Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why Business Executives are the New IT Buying Center

Several times a week the IDC CMO Advisory Service gets inquiries from tech company clients about how to shift their company mindset to a new and different buyer.  IDC's IT Buyer Experience Study shows that business buyers have 53% of buying influence in the earliest part of buyer's journey and their influence stays high throughout the entire process.  The tech buyer's influence, while still important, is comparatively waning.

A successful shift to a business-buyer approach will accelerate if you understand what's behind it.

Front office automation has more business risk than back office automation.  The 2nd Wave (as IDC calls the client-server era) was mainly about automating things inside your company.  The 3rd Wave (as IDC calls the current era of cloud, mobile, social, and big data) is about automating your connections to the outside world (I call it the company "skin").  When tech problems happened deep in inside your company, it was frustrating but not devastating.  The worst business tech problem of the 2nd Wave was being too slow to adopt new technology leaving competitors or upstarts to sail past you with business process advances.  That problem is still a concern today.  However, add the horror of screwing up in front of customers, investors, influencers, indeed, the whole world!  Just ask the CEO of Target.  Business executives are forced to pay attention to technology today – whether they want to or not. IDC forecasts that business executive budgets for technology will outstrip IT budgets.



Technology is easier and prettier now. Back in the day it took a real expert to understand the ins and outs of information technology products.  The products were intimidatingly gray and beige and filled with exposed wires and chips.  They hummed, got hot, and sparked out with regularity.  No wonder the finance and marketing execs wanted to leave those suckers alone.  Now most of those wires and chips are moving to the "cloud".  Doesn't that sound nicer?  Devices you touch are smooth and have pictures. Better design makes technology 99% invisible (to quote the title of one of my favorite podcasts).

Business executives are smarter and more confident about technology.  Back in the day, technology was a startling thing that business people in the prime of their careers had never seen, much less used.  I remember one intelligent, capable, and admired, C-suite executive who used to have his administrative assistant print out his email because he wasn't quite sure how to use it.  Now, anyone younger than 60 came of age with PCs and programmable everything.  Information about technology is available at everyone's fingertips and accessing opinions from your professional network is incredibly easy. While a portion of the population will always be skeptical or frightened about the next new thing – it's not likely to be IT that they are scared of (drones, anyone?).

Here are some steps you can take to accelerate the shift to a business-buyer focus:
  • Bring focus on the business decision-maker up to par with the technology decision-maker.  This is the Goldilocks strategy – not too much but not too little. For most new tech installations, IT will no longer instigate nor approve nor pay.  However, at some point the business executives will want to bring in their IT partner to take over some aspects of the decision.  Keeping adjusting your investments in content, campaigns, training, etc. until you've reached a balance in results.  Because this is a change you will have to overinvest in activity to achieve new results.
  • Take clues from the shifts described above. Focus value propositions on front office business problems.  Build in cloud, mobile, social, and big data messages and capabilities (IDC says 90% of IT growth is coming from these areas). Make the "ugly" of tech 99% invisible – in your customer engagement, your sales discussions, and in the products themselves.  But that doesn't mean be fluffy. Much of what is called "thought leadership" is astonishingly useless.  People are trying to solve real business problems.
The worm has turned as the saying goes. We are never going back to the old way.  Tech companies who succeed will be the ones to step up to investments they need to make to serve the empowered business buyer.

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