Technology Buyers Tell Us How to Speed Up the Buying Cycle

IT leaders making enterprise-level technology purchases report that their buying cycle has increased by more than 20% in the last three years, according to IDC’s 2012 Buyer Experience study. They are not happy about this fact and were not shy about telling IDC about how vendors can speed things up.

IDC’s 2012 Buyer Experience Study reveals that CIO’s making enterprise-level technology purchases report that their buying cycle is now longer than five months when multiple vendors are competing for their business.

I find several things interesting about this fact.

1. The length of the B2B tech buying cycle continues to increase.  In 2009, the buying cycle was about 4.5 months and is now 5.4 months. It has increased more than 20% in three years.

2. IT executives have consistently told IDC that they would like their buying cycle to be shorter. Three months seems to feel about right to them – which is 40% less than what they currently experience. The CIO’s readily admit that their own companies are to blame for most of the delays – 60.8% of the delay they attribute to their own buying process complexity.  More people are now involved in each decision, for example. However, 35.6% of the delay, IT leaders say is caused by poor marketing and sales processes on the part of the vendors.

Clare Gillan, IDC Senior Vice President of Executive and Go-to-Market Programs, told the audience at the recent IDC CMO Advisory client meeting that survey participants were very clear on how vendors could help them speed up the buying cycle. Here is advice from the IT leaders along with just a few quotes:

  • Listen: “Listen to what we are asking and what we want before presenting a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all solution.”
  • Justify: “Help us write the business case.”
  • Honesty: “Put everything about your product on the table, including the short-comings.”
  • Pricing: “Provide all available options with associated pricing up-front.”

 Respect, service, and transparency – these are the communication attributes I perceive when I read the survey results. Are these attributes in your persona descriptions?

3. One more thing I find interesting about the reported length of the buying cycle:  Does five-plus months seem short to you? In contrast, marketing and sales leaders reported that 19 months is their average sales cycle for enterprise-type deals according to IDC’s 2011 Tech Marketing and Sales Productivity Benchmark studies.  I don’t think I have ever heard a B2B tech marketer or sales leader report a sales cycle of just a couple months – except for small ticket items, repeat purchases (which would not be included in this survey question’s category) or the occasional purveyor of some super-hot-can’t-wait solution.

My guess is that buyers have a different definition of when the buying cycle starts than do marketers and sales people.  What does this mean to marketers who are engaged with buyers in very early stage conversations? Something to think about.


Six Key Table Stakes for B2B Sales and Marketing Alignment

The IDC CMO and Sales advisory services held their most recent client leadership meeting in Santa Clara on June 5th. One of the key topics of the day was sales enablement. The ensuing dialog between the sales and marketing execs in the room was as impassioned as it was ineffective. Many of the usual themes were expressed (in the nicest possible way): “marketing leads are crap”, “sales doesn’t follow up”, etc. etc.

Whenever I hear this conversation it always sounds like the two sides are talking past one another. Neither really understands how to express their frustration in a way that has any meaning to the other. What’s missing are some basic table stakes:


1. Train marketing on sales process. It is impossible to effectively contribute to, much less consistently improve, an unknown process. No marketing team should be expected to deliver effective collateral or leads to a sales organization until they have been fully trained on sales process and methodology. In a large organization with multiple business units and product lines there will be many sales processes and the marketing teams charged with supported them must receive the same depth and cadence of training that the sales reps get.


2. Treat the sales force like a market segment. There are great variations in the needs of different kinds of reps in your organization and you must understand them on a rep by rep basis no less urgently than you do for your external marketing targets. The needs of an enterprise rep with two accounts are radically different than an SMB rep with 400 accounts or a territory where they may not know all the potential customers. Don’t throw 10,000 leads a month at both of them. You get the idea. Nurture your sales reps like any other targets and tune the metrics accordingly.

3. Market sales collateral like solutions. Marketing tends to market its wares to the sales force like products whose benefits are self evident. Assets are often “published” or “distributed” generically with tags to help reps “find” them. Imagine what would happen to the funnel if that was the extent of external marketing efforts! Sales support assets should be marketed through targeted nurture campaigns. Once you get going on #2 above, you can start to address the needs of each rep and market your leads, collateral and other assets as solutions to the right sales problem at the right time!

