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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Midmarket technology & business buyers: two peas, two pods

Business decision makers (BDMs) are an intrinsic force in most midmarket organizations and are the primary decision makers in some high-growth technology areas, including collaboration, social media and analytics – meaning that increasingly, BDMs are ‘the boss of IT’. These BDMs view IT as a component of business processes, rather than as a stand-alone silo. Techaisle SMB & Midmarket Decision Authority data shows that twice as many BDMs as ITDMs (IT decision makers) in midmarket businesses say that it is critical for IT to understand how technology contributes to overall organizational success. These BDMs have specific objectives for technology usage, clear perspectives on adoption drivers and impediments, and tend to be influenced by information sources that are different from the inputs used by ITDMs.

This pressure from business managers leaves IT leaders scrambling to stretch limited budgets to meet seemingly limitless requirements, striving to deliver predictable, secure systems that respond to the increasingly varied needs of their business users and competitive environments. The growing divide between IT authority and responsibility, exacerbated by the fact that business perspectives on IT are shaped by information channels that are not part of the IT professional dialogue, has created an environment where businesses are struggling to develop the cohesion needed to promote or embrace new IT capabilities to achieve business objectives within existing IT and business process structures..

In a unique survey, Techaisle posed the same question, “expectation of associating business success factors to IT solutions” to both BDMs and ITDMs and probed to identify what each expected from the other. Techaisle data shows that BDMs tend to have higher expectations of IT; while business decision makers and technology decision makers are reasonably well aligned in some areas, there is a wide expectation gap in others, which may explain (at least to some extent) the continued proliferation of non-sanctioned, “shadow” IT.

techaisle-midmarket-linking-it-with-business-success-resized

The figure above provides a simplified view of differences between BDMs and ITDMs across several different factors. Although there is a tacit agreement that both business and IT management should understand business related success imperatives and should be able to associate IT solutions to achieving those objectives, closer examination of the data shows some important differences between the two groups:

  • 53 percent of upper midmarket BDMs say that it is very critical for business success that ITDMs are able to identify and associate IT solutions with business efficiency, productivity & profitability. On the on the flip side, only 30% of IT executives in these upper midmarket businesses say that business executives should be able to associate IT solutions with business efficiency, productivity and profitability. Responsibility for delivery clearly rests with IT, and BDMs have very high expectations from ITDMs.
  • Data also clearly shows that BDMs again have high expectations for support in using technology to build customer connections. Over 40 percent of BDMs believe that it is critical that IT has a grasp of solutions that enable beneficial customer & supplier interactions. In contrast, only 1/4th of ITDMs say that BDMs should have a grasp of such solutions.
  • Employee productivity is an important aspect of business and in most cases businesses are expecting IT to understand and deploy core technology solutions to make employees more productive.
  • Business process automation is an area where there is better alignment between IT and business. However, automation is a dominant need within the 100-499 employee size segment; nearly 40 percent of BDMs in the segment say that it is critical that IT can identify requirements for automation and associate IT solutions with these needs.
  • Cross-organizational integration is recognized as being important by both BDMs and ITDMs in mid-size businesses: over 50 percent of both groups agree that it is critical for both business and IT to associate technology solutions with business demands. This is an area where both BDMs and ITDMs are fully aligned.

The trend towards increased BDM involvement in IT decisions is likely to accelerate further. BDMs are already active in shaping demand in core IT markets, and they are the dominant force in high-growth areas like collaboration, social media and business intelligence/analytics. ITDM and BDM divergence will continue and although there is cross-pollination they may as well continue to operate from different pods. Although it may be tempting to try to bring the various parties together, IT suppliers cannot successfully act as intra-corporate matchmakers: they have to come to grasp with the reality of selling to two different constituencies which have different expectations.

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SMB and Midmarket: Cloud Software acquisition and the importance of “deep carpet selling”

Linoleum vs. Deep Carpet Selling

There is an old story about a consultant who was advising a client about changes in his market, and what they would mean to sales strategy. The consultant went through a series of tables demonstrating that, due to increased interconnectivity with other corporate systems, products in the client’s segment were increasingly purchased by senior managers rather than shop floor managers. The consultant stressed the importance of developing new marketing material and directing the sales force to call on the senior managers instead of the shop floor, to which the client replied, “You are talking about deep carpet selling. We don’t do deep carpet selling. We do linoleum selling here.”

Most IT vendors engage in a variation of “linoleum selling”, focused on engaging IT professionals in discussions that focus on the technical attributes of their products. However, BDMs (Business Decision Makers) – who tend to inhabit the “carpeted” realms of their businesses – are more likely to be engaged by discussions about business benefits and objectives than by “feeds and speeds”. In categories where the BDM is central to the needs identification and budget process, sales reps will need to develop “deep carpet” language and skills.

