues to expand beyond a core suite of products or services, they are becoming multi-layered businesses offering solutions to companies of all shapes and sizes, from corporate behemoths to small-scale, resource-constrained operations with a handful of employees.

Additionally, the typical decision-making process of a tech buyer is more complex than ever. Technology investment decisions are no longer the preserve of CTOs or CIOs only, but of an extended cross-functional buying committee consisting of stakeholders, influencers and implementers who often have competing interests. Frontline users increasingly do their own research into how the latest tech solutions can support their specific initiatives and projects, and are therefore consulted during the shortlisting and final selection process. In SMEs and mid-tier businesses, around eight people are involved in the process, while for large enterprises (10,000+ employees), this number often exceeds 20. As such, targeting the IT decision-maker with content detailing technical performance is no longer a viable approach.

The Rise of The CMO in Tech

CMOs are now ten times more likely to be primarily responsible for building the business case for digital marketing and CX technology investment than CTOs (40% vs. 4%). Compared to their IT peers who typically initiate a protracted due diligence and business case evaluation process before signing off on a purchase decision, CMOs are more likely to purchase technology-based on immediate needs.

Understanding and addressing the diverse informational needs of this extended buying committee has become a major challenge. While 62% of technology organizations claim they always or frequently craft content based on specific points or stages in the buyer’s journey, creating content that appeals to multi-level roles within the target audience is the top challenge for 68%. This is as much of a challenge for top performers as it is for their less successful peers. It comes as no surprise then that direct vendor engagement continues to decline, with 51% of tech buyers engaging with customer service reps once a month or less and 24% never engaging with them.

How Tech Approaches Buying Tech

Four in five enterprise technology buyers place a high degree of importance on tech providers being thought leaders. Encouragingly, there’s evidence that technology organizations are putting content front and center: content management, creation and localization is the second most time-intensive task of tech marketers, accounting for nearly a fifth (18%) of their working hours and surpassing data management, integration and analysis (14%).

80% of tech buyers look outside the technology buying committee for information and advice on technology solutions, with reviews, surveys and usage stats from fellow technology users accounting for 51% of these dependable sources of information. The reason many tech buyers prefer to probe these external sources is twofold: more often than not, the content produced by vendors is intently focused on the pre-sale stages and it doesn’t always incorporate first-hand insights from existing customers.

There are three key areas technology organizations need to focus on to produce customer-centric content that engages target audiences and addresses their top-of-mind concerns: (i) using personas to build a coherent picture of buyers and understand what motivates them and guides their investment decisions, (ii) prioritizing audiences’ educational needs over the organization’s promotional messages, and (iii) creating content that builds loyalty with customers. Most importantly, they shouldn’t lose sight of their audience, and how they can use engaging content to convey their brand voice, values and expertise at every stage of the buyer’s journey.