Busting the Myth of Sales Disintermediation

Are IT Buyers so self sufficient that sales people will no longer be needed? Much was made in 2013 of the notion that IT Buyers make a large percent of their decision before engaging with sales. Every major market research company had its own number but they all ranged north of 50%, a scary thought especially if it represented a rising trend.
As shown in the figure below, enterprise IT buyers actually rely very heavily on vendor input for enterprise solutions. Buyers can make categorical decisions like “we need a new CRM or billing system.” But they need a great deal of information from marketing, sales and technical sales in order to complete their decision making processes.
Finding the Right Mix of Marketing and Sales Engagement
Q.        What percent of your decision for an enterprise-level purchase when multiple vendors are competing for your business has been made by the time you first speak with a salesperson?
Source: IDC’s 2013 IT Buyer Experience Survey, n = 193
The implications for supporting customer journeys is significant. For purchases that are low cost, familiar and low risk customers want to be as self sufficient as possible. And sellers need them to be because it costs too much for even telesales or online chat to support these transactions. At the other end of the spectrum of course it gets far more complex and that translates into opportunity for vendors – if they are truly aligned with the buyer’s journey
One of the most important value adds that most sales and marketing lacks is the need to educate customers on how to buy as much as what to buy. For costly complex purchases, customers need guidance on:
  1. How to evaluate the strategic priority of the solution as well as the technical and business benefits
  2. How to build consensus across line of business, corporate IT and other key players in the decision making process.
According to our latest IT Buyer Experience research, marketing and sales teams that provide this insight early and often will help buyers make their decisions up to 40% faster, putting them ahead of the competition and ahead of forecast.
For more information on this and related research please contact me at gmurray(at)idc(dot)com.

Create and Close Customers up to 40% Faster

IDC’s CMO Advisory has conducted an annual IT Buyer Experience survey for the past six years. We have tracked many changes and interesting trends, but one thing stands out as a consistent inefficiency in the market: every year IT Buyers report the purchase processes can be approximately 40% shorter. Over the course of a 10-month average process that means the potential is to accelerate revenue by an entire quarter. This is a huge opportunity for both buyers and sellers with tremendous financial incentives for both and yet no improvement in six years. Why not and what to do about it?

Buyers put about 2/3 of the blame for this inefficiency on themselves. There are scheduling issues, conflicting agendas, changing budgets, changes in personnel, immature purchase processes, etc. The challenge for vendors therefore is two-fold:

  1. Reduce the inefficiencies that are inherent in their own marketing and sales processes, and
  2. Better facilitate the buyer’s process(es)

Gap between actual and ideal IT purchase processes, 2009-2013

To do this, vendors need to intimately understand the Buyer’s Journey. It starts with Exploration, moves to Evaluation, and ends with a Purchase.  Buyers spend the most amount of time in the Exploration stage, largely independent of direct vendor interaction. As they move through each stage, their agendas change dramatically and the process accelerates. Buyers spend less time in each subsequent stage and have higher expectations of vendor response times. By carefully defining and monitoring buyers’ journeys, marketing and sales can better serve customer needs, keep pace with buyer expectations, and cut out big chucks of inefficiency.

For example, in the Exploration stage, the buyer’s main objective is to establish fit between their business challenges and a solution. The main resources they use are related to trends in their industry. The primary internal influencers are business buyers (functional leaders, business unit mangers, and executives.) Once they enter the evaluation stage, however, their objective and trusted sources change completely.

In our report, IDC CMO Advisory 2013 IT BuyerExperience Survey: Create and Close Customers up to 40% Faster, we outline specific steps IT marketers should take at each stage in order to get the right messages to the right decision makers. For more information, please contact me at gmurray (at) idc (dot) com.

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.