Blog post

Embracing a New Vendor Model to Respond to the B2B Customer Life Cycle

By Hank Barnes | April 20, 2021 | 2 Comments

Sales Effectiveness and Enablementgo-to-marketProduct Marketing Impact

Back in 2016, Gartner evolved our early view of the customer buying cycle to include what happens after a purchase (the owning cycle) in response to (a) subscription businesses and (b) recognizing we had left it out.   Our conceptual model still holds today and has helped many clients make sense of what they are dealing with in customer engagements.

If you would like a refresher on this, see this post for details.  The basics are that customers don’t engage in a sequential manner, but is instead dynamic and fluid.  They discover and seek information in often random patterns as the make decision to buy, renew, expand, and abandon.  Even after they buy, the pattern continues.

While this helped make senses of things, vendors work from a different context.  For vendors, the customer relationship remains largely sequential.  A prospect becomes a lead. A lead becomes and opportunity. An opportunity becomes a deal (customers).   A customer becomes a renewal or growth opportunity, etc.   And with that sequencing, there are a set of mental, or actual, hand-offs that are used.  Marketing to Sales to Service to Success.

And that’s a problem.

The “hand-off” mindset assumes that customers understand and respect your organizational structure and sequencing.  But they really don’t care.   We see this over and over.    Savvy prospects continue to leverage marketing content and programs after they engage with sales.    These same prospects look for “service content” and communities to get answers to deeper questions before they buy.   Once they are a customer, they are often looking for new ideas (the typical domain of sales and marketing), beyond just receiving good support and service.

To help vendors better engage with buyers in the way they work, we illustrated a conceptual view of customer engagement throughout the life cycle.


The new model reflects the natural sequencing of prospect and customer engagement, but highlight numerous decision paths that may occur once you have  customer.  Do they stay and grow or stay at the same level?  Do they leave and replace or leave and abandon?

But the more important concept here is the idea of the vendor department activity streams.   Rather than a handoff  model between different functions, it is about flows and collaboration.  When a customer is a prospect, they may be supported by marketing, sales, or even customer success: directly  (engaging with them) or indirectly (leveraging assets and services they provide).

Once they are a customer, other groups may step in (frankly, we could have shown other functions like operations that also support customers), but marketing and sales shouldn’t just go away (or absolve themselves of responsibility in customers efforts to achieve value) as they should play a critical role in retention and growth.

As mentioned earlier, customers already break through the artificial boundaries and hand-offs.   The real friction comes when we as vendors don’t embrace this.   It makes supporting customers harder.  It makes conversations to explore growth limited.   It puts undue pressure on individual departments vs.  collaborating to get more leverage from work that has already been done.

Are you ready to embrace this model and mindset?

If you want to dive deeper, the ideas here will be front an center in several presentations at our upcoming event, the Gartner Tech Growth and Innovation Conference.  The event will be help July 20 and 21st and will be conducted virtually.   Get more information and sign up today here.   Beyond these sessions you’ll learn more about Gartner Enterprise Technology Adoption profiles, emerging technologies that are creating opportunities, and risks, for those in the technology business, evolving market dynamics, and practices of leading organizations.



Leave a Comment


  • In the SaaS tech sector, marketers typically have very little involvement in the post-sales environment. Are you anticipating there will be a trend that will emerge where ‘Customer Success’ teams partner more with their ‘Product Marketing’ peers?

    Or did I misinterpret your key points, Hank?

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Yes, that is exactly what we are recommending. Marketing can play a role in supporting both retention and growth efforts, just like customer success could play a role in acquisition. It’s all about thinking about what information and answers customers need and which groups are best equipped to create and/or deliver it (linked to where the customer is likely to go to find it). Customers don’t care about departments.