The secret IT buyers you should know

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This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of CRN magazine.

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The secret IT buyers you should know

In Garry Whatley’s time as CIO at office supplies company Corporate Express, there was one powerful member of his informal advisory team that few IT salespeople ever targeted: his executive assistant.

As the gatekeeper to their boss’ schedule, EAs are involved in a broad range of interactions with the sales community. And if a salesperson disrespected his EA, Whatley would consider this a proxy for how they might interact with other team members.

“Someone like the CIO’s EA is really important, because they have influence over so many things, over the technical team and the CIO’s leadership team too,” says Whatley. “So any bad experience they would have would be conveyed straight away.”

While the EA’s input might have been informal, in his current role as the director of CIO Advisory, Whatley says he is witnessing the rise in prominence of a much broader pool of people with influence over IT purchasing decisions, a group of not-so-secret IT buyers, many of whom reside in marketing, operations and procurement.

“Procurement is definitely getting more involved in these decisions,” says Whatley. “But that tends to be looking at it more from a commercial perspective, rather than a whole relationship aspect, which is a little bit of a challenge.”

Another prominent IT buying group is the marketing or digital team. In 2012, Gartner reported that CMOs would outspend the CIO in IT by 2017, and in some organisations that prediction is proving accurate. At beauty products company L’Oréal, head of digital and media for ANZ Christophe Eymery has responsibility for IT spending decisions that have included Datarama for managing media platforms, Demandware for e-commerce and Salesforce for CRM, in conjunction with implementation partner JBA.

“The reality is a bit grey in terms of where the decision-making process sits in our business, between the digital department or with the IT general manager,” says Eymery. “Now, most of the marketing-driven technology platform decisions are made on our side. Of course, there
is strong collaboration with IT, but often IT doesn’t necessarily have the understanding of what we try to achieve.”

Bruce Rasmussen, managing director at sales and marketing consultancy Carpé Diem, agrees that the number of influencers in IT buying decisions is growing. He cites figures from CEB suggesting between five or six different buyers are involved in a sale. “That is just going to increase with the digital trend,” says Rasmussen. 

“And we need to find effective ways to get across as many buyers as we can. So you have to make sure that your company has a nurturing content program, because you just can’t go from go to woe with six buyers in one month.”

Rasmussen has also observed the growing trend for business unit heads to make IT purchasing decisions, including HR. But he has also witnessed new blockers emerging in the sales process, particularly in the form of CFOs who are fearful of the cyber-risk elements of digital implementations. 

“So the blockers and influencers can come out of left field. But if you have engaged early, you are going to have a bit of a roadmap,” he says.

Interestingly, the spread of IT buying responsibility may see salespeople dealing with a group they should be intimately familiar with: other salespeople. It is a phenomenon that John Hanna , the new managing director of Southern Cross Computer Systems, believes is being driven by the ease of acquiring software-as-a-service tools. 

“In a number of businesses I’m in touch with, I’ve seen sales directors go out and get Salesforce and all manner of CRM licences without asking and getting their teams on it, and using their discretionary dollars to simply take advantage of pay-as-you-go software-as-a-service,” he says.

“The SaaS-type businesses like Workday, Salesforce and the various people in the Salesforce ecosystem have cottoned on to this and I am seeing much more activity with those companies selling into those sales directors and CMOs and CFOs.” 

But while a salesperson might do well to establish relationships beyond the most obvious candidate, Whatley warns that this can be taken too far. He says this was a common fault for one of the industry’s largest players in the past decade, as it sought to surround the CIO with favourable influencers, often with negative consequences.

“Like anyone, CIOs don’t want to be ambushed,” says Whatley. “That is the worst possible situation.”  

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