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SMB and Midmarket - ITDMs and BDMs: the balance of purchase authority

Techaisle's SMB & midmarket research not only confirms that BDMs are increasingly present in the IT solution adoption process but the research deep-dived to understand the extent to which BDMs actually lead their organizations in adopting solutions. To develop a deeper perspective on this issue, Techaisle asked both ITDM and BDM respondents to address questions that explored the acquisition process around software (both new applications and meaningful upgrades to existing applications), infrastructure hardware and IT services. The results provide direction for sales strategies aimed at these product segments within the US SMB market.

Software budget authority

“Determining the need for” a new business application or a meaningful enhancement to an existing application is not, of course, identical to signing off on the purchase of a new system. When we extended our coverage to ask about having “budgetary control and authority,” we discovered two interesting findings:

  • The proportion of organizations where budgetary control and purchasing authority for new applications rests entirely with BDMs increases in all e-size segments, relative to the statistics for determining need in these segments. This means that BDM control over the final purchase decision is even higher than the “determining the need for” statistics suggest.
  • The proportion of respondents reporting that responsibility resides entirely with either IT or business – but is not shared between them – increases in five out of seven e-size segments (missing only the 10-19 and 20-49 employees groups). This suggests that needs identification may be more collaborative than final purchase decisions.
  • Both findings point to the same conclusion: that BDMs are extremely important to suppliers of software.
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Role of BDMs in SMB IT solution adoption

Typically, IT suppliers focus on product or service transactions – the point at which a buyer commits to a contract with a specific seller. IT vendor compensation plans are structured around the transaction, and lead funnels captured in CRM and marketing systems coalesce around this event. And because IT professionals are often engaged in signing contracts for IT products and services, vendor sales and marketing initiatives often key on the IT function.

From a buyer’s perspective, though, the solution adoption cycle is much longer, and commitment to a specific product or service is less important than establishing the business context that drives the need for investment, and the processes needed to ensure that the business obtains anticipated value from this investment. Before they commit to a contract, organizations need to identify the need for a new solution, align the need with strategic and operational plans, and identify and evaluate solution options. Once the product/service is acquired, the buyer’s process continues: the business still needs to deploy the new technology, train IT and business users on its features, evaluate the effectiveness of the solution in meeting current requirements, and optimize the solution over time to maximize returns.

Techaisle conducted a unique survey of SMB organizations. To understand the current state and implications of distributed IT influence and authority, Techaisle surveyed roughly equal numbers of business decision makers (BDMs) and IT decision makers (ITDMs) across seven employee size categories, and then analyzed results to create a unified view of the new decision authority realities.

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Business context driving analytics and Big Data solutions in the SMB market

It would be unusual to find a “Chief Strategy Officer” or an equivalent group dedicated solely to long-term planning within a small business, or even inside most midmarket enterprises. For the most part, a small team of executives shares responsibility for both charting the company’s direction and managing its daily operational activities. This can make it difficult for SMBs to separate the strategic from the tactical – but it has the advantage of ensuring that ‘big picture’ priorities are reflected in the day-to-day actions taken by the management team.

This direct, visceral link between business imperatives and daily activities has some interesting implications for IT suppliers. Because the business decision maker (BDM) is often responsible for IT-related decisions, the IT supplier needs to ensure that its messaging is relevant to BDM ‘care-abouts’ – and because the BDM is often the source of both strategic and tactical direction, it is important for the IT supplier to root marketing messages and activity in an understanding of how their offerings, and/or the solutions in which their offerings are positioned, address the high-level objectives of the SMB customer.

Why Analytics?

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Identifying key benefits associated with SMB Big Data initiatives

Intrinsic to positioning any IT-enabled solution is an understanding of the benefits that the customer anticipates obtaining from deployment of the technology. Buyers need to understand how the solution helps them to increase revenues, cut costs, improve efficiency or otherwise enhance shareholder value; vendors need to be able to position their offerings as a means to achieving these objectives.

While there is a close relationship between “analytics” and “Big Data” – and they are often conflated in the press – the two technologies follow somewhat different paths into SMB user environments. Techaisle research has found that analytics solutions tend to be driven by BDMs – business users looking for better ways of approaching high-priority business issues. In some cases, this requires access to vast quantities of high-velocity, variegated sources, which in turn demands a Big Data solution – but in contrast to analytics adoption, Big Data initiatives rely heavily on IT for implementation and ongoing management, and represents a solution area that requires collaboration between BDMs and ITDMs.

While SMB Big Data buyers view support for (predictive) analytics as their top acquisition driver, they also have distinct needs and preferences that suppliers must consider in building a sales and marketing strategy.

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