We are in the midst of a transition from an IT industry shaped by small decision making units (DMUs) comprised of IT professionals to an industry that must respond to the varied needs of BDMs and ITDMs. This makes for a very complex selling environment; many IT suppliers would no doubt like to have ‘the genie hop back into the bottle,’ as many members of their sales and marketing teams lack the skills and understanding needed to sell to BDMs.

Techaisle research on SMB and Midmarket buyers journey and decision-making shows that ITDMs and BDMs have differences in ‘care-abouts, are focused on applying IT to different business objectives, have different perceptions of success measures, and use different information sources. The data is not only helpful in building relevant marketing messages, but also serves to underscore the complexity of working with a diverse DMU. This DMU becomes further complicated with the presence of IT conversant business specialists (embedded IT staff), increasingly residing within line of business units, reporting to business, and away from IT.

The data mentioned above indicate an important factor in technology solution acquisition success: the need for IT and business to work together to ensure that all stages of the purchase process meet both technical and process requirements. In the survey, Techaisle found that just over 20 percent of SMBs have taken a further step to address the need for what is sometimes referred to as “double deep” (with respect to IT and business experience) employees by positioning IT specialists within business units, reporting to business (rather than IT) management.

This trend is widespread in small business outside of micro (1-9 employees) businesses, with an average of roughly 45 percent of firms in the 10-99 employee categories reporting the presence of IT specialists within business units. In many cases, this is an informal connection, with IT-savvy employees responsible for IT-dependent processes. However, within mid-sized businesses, in which an average of 36 percent of firms report having IT specialists resident within business units, this is a more conscious strategy, with IT support embedded within the line of business department. In both cases, though, these staff members are an important influence point for new solutions. Roughly 30 percent of small businesses and nearly half of mid-sized firms reporting that have IT staff resident within business units state that these staff members are the primary decision makers for new IT solution purchases. It is important for IT suppliers to understand whether their current and prospective accounts have IT specialists assigned within business units, and where they do, to establish strong relationships that will enable the supplier to understand and respond to IT/business solution demand.

The trend towards increased BDM involvement in IT decisions is unlikely to recede. BDMs are already active in shaping demand in core IT markets. Techaisle’s recommendations to suppliers looking to navigate this new industry order include:

Develop the skills needed to sell to BDMs, and the metrics needed to support BDM sales. It is one thing to understand what BDMs care about, and how to position messages in front of them; it will be quite another to sell effectively to a non-traditional buyer. Most IT sales staff lack the language and understanding needed to be an effective advocate with BDMs – and yet, the skills of the existing sales force are important in managing ongoing relationships with ITDMs. Consider creating a ‘tiger team’ that is capable of speaking on a business level with BDMs, and/or partnering with firms (such as consultants) who do this in the course of their business. It is also important for management to develop and track metrics that connect with BDM sales and marketing activities, including separate and/or gated quotas that encourage BDM business development and marketing metrics that reward campaigns that attract BDM interest.