There’s fierce debate these days over just who in an organization makes the decision when it comes to acquiring IT products and services. For the past several years, many IT vendors have been making the case for focusing on line-of-business executives rather than IT professionals. At the core of that thinking is the simple fact that most IT budgets are only a single-digit percentage of overall revenue, and most of those dollars are already allocated.
Less than 20 percent of the average IT budget is allocated to new products and services. The only tried-and-true way to get the amount allocated to new products to increase is to convince IT leaders that buying something new can be paid for by reallocating IT budget dollars away from something else.
Given that challenge, IT vendors are naturally anxious to get line-of-business executives to allocate their own budget dollars to an IT project. As a result, there’s plenty of emphasis these days on digital business transformation. While the term itself is nebulous, the one thing most of those projects have in common is the money being used to fund them comes from sources other than the traditional IT budget.
Two types of decision makers
Against that backdrop, Spiceworks, an online community of IT professionals, published the results of a survey of 600 IT decision makers (ITDM) and 300 business decision makers (BDM) that not surprisingly finds that it’s ITDMs who determine need, evaluate solutions and vendors, make recommendations, and ultimately implement and manage new technologies. The BDM, however, still plays a crucial role in term of final approval on funds and purchases.
The Spiceworks survey shows in essence that the debate about who exercises the most influence over IT buying is spurious. Focusing on one at the expense of the other is a recipe for sales and marketing failure. Given all the competition for funding, business leaders are not going to allocate dollars to a major IT project just because the CIO likes it. At the same time, even in the age of the cloud and “shadow IT” spending ITDMs almost invariably find a way to torpedo an IT project that they weren't consulted about. They’re fine with business leaders allocating additional dollars to fund an IT project, but if the project operates independently of the IT organization it’s only a matter of time before most IT leaders will find a way to replace it with something more to their liking.
Two-pronged approach to sales and marketing
IT service providers need to have sales teams that can engage both ITDMs and BDMs. They need to be able to get their geek on with IT people while still being able to play a credible round of golf with a BDM. Similarly, marketing collateral needs to be tuned to a specific audience. Those three paragraphs of material aimed at a business executive that were added to the end of a technical treatise will never be read. Every piece of marketing collateral aimed at an IT person should have a separate companion piece aimed at their boss. Developing marketing collateral that simultaneously appeals to both audiences is a fool’s errand.
IT services providers that ignore either IT professionals or the business leaders they serve do so at their own peril. The challenge and opportunity is striking a balance between the two that leads to more IT products and services being consumed at a faster rate.