The data from Techaisle’s SMB and Midmarket IT Decision Making Authority survey demonstrates that we have already reached that point in cloud applications and software in both the small and midmarket segments.

Need vs. Enhancements

Survey data shows that in both micro/very small businesses (1-19 employees) and the smaller midmarket businesses (100-499 employees), BDMs are the primary drivers for determining the need for new cloud business applications.

These findings are broadly consistent with the results from the survey question on determining the need for enhancements to existing cloud solutions. While in most cases, IT has more influence in determining the need for enhancements than it does in determining the need for new solutions, BDMs are still generally the most important voice in the discussion. ITDM’s (IT Decision Maker) influence is directly attributable to the extent that enhancements are driven by technological rather than functional requirements.

Conclusively, survey data shows that business requirements are the prime mover for identifying the need for both new solutions and significant enhancements/upgrades in micro and very small businesses, and that technology concerns play a meaningful role in instigating discussions about enhancements to existing solutions in businesses with 20-499 employees.

Interestingly, within the 500-999 segments, there is more BDM influence over identifying the need for meaningful enhancements than for new applications. Following the logic applied to the other segments, this suggests that enhancements within these near-enterprise accounts result primarily from process optimization requirements, rather than from a need to upgrade the underlying technology.

Cloud 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 solution. When Techaisle extended its questioning to include “budgetary control and authority,” it resulted in two interesting findings:

    • The proportion of SMBs where budgetary control and purchasing authority for new applications rests entirely with BDMs increases in all employee 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 employee 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 cloud software. Chart below provides a graphical representation of the determining need vs. final purchase decision authority balance by employee size.

techaisle-blog-smb-midmarket-decision-making

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SMB IT Solution Leadership Divide

Techaisle’s unique SMB research to understand the current state and implications of distributed IT influence and authority shows that today, the DMU (Decision Making Unit) is much bigger, much more diverse, much more difficult to inform, and can be much slower to take action. Business decision makers (BDMs) are an intrinsic force within DMUs in most SMB organizations, and are the primary decision makers in some high-growth areas. These BDMs have different objectives for technology, different perspectives on adoption drivers and impediments, and tend to be influenced by different information sources. The resulting diffusion in responsibility/authority and information channels has created an environment where buyers and sellers struggle to develop the cohesion needed to promote or embrace new IT/business capabilities within existing IT and business process structures.

The study shows that both ITDMs and BDMs play important roles in the (formal and shadow) acquisition of IT products and services. However, Techaisle’s research has found that the distinctions between these roles are not evenly applicable across all types of IT-enabled solutions: in some areas, the business will look to IT for leadership, and in others, it will take direction from BDMs.

Figure below illustrates the extent to which ITDMs and BDMs are seen as solution leaders within small and medium businesses, and across nine major solution areas. The solutions have been assigned to three groups: those on the left (virtualization, managed services and IaaS) are labeled “IT led,” and represent areas where IT is generally seen as leading corporate initiatives; they are focused on the core infrastructure used by IT to deliver corporate services to users. The ones at the right (collaboration, social media and analytics) are labelled “BDM led,” and are solutions in which BDMs provide most corporate leadership, and IT is cast very much in a supporting role. The solutions in the middle – Big Data, SaaS and mobility – have been labelled “IT/BDM collaborative.” These are solutions that respond to BDM needs, but where IT is important to supporting delivery capacity.

smb-solution-leadership-blog-techaisle


The positioning of these solutions is important to IT vendor sales and marketing strategies. Solutions in the “IT led” category need to have strong IT-focused positioning, with detailed information on product attributes; this material should be supported with a second layer of collateral containing information on the business case for the solutions, and aimed at BDMs.

Solutions in the “BDM led” category require very different positioning: here, vendors need to make a strong case for the business benefits and relevance of the solution and orient these messages towards BDMs, supporting this campaign with accompanying technical information designed to provide clear deployment and integration guidance to ITDMs.

The “IT/BDM collaborative” category is the trickiest to address. It requires deep information on business benefits and the process steps required to capture those benefits targeted at BDMs, and deep information on how to assemble, deploy, integrate and support/optimize these solutions targeted at ITDMs – and an understanding of how to position and convey the messages to each audience.

During the survey, Techaisle explored one other solution issue that is important to understanding the different perspectives of ITDMs and BDMs. Each respondent was asked to categorize the nine solution areas as having one of two primary impacts: driving growth or containing costs/”increasing the bottom line.”

The comparison of small and mid-sized ITDM and BDM perspectives provides an instructive view of the differences between the two communities. Looking first at the small business results the survey finds that in six of eight areas (IaaS and SaaS combined into a single “cloud” category), BDMs are more likely to view a solution as contributing to growth, and ITDMs are more likely to view a solution as helping to control costs; this may reflect a fundamental difference in how each group approaches its business objectives. In the mid-market findings study reveals that the perceptions of value of ITDMs and BDMs are very closely aligned in mobility, virtualization, Big Data and managed services. ITDMs are more likely to believe that cloud will drive growth than their BDM peers, while BDMs are much stronger believers in the growth contributions of the three IT-led solution areas (collaboration, social media and business intelligence/analytics).

