How Planful uses customer intent to speed up the B2B buying cycle 

How Planful uses customer intent to speed up the B2B buying cycle 

When Rowan Tonkin joined Planful as CMO three years ago, he faced two main challenges. The company, a financial planning and analysis platform had just begun a rebranding effort that included a name change.

“It was evident to me that we needed a better customer reviews program,” said Tonkin. “At the time, Host Analytics, now Planful, had focused all its energy on one reviews platform, G2. That becomes problematic as a brand, especially in a very competitive space, because you need to balance your reviews across all the various platforms otherwise it can be used against you in competitive deals.”

Tonkin needed more reviews in more places, but he also wanted to streamline Planful’s marketing strategy to focus on in-market buyers — the people who had done their research and were close to making a purchase. This required a complete shift in culture, moving away from marketing metrics that focused on leads to metrics that focused on improving reach and engagement with in-market accounts.

A different kind of B2B buyer

Today’s B2B buyer cohort, made up largely of millenials, is much more inclined to research products and solutions online. Last year, Forrester reported that about 90% of 650 tech buyers surveyed want vendors to provide content that’s relevant at every stage of the buying journey. Buyers are guiding themselves down the funnel, gathering information and turning to peers before engaging with vendors.

“I probably buy the most technology out of any buyer here at Planful. We do most of our shopping online before we even start talking to sales reps,” said Tonkin. “That’s true of our space too. We’re trying to talk to very time-crunched directors of FP&A, Directors of Accounting, and CFOs. They don’t have the time to make phone calls. They’re historically using a lot of word of mouth, a lot of community engagement, and a lot of online research.”

Tonkin knew the buying dynamic of his customers, mainly mid-market organizations, tended to be very research intensive. He wanted to create a marketing strategy that leveraged social proof via product reviews and ensure that Planful showed up on reviews websites where buyers discovered tech solutions.

Tonkin had worked with TrustRadius, an online research platform for tech buyers, at prior companies. He knew about their robust reviews program which was initially why he reached out as Planful’s new CMO. 

“Buyers want independent validation of how a product is going to work,” explained Vinay Bhagat, CEO of TrustRadius. “They’ll visit brand’s website. They’ll learn about what it does, but ultimately, they really want to understand the whole truth. They come to us to research categories, read in-depth reviews, run product comparisons, and learn about feature data which includes watching videos, viewing demo content, and accessing pricing intelligence.”

Dig deeper: The B2B customer journey is set on a digital track

Reviews as a gateway to buyer intent

Tonkin was already familiar with the depth and quality of TrustRadius’s reviews and initially reached out to the company for this reason. “I wanted to leverage voice-of-customer content,” he said. “But as we went through the purchasing cycle, I learned that TrustRadius had the ability to bring category level buyer intent data from the platform into our systems.”

TrustRadius has intelligence about who’s shopping, which products they’re evaluating, and indicators of where they are in their journey based upon what content they’re consuming (e.g., Are they accessing pricing data? Are they just researching a category? How do they compare products side by side?”)

Said Bhagat, “We help brands like Planful use what we call downstream buyer intent data to target their advertising and sales outreach. Instead of advertising to the entire world of buyers who may be in their ideal customer profile, they can concentrate their ad spend on the in-market buyers who are most likely to convert. We help them use the data either directly in systems like Salesforce, for BDR outreach in LinkedIn, and through ABM platforms like 6Sense and Demandbase.”

In a very competitive B2B selling environment, Tonkin understood that reaching buyers first, using category level intent data, gave Planful a competitive edge. “It’s almost an arms race to get to the buyer before the other vendors,” he said. “We can reach them not just when they’re searching for Planful, but when they’re searching within the categories we want to play in.”

Combining buyer intent with social proof 

Tonkin’s team was able to leverage TrustRadius’s downstream intent data by pulling it into their instances of Salesforce and 6Sense. 

“Not only do we use it to run our ABM programs, but it’s a great yardstick for us in terms of understanding what to expect with inbound volume,” said Tonkin. “We can use that third-party data from TrustRadius and other providers to know when to expect a dip in our marketing lead volume. That helps me communicate up to my key stakeholders — my CEO and my sales counterparts — why volume is up or down right now.”

Planful procures the category and intent data from TrustRadius and brings it in through their Salesforce connector. Using account normalization, they can then understand which accounts are looking at Planful and the category as a whole. 

The data is then fully integrated into their ABM Platform, 6Sense, and combined with other levels of intent data provided by 6Sense. “That helps us understand how we want to market to these different types of audiences. It helps us determine who is in different stages of buying cycles and which campaigns we should be offering them,” said Tonkin. 

While the product review component of TrustRadius is separate from the downstream intent product, Tonkin uses both pieces of this puzzle in Planful’s marketing strategy. “The review component is more about how we want to show up when a buyer is searching,” he said. “Thankfully, we score really well and that allows us to use reviews as a body of evidence to say to other customers, ‘hey, customers like you write these reviews, and this is what they say about us.’”

A marketing-driven pipeline that works

Since Tonkin implemented the focused approach of targeting in-market buyers, Planful’s marketing campaigns are achieving much greater efficiency.

“The pipeline wins generated by our marketing has increased by 50% and we’ve shortened our sales cycle as well,” said Tonkin. “It’s part of a wider transformation, not just with marketing and sales, but also with the product too. So overall we’re seeing much higher win rates against competitors.”

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Since their pivot to targeting in-market accounts, Planful has seen:

  • Over 15% of accounts in a target segment increase their buying stage.
  • Up to 56% of accounts move from the awareness to the consideration stage.
  • A high return on ad spend (ROAS), reaching almost 2000 accounts for less than $4 each.
  • A 300% increase on reach and engagement across the board.

For Tonkin’s team, focusing on building a more deliberate pipeline is one part of a very intentional transformation. When he started at Planful, they had a lead acquisition strategy and a point of view that was similar to their competitors in the market.

“We not only changed the name, we changed our point of view,” he said. “We changed our narrative. We changed, effectively, the position inside of a new market. We went from lead acquisition to what I would call demand creation and that requires a different set of tactics, a different way of going to market. Again, it’s part of a much bigger, wider transformation that we’ve been on as a business.”

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