As I get back to the blog after a summer hiatus, one of the trends impacting B2B marketers is how B2B buyers are operating with a “cloud” mentality and expectations these days. It isn’t just technology companies like Microsoft figuring out how to move their product offering, business model and pricing to “the cloud.”
Companies providing services to B2B buyers need to adapt to the corporate buyer’s new expectations: that services are “packaged” like products, priced “by the drink,” are available without a long-term contract, and that make an immediate impact on financial results. Packaging services like products isn’t as hard as many marketers make it sound. Making services feel more like products – or “making the invisible visible”— really boils down to understanding who your customers are, how your customers are using your services, what “features” of the service they use the most and find the most valuable, how do they want to buy/pay for the service, and what kind of a commitment do they want to make.
Once you understand these essential elements, you can use them to “package” your services as products that service specific customer needs, delivered in a way they want to consume them, and priced the way they want to buy them. This also makes it fairly straightforward to assign a specific return on investment expectation to each “product” so that your customer can make the connection between what you offer and how they can grow revenue and/or reduce expense. This alone will enable many B2B marketers to help their companies set themselves apart from competitors who make it nearly impossible to connect the investment in the service with a specific outcome. Finally, while some customer segments are interested in long-term contracts because of their specific industry or business model, most companies are looking to make shorter commitments even if your current service offer is not set up to be sold that way. In addition to slowing down your sales cycle, this also results in significantly narrowing the universe of buyers for your service.
Once you understand how your customer would like to buy, you may need to re-think how you can deliver your productized service in a way that allows your customer to buy by the month or year vs. multi-year contracts. There are many ways to do this, depending on your specific service and business model, including increasing the monthly fees for shorter term contracts to cover your upfront costs, having a balloon payment at the end should a customer leave you before you have recouped your start-up costs, or offering financing through a third-party so your customer can avoid having to come up with upfront cash while benefiting from a fixed monthly fee.
At the end of the day, B2B marketers are going continue to have to keep thinking like consumer marketers with an eye for making their company products and services available in a “cloud-like” way.