By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

If you’re not already subscribed to Sales Pipeline Radio, or listening live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific you can find the transcription and recording here on the blog every Monday morning.  The show is less than 30 minutes, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

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This week’s show is called How B2B Buys Software in 2020 (and Beyond): New Research and Insights Revealedwith Russ Somers, VP of Marketing at TrustRadius.

We talk about their well known and respected annual survey, The B2B Buying Disconnect. It’s a survey of over a thousand software buyers and vendors to get a sense of trends.  It’s a deep, deep research piece. It’s like 80 pages. But this year, because there are so many changes in 2020, really generations shifting in terms of buying, a huge number of changes. It’s the most dynamism seen in the market report ever, which makes it a really cool time to be in the business.

Check out the 10 takeaways.  I asked Russ, of the key takeaways, what are things he thinks are the most urgent for sellers to consider as they approach how they manage their buying journey moving into 2021?

The biggest thing is you’re not selling to the same person you used to, and that drives all these other changes.

For this and more, DOWNLOAD THE REPORT and listen in now and/or read the full transcript below.

Matt:  Welcome everyone. Back from Thanksgiving. It’s going to be a December to remember as we finish out 2020. We have changed our format. We used to record these in Skype. And so basically, I would dial in, and then we would literally call. Oftentimes, this is a five-year-old show. We started, we’d call people on landlines. And for those of you that may be younger, there were phones that used to be plugged into the wall.

Paul:  How strange was that, yeah.

Matt:  You couldn’t leave the phone and the wall, you had to stay there. This is how we used to call people. Now we’re doing it on Zoom. I think the audio’s a little better. We get to see each other, which is kind of fun. And actually pretend like we’re actually in a room having a conversation

Paul:  The only we got to do is get Matt closer to his mic though here. He loves to back.

Matt:  Closer to his mic. Okay. So because we’re doing this, like what I did last time, which is going to look ridiculous for those that are watching this. Oh, that looks awful. So I’m going to have to turn my video off now.

Paul:  That looks cool kind of. Yeah.

Matt:  Because my regular mic is not working, so I’m using my webcam mic. I’m way over explaining this. Sales Pipeline Radio waits for no man, no woman, no technology. We press on and we are glad you’re here. Thanks everyone for joining us. If you’re listening, God help you. If you’re listening live, thank you for joining us in the middle of your work day. If you’re joining us through the podcast, thanks so much for subscribing. We appreciate all the listeners we’ve been able to entertain, inform, I don’t know, so far this year in 2020. And if you are new to the show, if you like what you’re hearing, we literally have about five years of past episodes up available on demand, past, present, and future, at salespipelineradio.com. We are featuring each week some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today is absolutely no exception. We have so many topics to talk about in addition to marketing with our guests today. VP of Marketing for TrustRadius, Russ Somers. Russ, how are we doing?

Russ:  I am doing great, Matt. How are you? It’s awesome to be on this show.

Matt:  I am so happy to have you here. We’re going to start out. Paul has a question, which is always dangerous, but get going, Paul.

Paul:  One question then I’ll duck out here. Why does he have the coolest collection of guitars I’ve seen in while? Including, if I’m not mistaken, is that a dulcimer?

Russ:  Good eye. That is a mountain dulcimer, a 1995 mix bend. I collect stringed instruments, mostly bases, mostly guitars, but I’ve got to mandolins, because I don’t play mandolin, and one mountain dulcimer. So a bunch of stuff.

Matt:  That’s amazing. You know what’s funny? Is I’ve seen that behind you a few different times. Russ is a regular on our Friday morning CMO events. And I just assumed that was art. But, yeah. Paul, good eye. The other image that I can’t get out of my head when I think of Russ, and I don’t know if you noticed this, Russ, yesterday morning in sort of the preview email for CMO events, in the link section at the very bottom, I said Russ basically won Thanksgiving. And the reason why Russ won Thanksgiving was because of what he cooked. Will you please explain this bacon weave covered bird that you did last week?

Russ:  Well, here is the thing. Everybody likes turkey, nobody likes basting a turkey. And some friends of ours taught us this art, this lost art of you weave bacon together to make basically a blanket. And you drape that over the turkey and then, whether you roast it or smoke it, as I did, the bacon drippings baste the turkey. Now the really ironic thing about this is the people who taught me this, one year after they taught me this, they became vegan. So they will probably live longer than I will, but I will eat well while I’m here.

