The Learner Buyer – Why Software Advice is taking off

An educated software buyer is out there and they want vendors to put that education out on the web for them to peruse. Self-service research and buying is more the norm today. Find out how one firm does it for vendors.
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor

Last week, I spent time in Australia with 16 executives from a number of software companies based there. One of the themes I shared with them was that there were two kinds of buyers: Learners and Knowers. This was a concept I remembered seeing in a sales book in the 1990s but it is even more true today. Learner buyers, essentially are buyers willing (and desiring) to do a lot of homework themselves pre-purchase. A Knower is someone who’s already quite familiar with the goods/software and just wants to effect a quick sale.

Today, there are more and more Learners out there. Why?

- As individuals, we’re all doing a lot of research for our personal purchases on the Internet. We compare products, check pricing, and investigate the credentials of sellers.

- The same buyer research we do in the B-2-C (business to consumer) space is bleeding into the B-2-B (business to business) space.

For those software firms in Australia, I told them that their websites can no longer contain strictly static content. They need their sites to address the needs of the learner buyer. They need to have role-based video content (e.g., “Here’s a 2 minute video that shows how an Accounts Payable clerk will use the new, SaaS-based Amazo Financial software”). They need lots of different case studies, ROI or TCO calculators and more to help the self-service buyer make decisions and more informed decisions. If these firms don't provide this content online, prospective buyers will move on to other vendors who do.

But before these buyers even find these websites, they may need help. That’s where a company like Software Advice may come in.

Software Advice is an Austin, Texas based firm that helps software shoppers find the right solutions for their short-list. Here are the quick, impressive facts:

- Assisted 12,000 organizations find the right solution in the last year alone

- And, they did so for buyers in only six verticals: construction, medical, retail, property, manufacturing and distribution

Software Advice, IT research analyst firms (like my own), and other consultants flourish as buyers seek outside advice re: new solution purchases. They’re not going to just take a vendor’s word for things anymore either. They want to try solutions (a la Software as a Service (SaaS)) before they buy them. Customers today value peer referrals over vendor claims.

This is a good time for solutions like Software Advice as SaaS solutions are creating a discontinuous moment in ERP and other software spaces. Customers may have known their old on-premise options but newer vendors are still quite foreign to them. They need help.

Software Advice does the following:

- Its personnel research a vertical sector deeply. - They identify the software vendors in that space. - They then identify the critical differentiators separating one vendor from the rest - Next, they create short on-line quizzes that help steer a prospect to the right short-list of vendors - Finally, they work very hard to have Software Advisor web pages appear high on dozens of software searches on Google and other search engines

Software Advice can then monetize this buying activity by selling leads to vendors. It will not do so immediately as Software Advice wants to shepherd the prospect through a series of education steps and materials. Why? By doing this, the people at Software Advice know when to send this prospect to a vendor. If they send it too early, the vendor’s sales force will pounce on a lead before they’re ready to buy. The prospect resents it and the vendor feels it’s a waste of time.

I spent time with Don Fornes (CEO of Software Advice) the other day just to learn a bit more about their operation. Interestingly, he sees his firm more as a marketing organization than an IT research or advisory firm.

Bottom line: software buyers today are in fact different than those of even a few years ago. There are more ‘learners’ than ever out there and SaaS offerings are making it more important than ever for prospects to get as much pre-sale information as possible. I totally get Don’s value proposition and I can understand why people seek the information firms like his possess.

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