Customer-led growth (CLG) is a buzzy topic these days.
In addition to us at TestBox, companies like Catalyst, Forrester, and SlapFive have written in-depth guides on how to grow by providing a great customer experience and turning existing customers into brand advocates. The result is higher retention, more expansion, and an ever-growing number of leads coming in through word-of-mouth referrals.
One thing is often missing from the CLG narrative, though: the buying process.
When companies expand customer-led growth to include customer-led buying, the results are even more exceptional.
Customer-led buying is the process of giving your customers:
Instead of forcing them into a one-size-fits-all model, you let them choose how they want to engage with you.
After all, some prospects may desire a high-touch approach with lots of sales calls while others prefer a low-touch approach where they can figure it out on their own. Customer-led buying lets them stay in their comfort zone, resulting in increased sales.
At TestBox, we’ve seen firsthand how effective this approach can be for B2B companies. With TestBox, software companies can provide every lead with a fully functional proof of concept environment that the lead can use to evaluate the software in-depth before purchasing it.
Customers who've used TestBox to implement customer-led buying have seen their conversion rates soar. Zendesk increased its conversion rate by 23% once it began using TestBox with prospects, and Dixa saw its conversion rates improve by 150%.
Companies that focus the buying experience on what customers want and need — rather than what the company and its sales and marketing teams need — see higher revenue, spend less time selling, and acquire customers who are much less likely to churn.
Typically when you're buying software, you have to choose a path. Let’s look at the flaws in two of the most common approaches.
One path is a sales-led process, which, if implemented poorly, can make a prospect feel like they’re auditioning to be a customer — as if they need to prove they’re worthy (i.e., smart enough, have a large enough budget, and work with a team that’s big enough).
Then, they often have to go through a convoluted funnel that forces them to talk to multiple reps, navigate confusing pricing options, and guess at the product's fit for their needs. Plus, they’ve got to do all that with multiple vendors at the same time.
Keep in mind, most people are not experts at buying software; they do it only once every few years. So all of this takes tons of time and energy and blocks them from focusing on their normal work tasks. The whole process can be extremely unpleasant.
Another path is a product-led path, where the vendor takes a hands-off approach. These companies throw people into their product(s) and see if they sink or swim.
For tools that work “off the shelf,” this can work well. But there are a lot of products where this approach is a bad fit; they’re too complicated, hard to explain, or difficult otherwise. People start a free trial but get lost very quickly (“What do I even do here?”), resulting in rapid churn. Prospects fail to ever fully unlock the true power of the product.
As you can see, both of these approaches can easily result in a missed connection between buyer and seller.
A customer-led buying experience combines product-led and sales-led approaches into one that truly works for all sides.
Customer-led buying gives customers the option to choose how they want to engage with you. Some may want the guidance of a sales call while others prefer to jump in and learn on their own. It lets buyers choose their own adventure, picking the path they prefer the most.
But beyond that, it ensures that buyers get a guided experience regardless of which path they choose. They’re no longer forced to choose between these two options:
Instead, it gives buyers the ability to successfully and fully evaluate your software whether they choose a high-touch or low-touch approach.
As mentioned earlier, TestBox sells software that makes it easier than ever to give buyers a guided experience they can navigate when it’s convenient for them. Plus, TestBox playgrounds are populated with relevant data so the trial feels nearly identical to the true user experience. Buyers can actually test different workflows to really get a feel for the product — as opposed to an empty environment with no configurations.
It’s not a mere demo or someone explaining the product; it’s a way to give them the keys to the castle immediately.
This is also great for vendors because you don’t have to waste time with excessive hand-holding. People get value from your solution as quickly as possible; no more wasting time on goose-chase sales efforts. Quickly and confidently, both sides find out whether your tool is the right fit.
There’s comfort in the security factor of this approach, too. Prospects don’t need to bring in their own data upfront. (Larger companies understandably have security concerns around sharing data in that way.) By inserting sample data that functions the way a particular type of customer will use the tool, you’re bypassing this potential pitfall.