4. Take an account centric approach to lead generation. Marketing is generally great at understanding the world in terms of segments and contacts. These are fundamental concepts for planning, budgeting, and executing marketing activity. However, sales reps think of the world in terms of accounts. Marketing needs to make leads more relevant to reps by delivering them in an account context.

Sales and Marketing

5. Define customer creation as an enterprise process. This is the most effective way to change the corporate culture and gain executive support for addressing the many alignment issues across all customer facing functions in the enterprise. The analogy here is supply chain. Before it was defined as an enterprise process the people, processes, technology, data, and budgets within it were managed on a purely departmental basis. Defining it as an enterprise process made it possible to optimize and continually improve the supply chain based on overall business performance. The customer creation process – from prospecting to closing to upselling – needs to be owned and measured in the same way.

6. Implement customer data as an enterprise service. Once customer creation is established as an enterprise process, it requires an enterprise approach to customer data management in order for the optimization and continuous improvement to take place based on core business metrics and not on a collection of disassociated departmental KPIs.

These six table stakes should be treated as urgent action items for all high tech Sales Operations and Marketing Operations personnel. Some organizations are doing some of these things, but no one has implemented all of them as organizational norms.

CMO Turnover at Nokia, and in General…

Nokia’s CMO Jerri DeVard is out of a job today, hitting the screen at 18 months.


We have seen this many, many times in this role. Why is CMO job tenure often so short?

CMO’s come in three basic flavors. There is the Mar-Comm CMO, who has skills in branding and messaging and corporate communications. There is the Product CMO, who has come up through the product line or LOB ranks, with a successful background in Product Management and Product Marketing. Finally there is the Selling CMO, who has come up through sales and has run revenue centers for major geographical units.

So if you are the CEO and you need a new CMO, which flavor do you choose? You are not likely to find this three-fold capability in one person. The best you can do is to optimize your hiring spec for the strengths that are most currently needed. And then make sure that the CMO surrounds herself with strong colleagues who bring complementary skills.

Back to Nokia. If there was ever a company that needed (and still needs) a Product CMO, it is Nokia. I do not know Ms. DeVard personally, but a quick review of her biography would show that she is — not suprisingly — a classic Mar-Comm CMO. And she is probably a great Mar-Comm CMO! But just the wrong flavor for this struggling company, at this time.

IBM starts the CMO + CIO Dialog

IBM’s new CEO Ginni Rometty is targetting the CMO role in her first major client event. On June 6-7, Over 300 important IBM customers were invited to thie “CMO + CIO Leadership Exchange”. They attended in executive pairings – the company CMO plus CIO – to explore their business relationships and objectives related to Marketing Automation.

As an opening comment, Rometty stated that “IBM wants to set the agenda on the topic”, and she exhorted her customers to move fast, to capture the benefits. Over the two day session, the dialog and content was heavy on assessment of the current reality and challenges of customer data analysis.

IDC expects that IBM will drive the following (approximately) five messages / themes in to market, to reinforce the Marketing Automation imperative:

1. Technology is moving out of back office functions such as finance or operations, and into front office functions of marketing and selling.

2. Marketers and Sellers begin this journey into Marketing Automation with the problematic reality of attaining the current “Single version of the truth” regarding customer data and the customer record. They are hampered by IT legacy, management systems and processes, and company culture.

3. Capture and analysis of Big Data in Marketing is the quest. And 85% of marketing data is unstructured: the hardest form of data to analyze.

4. The future of marketing excellence will be owned by those who master predictive analytics that are extracted from customer data. With proper instrumentation and monitoring, it is easy enough to know where your customers have been or where they are at present. But where are they going, and what is their next move?

5. And, overall, this whole Marketing Automation mission is a race against time. There is a 12-36 month window to become a “Big Data Marketer”. Those who do not enter and win the race will risk not just the absence of marketing excellence, but might put their whole business at risk.

The Leadership Exchange agenda did not include a deeper dive in to IBM’s current or future solutions against that reality, but IDC expects that, logically, the solution-set portrayal will be IBM’s follow-up move.