About the Study: 360 on SMB & Mid-Market IT Decision Making Authority - BDM vs. ITDM

The study covers:

    • Stakeholders and their roles in end-to-end IT solution adoption

 

    • ITDM vs. BDM : Balance of Authority (Needs, Budget, Purchasing)

 

    • ITDM & BDM: Locus of Leadership in driving different types of IT Solution Adoption

 

    • ITDM & BDM: Leadership roles in securing Cloud, Mobility

 

    • ITDM vs. BDM: Success Attributes and Benefits of Cloud & Mobility Solutions

 

    • SMB & Mid-Market Businesses: Shadow IT Spending

 

    • Business Impact of BDM vs. ITDM perspectives and expectations with respect to IT Solutions

 

    • ITDM vs. BDM: Differences in Business Issues, IT Challenges, IT Priorities

 

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21 percent of SMBs have IT Specialists reporting to Business Management

Emerging Trend - SMB IT Specialists empowering business units, blurring the IT-Business divide

Techaisle’s study on “360 on SMB & Mid-Market IT Decision Making Authority - BDM vs. ITDM” reveals an emerging trend of IT specialists with purchase authority being resident within business units and reporting to business rather than IT management. The data is significant enough for marketers to pay close attention as the survey shows that already in 21 percent of small (1-99 employees) and 36 percent of midsized (100-999 employees) businesses IT Specialists are embedded within business units and even more are planning to hire specialists within their business units. Further, the study also shows that these IT specialists are an important influence point for new IT solutions purchase and that in 29 percent of small businesses and 49 percent of mid-sized firms that have “business unit resident IT specialists” these staff members are the primary decision makers for new IT solution purchases. This trend will naturally tilt the balance of decision making authority towards business management by empowering them with knowledge and decision-making agility.

The need for IT and business to work together to ensure that all stages of IT adoption process meet both technical and business process requirements is an important factor in IT solution success. Survey data clearly demonstrates that SMBs have taken this a step further to address the need for what is sometimes referred to as “double deep” employees (with respect to IT and business experience) by positioning IT specialists within business units reporting to business (rather than IT) management. In a way these IT Specialists reporting to Business Management in SMBs are blurring the IT and Business divide.

Small businesses - informal

The trend is widespread and informal in small businesses in the 10-99 employee size categories with 45 percent of firms reporting the presence of IT specialists within business units. In most cases this is an informal connection with IT-savvy employees responsible for IT-dependent processes.

Mid-market businesses - pronounced

However, within mid-sized businesses the trend is more pronounced and is becoming a more conscious strategy with IT support embedded within the line of business departments. As the balance of IT decision making authority continues to shift towards business decision makers the presence of IT specialists who can identify appropriate IT solutions within a mid-market business unit is gaining tremendous relevance. This also means that rogue implementations of solutions may well accelerate. More importantly, in the next 3-5 years it is highly likely that a business unit will begin to think and operate like an IT department as they learn from their missteps.

IT or BDM-led Solutions

To understand an SMB buyer’s journey Techaisle research considered nine IT solution categories and the influence of various stakeholders from needs identification to selection and adoption process. At a high-level the nine IT solutions were found to belong to one of three categories – IT-led solutions, areas where IT is generally seen as leading corporate IT initiatives; BDM-led solutions, solutions in which BDMs provide most corporate leadership, and IT is cast very much in a supporting role; and IT/BDM collaborative solutions that respond to BDM needs, but where IT is important to supporting delivery capacity. The positioning of these solutions is important to shaping the focus of IT vendor sales and marketing initiatives.

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.

About the Study: 360 on SMB & Mid-Market IT Decision Making Authority - BDM vs. ITDM

To understand the current state and implications of distributed IT influence and authority Techaisle conducted a unique survey of SMB organizations where we 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 IT decision authority realities.

The study covers:

    • Stakeholders and their roles in end-to-end IT solution adoption

 

    • ITDM vs. BDM : Balance of Authority (Needs, Budget, Purchasing)

 

    • ITDM & BDM: Locus of Leadership in driving different types of IT Solution Adoption

 

    • ITDM & BDM: Leadership roles in securing Cloud, Mobility

 

    • ITDM vs. BDM: Success Attributes and Benefits of Cloud & Mobility Solutions

 

    • SMB & Mid-Market Businesses: Shadow IT Spending

 

    • Business Impact of BDM vs. ITDM perspectives and expectations with respect to IT Solutions

 

    • ITDM vs. BDM: Differences in Business Issues, IT Challenges, IT Priorities

 

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