December 06, 2023
It has been a hot minute since I purchased a major piece of enterprise software.
These days, I’m focused on how the energy trading landscape is evolving—especially around renewable natural gas and carbon credits—and how our product suite will grow to support those emerging needs.
So, it was simultaneously refreshing and jarring to find myself back in the role of ETRM buyer when asked for help by an industry friend.
Here are some of the things that stood out as we worked our way through the process.
Whereas individual purchases can be—and often are—made on a whim, B2B purchases follow a longer and more convoluted process.
There are usually multiple actors involved—from technical influencers to financial approvers to decision makers and more.
Each of those characters embarks on their own buyer’s journey. Hopefully, their paths intersect at a common decision point and a purchase gets made.
I remembered a chapter on buyer’s journey mapping, written by a colleague in his recent book on marketing, and re-read it on my Kindle during a flight.
It reminded me how relevant the approach can be for B2B software sales.
First comes the awareness phase, where the prospective buyer recognizes a need and seeks to understand how it might be resolved, what that solution might cost, and what value might be created through its implementation.
If finding a solution seems worthwhile, the buyer moves on to the evaluation stage, uncovering, evaluating, and comparing potential solutions to their challenge.
Assuming one or more of those solutions is sufficiently attractive, they enter the selection stage where final questions are answered, terms negotiated, and a purchase made.
The journey continues through implementation—where real value is created (and hopefully exceeds the buyer’s expectations)—and ends with loyalty, when the buyer renews their purchase and advocates positively for the brand.
Here’s how I experienced the first three stages.
This wasn’t my challenge to solve; it belonged to my buddy.
Nevertheless, we spent considerable time discussing why an ETRM system was needed, the ongoing cost—some of it probabilistic—of not implementing a superior toolset, and the various value propositions a new solution could deliver.
This “naming and framing”, as my author colleague likes to call it, is an important first step.
Without a clear understanding of the status quo and the issues it is causing, it becomes perilously difficult to compare alternatives and justify a purchase.
This is why too many buyer’s journeys end up back where they started, sticking with the status quo.
I’m no stranger to ETRM systems, having worked in the sector for more than a decade.
So, my evaluation criteria are relatively straightforward:
I have little interest in vendor demos, but they’re a necessary evil without which it’s hard to know if they offer the functionality for which I’m looking.
I’m more interested in ease of use, which requires me—and other members of the team—to actually step through some workflows within the product we are evaluating.
The last part—vendor competence and customer experience—are elements that grow on me as the evaluation unfolds.
I was pleased to see some companies nurturing prospective customers through their buying journeys.
They offered a series of “How do I?” videos and related documentation to familiarize us rapidly with the platform and validate standard workflows.
They had created a sandbox that allowed us to explore the user experience—something that would also pay dividends during implementation as a safe space for user training.
Some providers asked us for existing reports and showed us how to find the closest equivalents within their platform.
Each of these steps evoked a sense of comfort, assuaging the fear of change that software implementation inevitably stirs up by showcasing the new user process and delineating where software customization would be required.
Demos that started with familiar reports and then moved through sandbox sessions where representative data was manipulated were especially easy for prospective users to follow and understand.
Not every company was so diligent, of course.
One vendor rushed so fast through their demo that we reached the end of our call without any real understanding of how the pieces would fit together.
They didn’t make it to the selection stage.
In my experience, there’s almost always a standout solution on the table, followed by one or two close contenders.
While functionality, ease of use, and vendor support were the primary factors driving our decision, price—or, more accurately, expected return on investment—could not be overlooked.
Business leaders rightly want to know what the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) will be, including any non-recurring costs for customization and integration.
One vendor made this very easy, offering a straightforward TCO calculator that projected software costs and returns over 3 and 5 years. That was a huge help.
It still left us to project associated cost savings (for example, being able to handle the same number of trades in 40% fewer man hours), intangible value added, and the risked cost of doing nothing—each an important input to a robust ROI calculation.
Like many B2B transactions, our journey to making a purchase decision wasn’t as neat and linear as the books or this blog post might make it sound.
We circled back more than once to revisit our initial assumptions, challenge whether we were solving the right problems, and request new information from vendors when we realized there was a question we hadn’t yet asked.
A realistic buyer’s journey map would look more like a spaghetti noodle in boiling water than a one-way street from awareness to implementation.
It struck me that vendors who understand and cater to the buyer’s journey fare much better than those for whom a sales funnel is more important.
The sales funnel is a valuable tool for tracking the progress of groups of prospects as they become successively more likely to buy—from achieving marketing qualification, to sales qualification, to opportunity definition, to close.
However, it tells the organization very little about what an individual prospect needs to learn to make the right buying decision for them, nor where they go to find such information.
By mapping and understanding the buyer’s journey, you can learn what types of information will help buyers make efficient progress through the various stages.
You can also identify where best to make that information available—and in what formats—for it to be most readily available and relevant to prospects when they need it.
This is probably how the most compelling vendors chose to make their how-to videos (and what topics they should cover) or to build the sandbox that proved to be a highly effective channel for conveying user experience and workflow information.
Although my journey culminated in a recommendation to others, rather than an actual decision to buy, I’ve effectively skipped along to the loyalty stage, writing this blog post and advocating—in private forums—for the brands that appreciated and met my needs the best.
My expectation is that you will have a similarly positive experience should you embark on a buyer’s journey around energy transaction management systems and consider Trellis Energy as a potential provider.
Whenever you’re ready to start that journey, please drop me a line. I’ll gladly be your guide.
At Trellis Energy, we believe that a modern natural gas supply chain should be digital, efficient, and easy to manage, ensuring the delivery of clean energy when and where it’s needed. We’re in business to make that a reality for natural gas in North America.
Talk to us about Digital Simplification for your climate, trading, and logistics goals.
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