Matt:  Well, you will certainly eat better for sure. And I don’t know if you’ve heard of Zingerman’s, the deli up in Ann Arbor, they have a bacon club. And on the website for the bacon club they actually got a counter for how many vegetarians and vegans they have converted with their bacon. So if there is nothing else you take away from this already off the rails episode of Sales Pipeline Radio, it’s the concept of a bacon weave. I’m going to put a picture of Russ’s bacon weaved the turkey from last week up on the show notes.

Paul:  Now, I got to jump in one more time. Did you just casually throw out the words Ann Arbor?

Matt:  Yes, we did.

Paul:  You know I’m University of Michigan graduate, lived in South Quad for three years right there on campus and very familiar with Ann Arbor. Is that where he’s calling from?

Matt:  No, no, no.

Russ:  Ironically I was born in Ann Arbor.

Paul:  There you go. See, I knew it.

Russ:  I only lived there for one year, but that’s my birthplace. So this is all becoming very symmetrical.

Paul:  Okay. All right. I’ll be quiet.

Matt:  That’s okay, Paul. Feel free to chime in, especially anything University of Michigan football that you’d like to cover today.

Paul:  No. Ow. Oh, you didn’t have to go they. Ouch. Now I’m going to go cry.

Matt:  No, it’s all right. Russ, I know you’re in Texas. Are you in Austin? Where are you based?

Russ:  I’m in Austin. Technically Pflugerville right outside of Austin. I’ve lived here about 20 years, worked for a number of tech companies, taking a couple startups to exit here. It’s a pretty cool community.

Matt:  My favorite city in Texas by far, as you know I’m also a barbecue fan, consumer, as well as producer. I want to get your opinion. So everyone talks about Franklin Barbecue as being good. I have had the chance to have Franklin Barbecue. I think it was very good. I actually think the most underrated part of my Franklin Barbecue experience was the turkey. I thought their smoked turkey was phenomenal. Have you been to La Barbecue on Cesar Chavez, about a mile from downtown?

Russ:  I have not. But I know that you’re sort of an expert. I have tasted your bacon and that’s not a metaphor. You make great, great smoked bacon. And so if you’re recommending that, I have to try it out.

Matt:  I was recommended it as if you’re downtown, there’s kind of like… There’s Iron Works, which is good, but it’s right around the conventions areas and it’s fine. And then you sort of get the Black’s Barbecue. Like across Lady Bird is pretty good. But someone said La Barbecue is good, it’s just they have one line and they’re not in a hurry and it takes forever to get your food. But I had some time on, so I went down there and it was some of the barbecue I’ve ever had. I had just a little bit of a few different things, and it was amazing. We’ve already wasted a good eight, nine minutes talking about all kinds of fun things, which I knew we were going to do because you’re such a cool guy, but I want to make sure we definitely talk about marketing.

One of the reasons, I mean, look, there’s lots of things we could cover, but wanted to talk about this report you guys just put out around the B2B Buying Disconnect. And you’ve done a version of this report, a few different times. A new one just came out a couple of weeks ago. And maybe first, just kind of for people that aren’t as familiar, just talk a little bit about what is TrustRadius, what does TrustRadius do? And then maybe give us a little introduction to this research.

Russ:  Sure. TrustRadius is a B2B review site and review platform. We serve lots of, lots of different categories of software and hardware. We’ve got about 1.2 million visitors a month, checking us out, reading about the software, making choices. And we’re known for really high quality, really deep reviews. Our average review is 408 words. And so that produces both good information for the buyers and really strong intent signals for the sellers of software. But because that’s what we do, we kind of have to know about the software market.

It’s kind of our beat. And so for the past number of years, we’ve done this survey, the B2B Buying Disconnect. Typically a survey of over a thousand software buyers and vendors to get a sense of trends that are going on. And I always love doing it. It’s a deep, deep research piece. It’s like 80 pages or whatever. Very, very deep. But this year, because there are so many changes in 2020, pandemic, really generations shifting in terms of buying, a huge number of changes. It’s the most dynamism I’ve seen in the market report ever, which makes it a really cool time to be in the business that I’m in.

