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.

Three Big Ideas from Dreamforce 2014

https://www.salesforce.com/dreamforce/DF13/Dreamforce, Salesforce’s user conference, is always a phenomenon – boatloads of sales and marketing tips and tricks alongside the philanthropic videos and big name entertainment. However, it was these three ideas that impressed me most.

Marketing automation enters the age of the platform: The integration theme threaded through Dreamforce as the company unveiled Salesforce 1, a platform for the Internet of Customers.  Providing a quality digital customer experience requires the integration of applications, data, messaging channels, and delivery mechanisms (including mobile and machines). Like an orchestra playing a piece of music, a brand is more richly experienced by multiple instruments simultaneously. Orchestration is the key. If the oboe plays independently in this corner and the violin over there, you can imagine the discord – even if they all work from the same sheet music. Integration, platforms, and clouds are themes I’ve also heard from Oracle Eloqua, Marketo, Adobe, IBM, Hubspot, and Microsoft. Most of these companies will fill in important platform gaps over the next few years to become winners (I think Salesforce will clearly be in this camp).

Why this matters:  Marketing technology platforms will prod two big changes. Marketing will need to reorganize and become multi-channel and customer experience oriented.  And although vendors playing nice together will be easier to do in the cloud than it was for on-premise software, CMOs will someday find it valuable to standardize on a platform (or “cloud”). Hopefully, they will have differentiated choices that optimize for different business models.

Growing importance of design: I was super impressed with the fireside chat between Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO. I found Marissa’s ideas on design most intriguing. It’s a topic you don’t hear much about in business circles, yet it was clear that her views on design informed her strategy for Yahoo and her leadership style.  One of Marissa’s points – don’t design for the expert.  Create a “big green button” for the thing people most want to do. Expert users can afford to work a little harder to get their bells and whistles.  Simple things, if they are the right things, make a huge difference. Think about the impact of Amazon’s iconic Add-to Cart one-click shopping.
Why this matters: Change-agents (managers, marketing ops pro’s, communicators, etc.) would benefit from getting grounding in design. You might start with a little podcast I recently found called 99% Invisible.

Marketing in the moment:  Marketing is speeding up. Few marketers remain unconvinced about the value of personalization. Messages are more effective when they leverage the viewer’s attributes. Now it seems that time is also becoming an impact point. Your message is more relevant if it pops up within the context of a real-time conversation. Some moments are daily habits – such as exercising, or conducting a task at work. Other moments are occasional, shared, and public – such as a sports event or an event like Dreamforce. Some moments can be planned for but others will pop up opportunistically and you need to be ready.

Why this matters: Marketers pay lip service to the concept of “agile” but marketing in the moment requires a truly different approach than planning a launch. Agility is what enabled the Oreo marketing team to steal the moment at the Superbowl. Read this Wired story to learn how they did it.

These are three ideas that I’m going to pay more attention to.