So why isn’t everyone's buying process customer-led already?
One challenge is that it requires a company-wide vision. Creating a functional test environment can be a hard problem to solve from a technical perspective since it requires real data, useful workflows, pre-configured use cases, etc. Not every company has the bandwidth to align sales and product teams this way.
Another common issue: In many companies, the sales team is operating separately from the rest of the company. However, a customer-led approach requires everyone in the company to focus on the same goals.
For example, with CLG, customer success should tell sales which customers love the product most so sales knows how to identify high-quality prospects in the future. Similarly, product can look at user data and see which actions successful customers take and relay that to sales since that can also help identify perfect-fit prospects.
The result is that everyone becomes more efficient. The whole company winds up aligned around generating high-quality leads and converting them.
Below are some ways B2B companies can shift toward a customer-led buying experience. Let’s contrast customer-led buying to the “old way” of doing things.
The old way: Prioritize what your sales and marketing teams want.
Start prioritizing customers long before you make the sale. Put prospects’ wants and needs at the forefront of every marketing asset you create and at the center of every sales interaction. Make the buying journey all about what they need and whichever decision is best for them.
The old way: Exclusively focus on increasing conversion rates regardless of fit.
Get picky. Create a shared document that describes your ideal customer profile. What do your best customers have in common? Some good questions to ask:
Identify your ideal prospects, and try to find new customers with those traits. Recognize how much time is wasted trying to convert those who don’t fit — and who will wind up bailing eventually. Instead, aim to convert those who are most aligned as opposed to only caring about general conversion rates.
It’s okay to lose a prospect if they’re a bad fit. In fact, it saves you time in the long run because you don’t have to wind up dealing with a dissatisfied customer.
Finally, be honest about what your tool does and doesn't do. Don’t be afraid to show comparisons to other products. It’s not about sweet-talking any random person into using your product. If a prospect is really invested in live chat and there’s another tool that works better for that use case, don’t be afraid to say so.
The old way: Sales reps engage in constant hand-holding and must be “on call” to explain how the product works.
Let prospects kick the tires on their own. Give them access before forcing them to do a demo call. Avoid unnecessary conversations with sales reps whenever possible.
Keep in mind that this needs to go beyond the typical product-led free trial experience. Dropping users into an empty trial and expecting them to just figure it out on their own is a good way to lose those prospects to a competitor. Instead, you need to make sure that your try-before-you-buy experience is just as informative as your guided sales experience.
Traditionally, product-led companies have tried to accomplish this in two ways:
Unfortunately, both of these approaches have major drawbacks:
Fortunately, there are other, better ways to solve these problems. More on that below.
The old way: Prospects are dumped into a blank slate where they need to create an account from scratch.
Let customers tell you right at the start which process works best for them — self-serve or sales-assisted. If it’s the former, give prospects a better free trial experience:
Make your trial function for your leads like it will after they've adopted your product. Don't just tell them what they can do; let them experience it.
The old way: Every prospect sees the same features and data.
Offer different data sets specifically tailored to each prospect. Make it easy for them to get to and test what they care about the most.
A CRO might need to see completely different data and test completely different features than a director of sales.
Let each prospect see the data they need to see within the workflows they care about most.
The old way: Follow up with all leads at the same cadence and with the same message and assets.
Measure how prospects are using test accounts. Note who’s activated their accounts, number of logins, time spent in the tool, use cases, etc. That way your sales reps have true insight into how prospects are using it and can follow up with relevant, personalized information.
While technology and market competitiveness may constantly change, one fundamental principle remains the same — businesses succeed by effectively meeting customer needs. It is in this understanding that we find the true power and potential of a customer-led buying approach.
This new frontier, however, demands close collaboration between sales, product, and customer success teams. Technologies like TestBox are set to enable such collaborations, making it easier than ever to move to a customer-led approach to selling software.
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