Matt:  There were 10 takeaways, and we’ll put a link to this up on the website, but there were 10 key takeaways from the report. And certainly, I mean, COVID has changed the buying journey. But I think it sometimes feels like it would be an excuse to say, “Well, COVID had made this big impact.” Because a lot of these changes maybe have accelerated the impact and accelerated the depth to which they’re happening this year. But like a lot of things, I think some of these changes were slowly and suddenly. So of the key takeaways that you took from this report, what are things that you think are the most urgent for sellers to consider as they approach how they manage their buying journey moving into 2021?

Russ:  Well, the biggest thing is you’re not selling to the same person you used to, and that drives all these other changes. Just like you said, Matt, COVID accelerated these changes. It didn’t cause them. Millennials are now 60% of the B2B tech buying market. And we think of millennials, sitting and having their avocado toast or whatnot. No. Millennials now are in midlife. They have mortgages, they have real jobs. They have senior executive jobs, and they are making the purchasing decision that 60% of the market. Boomers almost off the radar, Gen X, about 30%. And you’re starting to see Gen Y creep in, and you’ve got a few percentage points of those making decisions.

So that means they don’t particularly listen to analysts, maybe 20% of them consult analysts. They’re much more likely to consult peer reviews, which is obviously what’s driven our growth this year. They use a lot of information sources, 6.9 information sources. They make decisions collaboratively. There’s always a buying committee and the buying committee is bigger than it used to be. You’re no longer selling to the CIO, you’re selling to a group. And I think 87% of people want a lot of self-serve options along the buyer’s journey. They don’t want to call a rep and be guided, they want to drive their own journey.

Matt:  So I think the difference between sort of analyst reports and peer reviews is an interesting dichotomy. Because I think there clearly are still analysts. We still see in every industry, there are expensive analysts that take a lot of money from vendors and there are buyers that still listen to them. Has the nature of the buyers changed? I mean, I still see big companies sometimes still are more likely to go to an analyst to look for, to get some recommendations. But the analyst industry is flawed in a few different ways, not only because of the paper play nature of the relationship. Why do you think 33% less people, in just from three, four years ago, are using analysts firms than they were? Why is that dip happening?

Russ:  I mean, a few things. There’s the generational thing. I will confess to being a boomer. I’m one of the few remaining, I think sometimes in the workforce. But I grew up knowing that you work with Gardener, you work with Forester, you work with the analysts, many Gen X people had the similar trajectory and there’s a new generation of buyers that don’t view it that way. They didn’t grow up making decisions that way. So there’s that piece of it. And then there’s the democratization of the process. It is now, again, a buying committee, 6.9 people. They’re all going to want a lot of different perspectives.

And just as people have gotten very used to… This barbecue place that you mentioned, La Barbecue, is that it?

Matt:  That’s it.

Russ:  The first thing I do before I go there, I’m going to read some reviews of it, right? Anybody’s going to do that. And that’s affecting the B2B purchase process. It’s becoming how we buy the trick, of course, is finding trustworthy reviews that are insightful enough that they really help you.

Matt:  Yeah. I know we need to take a break here and pay some bills, but we got a lot more questions here around the buying process, the disconnects that are happening, some of the trends. That whether you have analysts covering your space or not, I think the nature of buyers and peer reviews, the dynamics happening there, is definitely something you’re going to want to hear more about. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.

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Matt:  All right. Well, let’s pick it right back up with our guests today. VP of Marketing for TrustRadius. Russ, you mentioned right before we went to break the idea of people that were sort of looking at reviews and trying to figure out what reviews they can trust. And one of the things I think a lot of people worry about is like, “Okay. Like I’m looking for reviews, I’m seeing reviews. I’m seeing negative reviews.” Like I can’t remember the last time I saw something that had perfect pristine five stars. What’s the nature of how people look at those negative reviews today? I think sellers freak out about having negative reviews, but honestly, I think sometimes negative reviews add credibility to the positive reviews. How are buyers looking at those?

Russ:  Well, go into consumer research. You look at Bazaarvoice, the pioneer of the review industry for consumers, and they found that there was what they called a J curve. An average you’d have 80% net positive, 20% negative. What’s really interesting is those few negative reviews add credibility because people don’t trust a product with only five star reviews. My TrustRadius truth sells shirt, it has four stars on it, not five. And that’s deliberate because we believe no product, including ours, is perfect. So they look for that as a sign of authenticity. The other thing as a seller that you have to remember is a negative review gives you two things.

