Sometimes it seems as if the role of IT in the customer buying process is either not known or misunderstood. However, IT is always a critical component in the purchase of technology.
Over the last few decades IT systems have evolved from back-office tools (finance, accounting) to customer-facing, i.e. Customer Relationship Management or CRM. IT not only provides innovation and transformation, but also keeps costs down while efficiently supporting the daily operational needs of the business. Typically, the focus of IT includes:
- Providing Utility – the focus is on keeping the business running
- Serving as Protector — manages the IT estate
- Being a Performer — delivers tangible value and improvements to the business
- Acting as the Transformer — brings substantial or transformational change to the business
How Does IT Get Involved in the Customer Buying Process?
Triggers are the events or situations that would cause IT to become involved in the technology being considered for purchase. In most cases, there are two general triggers for the involvement of IT:
- Initiate – IT leads the purchase process to solve a need or requirement brought to their attention by the business unit
- Evaluate – IT is pulled into the purchase process by the customer’s buying process
Scenario – IT Leads the Customer’s Buying Process
In the scenario where IT initiates or leads the project, IT represents the needs of the business and reaches out to vendors. IT typically approaches a vendor on a quest for self-education. This is because IT has “been to this movie before” – i.e. buying technology – and know where they have been burned, what has worked, what they need and most importantly, what they are not looking for in a solution. IT is comprised of technical individuals who understand technology and are quite current on the market, technologies and vendors in the marketplace. As such, these individuals are not necessarily going to believe what is said or what is handed to them from a vendor. They will want access to information and perform their own analysis to determine if there is truth to vendor claims as well as potential value to the business.
Typically IT has an established, formal process that is rigorously followed. This is because IT personnel are quite seasoned and disciplined in making, implementing and supporting technology purchases. IT is very comfortable downloading data sheets, reports, searching forums, attending seminars, webinars, participating in demos, approaching vendors at tradeshows and entertaining sales calls.
Sometimes the business will identify an unmet need. A list of business requirements is then drawn up and communicated to IT. IT not only has to understand the business need but expand its mindset to understand the whether the existing IT infrastructure will meet the need. This includes understanding whether the functionality exists today from previous investments, if the best course of action is to build a solution, leverage an existing solution or whether purchasing a new solution from a vendor is the best course of action.
In general, but not always, the larger the organization the earlier the better for IT’s involvement in an IT purchase because of the impact on architecture, support levels and costs.
Scenario – IT is Pulled into the Customer’s Buying Process
Sometimes a business unit with a business need sets out to address that need on their own. Depending upon the customer’s buying process, the business unit may need to obtain IT’s approval for technical, support, cost or together reasons. IT’s involvement can then be required almost anywhere in the vendor’s sales process. Often this can signal a stalled or troubled deal if the velocity of the deal slows and the close date is pushed out.
Why does this happen? Because IT has to play catch-up – i.e. learn the internal business requirements and begin their own research process. The purchase process stagnates and may even digress as IT begins their due diligence. This process can take considerable time and may come to a different conclusion for whether to build, buy or partner.
It’s important to note that once IT is actively included in the buying process a host of potential issues arise:
- Politics develops as the business unit is perceived to have gone around IT
- IT needs to develop its understanding of the business need
- IT needs to develop its understanding of the technology best suited to solve the business problem
- IT needs to determine if it is best to build, buy or extend the functionality of an existing solution already purchased
- IT follows a structured process developed for evaluating vendor solutions
If an IT organization has technology in-house that either provides or is perceived to provide functionality similar to that which is under consideration, the business unit will have an uphill battle. This is particularly true if the vendor of the existing technology has a solid relationship with IT or if there has been a substantial investment made in that solution. In that those scenarios, the amount of effort to de-seat the incumbent will be significant.
Questions and concerns that IT may raise include:
- Are technical comparisons and white papers available?
- What’s required to manage the offering?
- How does this integrate with the existing IT environment?
- Who will support the offering, how much time and how many people are required?
- Will this offering reduce IT complexity (fewer applications, conflicts, integration)?
- Is this a true SaaS offering?
- What security has been incorporated into the offering?
- What is the TCO, ROI?
- Is this a point tool or a complete solution?
- Is a sandbox environment available?
- Is there a demo of technical functionality?
- Can IT contact a reference with a similar job title in a similar type of company using this offering?
Where Does the Budget Live?
The answer to this crucial question varies by organization – and it’s very important for the sales team to quickly determine whether the purse strings are held by IT or the business unit. In some cases neither the business unit nor IT has the budget and the organization may require the passing of the hat to fund an initiative—which means more constituents to sell to. Or, funding may have to re-appropriated or a new appropriation approved by the board. Regardless of who has the budget or how the budget is obtained, even after the customer buying team agrees to make a purchase the funds still have to be released from finance including terms and conditions, etc.
IT = Smart Buyers Who Do Their Research
Whatever their role in the customer buying process for technology solutions, IT personnel are very diligent and thorough. They will read analyst reports and reviews, attend forums and user groups, and trust their colleagues to do their homework before they connect with a sales rep. They want to learn the “how it works” content from trusted sources. They want to know what is required to effectively manage the technology. And they want to talk to customers with roles similar to theirs to compare notes.
Finally, it’s important for organizations to be able to communicate the strategic level, business benefits message to director-level management and above, and operational level messages – i.e. “Does it make my life easier – not a burden?” to director level- management and below.
Involving the IT function early and thoroughly in the customer buying process vastly improves the sales process and potential outcome. IT involvement can help avoid many problems and pitfalls while greatly increasing the odds that the best technology solution for the organization is purchased.