It gives you priceless product feedback, and it gives you the opportunity to show that you’re an authentic company, not just a corporate weasel. And the way you do that second thing is you comment back. You comment back and say, “Hey, I’m sorry, you had a bad support experience.” “Hey, I’m sorry, the interfaces and what you’ve expected. I’ve taken that guidance back to the product team.” And there’s the old quote. The cup that’s been broken and amended is stronger than it was before. If you engage with your customers like that, you build stronger relationships, not weaker ones. And you signal to everybody else that you’re authentic and you care about them. And you’re open.

Matt:  Now, your research really focuses on tech buying. And I would argue that even if you’re not selling a technology product, I wouldn’t pay attention to a lot of these findings. There are echoes in other industries we’re working in as well. One of the things we sort of joke about a lot is the tech buyers just hate B2B marketing tactics. They hate being sold to, they hate marketing that looks like marketing. I think we all hate marketing that looks like marketing. We don’t like it when people sort of speak down to us and seem condescending. Let’s unpack this a little bit. What specifically do tech buyers not like, and how do we create more authentic experiences to build trust and credibility with this audience?

Russ:  That’s a really good question. I mean, what’s interesting is buyers hate something when it’s not done well, and they like it when it is done well, but the things they list as gripes. Getting too many emails, uninformed cold calls from aggressive sales reps, a generic sales pitch that’s not tailored to them non-personalized communication. It’s interesting buyers say they really don’t like chatbots. And yet when you look at results, they’re remarketing tool that plainly does deliver results when they’re used well. So I think it all comes down to thinking about what’s that buyer experience? What do they want at that time? This goes back to the fact that 87% of them want to drive their own journey. Are you helping them choose a point on their journey or are you pushing a chatbot or an email at them when they’re not interested?

Matt:  Well, and part of that also relates to the speed which the seller wants to go, right? I mean, everyone needs to hit a number, everyone wants to sort of fill their pipeline and get more appointments scheduled, but your prospects aren’t necessarily working at that same speed. And I think that’s where we sometimes see that friction. Sometimes three steps are faster than one to get to the relationship you want, to get to the next step that you want. How do we encourage more marketers to have that discipline and patience to match what their customers are?

Russ:  The most frustrating thing to me as a marketer is that nobody wants to get in my funnel. No one is interested in being in a funnel, right? And what has changed things a lot for me in marketing over the past five years is getting a lot better at letting my customers do the talking, letting them speak, putting them on podiums or using their words from reviews, et cetera, building word of mouth and letting them sell each other because bluntly people are not interested in my marketing, in my wordsmith marketing. So I’d rather as much as possible echo what an actual customer says in their voice and use that. But it does require patience.

Matt:  It’s a challenge. And it’s sometimes easier said than done for people that are sort of in a hurry, that have to hit a number, that want to move things forward. Russ, the other element that I think is interesting here is as marketing continues to mature, as it continues to get more complex, you and I don’t necessarily believe that we can create code and write the product, but everyone in the company thinks that they can be a marketer. And I’m not going to go into detail on sort of why I think you’re laughing and why I think I’m bringing this up.

Because there was a really funny story from last week, just an example of well-meaning people that say, “Well, why can’t you do it this way?” As frustrating as that can be sometimes, I think as marketing leaders, this is an opportunity to help educate people. Like you got well-meaning people that want to do the right thing. How do we help the organization understand that marketing is more than arts and crafts, understand that marketing was more than likes and tweets, that there’s the science behind it? What are the ways we can help the organization lean into that?

Russ:  Good question. And man, it’s tough because we all want to explain rather than educate. But think about the best teacher you ever in any subject, Matt. What made that teacher different for you?

Matt:  I think because they made it interesting.

Russ:  They made it interesting. And one of the ways they made it interesting is they listened to you and they figured out what would interest you. You have to listen to what sales says, to what engineering, says to what finance says. Understand their point of view so you can coach your message in a way that educates them on what they need to know. I mean, I used to be super impatient about this. I used to be the guy that slammed his fist on the table and said, “You guys just don’t understand marketing.” And I’ve learned that taking a much softer approach, asking what their concerns are, and slowly educating people and bringing them along does a lot more. It’s hard. It’s just like bringing a buyer along. It requires patience and they want to drive their own journey. So give them some control, listen to them, and just patiently educate and remember, “I’m not an expert in engineering. I don’t expect to be. The engineer is also not an expert in marketing and in her humble moments, she will admit.”

Matt:  All right, let’s talk. We’ve got a few more minutes before we have to wrap up here. Let’s talk about 2021. We are into a new year. There are some things behind us and there’s plenty of headwinds still ahead for us. I think we did just a quick LinkedIn question a couple of weeks ago about when people expect in-person meetings to come back. And the vast majority were either second half of 2021, or just hanging up and wait for 2022. A lot of money goes to events typically for marketers. So that’s money that either is on the table for other channels or off the table until events come back in whatever form they look like. It looks like tech spending continues to look good for next year. What are some of the ways that marketers are going to be successful in attracting those tech spenders in 2021?

Russ:  It’s really good question. It seems like a lot more of sort of conversational and engagement marketing will make a difference. People are looking for replacements for field marketing and, Matt, frankly, you have done an awesome job for that with the CMO group, right, and those Friday morning meetings that’s become must-see and I’d rather do that than go to a conference any day. So I think there’s going to be some returning to the norm in terms of spend levels, but the channels are going to be, the buyer’s journey was already 67% digital. You’ve got to assume it’s pretty much 100% digital. And even when we go back to physical events, digital is no longer a side show. Digital is perhaps going to be the main channel, which means that any ability to convey your authenticity and your value through that goes from nice to have to got to have.

Matt:  Yeah, we talked earlier about sort of slowly and then suddenly. And I think those shifts have certainly accelerated this year. COVID didn’t create the shift to digital, it accelerated it. It didn’t create the shift inside field sales, it just accelerated it, right? So I think we’re definitely going to see more of that. But we’re going to see some really creative uses of events moving forward. Not only just people doing more regional local events, smaller events versus big national, multinational events. And I agree with you as well. I think the coffee talk has worked well because it’s been where the community is content, the community is the events. I mean, we created a venue, but that doesn’t work unless people in the community are part of that. I think everyone has an opportunity for that. And I think specifically back to the idea of IT buyers, there are certainly a lot of IT buyers that are looking for their community and their peers to help them make decisions as well.

Russ:  Yeah. I mean, it’s all about the reason field events always worked is you got your customers and your prospects together and they talked and you hosted. So I would ask how can we continue to do that digitally and continue to find new ways to do that?

Matt:  Last question for you as we would have to wrap up here in just a minute, Russ. We’re at the end of 2020, thankfully. We’re still mostly working from home. And a lot of things that we are used to doing have still been disrupted. What’s something that you’re looking forward to doing again once markets open up and once we start to be able to get outside of our homes again? What’s something you’re looking forward to getting back to you and maybe what’s something that you’re not looking forward to going back to that it has not been a part of your year as much this year, and you’re looking forward to it not being a part of your life moving forward?

Russ:  I mean, what’s interesting about COVID and us going full remote and all of those things is it gives us the ability to choose what we add back. So what I’m looking forward to, I got to be honest, I’m going to say having a drink with some people. Seeing my team, seeing other marketers, sitting down face to face and having a drink and some social time, even though I’m an introvert, I miss that. A thing that I’m not looking forward to adding back, and that I think we won’t add back is, you have to be at the office. We’ve long since passed the point of measuring productivity by butts in seats as it were. And at this point we’ve all learned how to be super productive remote. So I think this is a chance for us and our teams to be free. And if we need to be in the office to collaborate, awesome, let’s go do that. And if I need to work from home, great, let’s do that. So I’m looking forward to that. I’m going to go back to work on my terms, that’s what I’m saying, Matt.

Matt:  Yeah. No, I agree. And I think we’re fortunate to work in an industry and to have jobs where we don’t have to be in a factory pulling a chain with others to put out a widget and we can kind of have a lot more flexibility on the how and where the work gets done. So I think that’s fun. I think also, as I asked that question a lot of people, definitely various themes of, I miss people comes up pretty frequently, even for those of you less like you and I that are more on the introverted side. Well, we’re going to run out of time here. Thank you very much for joining us.

Thank you, Russ, for joining us today. Thank you everyone for listening. We are going to put a link to the 2021 B2B Buying Disconnect Report up in the show notes so you can download the report. But also Russ and his team have put an exhaustive blog post together that has a lot of the great insights that you’re going to want to pay attention to if you’re selling to tech buyers into the new year. On behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks again for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.

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Sales Pipeline Radio is sponsored and produced by Heinz Marketing on the Funnel Radio Channel.  I interview the best and brightest minds in sales and Marketing.  If you would like to be a guest on Sales Pipeline Radio send an email to Sheena.