In the not-so-distant past, IT professionals were the undisputed master of all technology purchase decisions. But as technology becomes more intrinsic to every element of business, marketers are increasingly uncertain where the real purchasing power actually lies. Is responsibility shifting to other decision-makers within organisations?
While it is true the responsibility of approving tech funds often falls on business decision-makers in marketing, sales or finance, the IT decision-maker remains the key purchase influencer for nearly all technologies. In other words, B2B marketers are taking a big risk if they attempt to bypass the IT decision-maker and may miss out on being part of the consideration set as a result.
We investigated in more detail to give marketers a better understanding of the different roles that IT and business decision-makers play in the technology purchase process. Our research identified significant differences between the two decision-makers at almost every level. Each has varying motivations and exerts their influence in different ways throughout the buying process. Understanding these dynamics and priorities is essential for B2B marketers to be successful.
Uncommon ground between IT and business decision-makers
IT decision-makers are on the front lines of supporting and maintaining all devices, software, and cloud services running at their organisation. They are often the technology “gatekeepers” in their organisation and can make or break most purchase decisions. If a tech product doesn’t meet their specifications or integrate within their environment, it likely won’t get purchased. Compared to business decision makers, IT decision makers have more purchase influence for nearly all technologies, including major infrastructure purchases, cloud-based services, software, and most end-user technology.
From sales manager to HR director to the CMO, business decision-makers focus on the outcome of any technology they adopt - the business advantages they can gain from a product or service. Their purchase influence is more focused on end-user technologies, such as business applications or mobile devices that impact the success of their department. They believe the buck stops with them - they are often the final approver of technology funds and purchases.
However, business decision-makers rely heavily on their IT counterparts to make a decision. In fact, in a Spiceworks survey, more than 66% of business decision-makers said they value feedback from IT decision-makers while only 44% value feedback from their business peers.
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Roles played in the decision-making process
The purchase journey offers a range of opportunities for marketers at almost every stage. In the early stages of the process, the IT decision-maker is most important. They determine the technology need, evaluate vendors and solutions, make the recommendation, and ultimately implement and manage new technology. Compared to business decision-makers, their IT counterparts spend much more time conducting labour-intensive research to guide the decision-making process.
While the business decision-maker might give final approval on funds and purchases the IT decision-maker remains highly influential, even at this stage, acting as a gatekeeper with the technical expertise and power to recommend or discourage procurement. With purchasing power comes great responsibility.
Business decision-makers must ensure every pound spent on new technology is the right technology and they rely on their IT experts to help them make the best choices. So it’s important for marketers to ease the concerns of business decision-makers in the final stages by proving how the solution will fill a gap and add value to the business. But to do this effectively, the most critical conduit is again the IT decision-maker.
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How to target each decision-maker
The perennial question asked by any marketer is “where do my prospects get the information they need to make a purchase decision?” But IT and business decision-makers often rely on different types of content and gather insight from different places.
IT decision-makers are more receptive to most marketing channels, particularly webinars and online forums where they can find educational content during the technology research phase. In comparison to IT decision-makers, business decision-makers are less receptive to online marketing channels, but they’re slightly more receptive to traditional channels like physical mail and phone calls.
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Since IT decision-makers conduct more research about technology solutions, they require more pieces of content than business decision-makers and place a higher value on technical content. In fact, IT buyers require up to 15 pieces during the entire decision-making process while their business counterparts only require 11.
Who ultimately calls the shots?
The big question remains: who is the most influential decision-maker when it comes to purchasing technology in business? The answer: it depends. Marketers must take into consideration their technology category, buyer stage, and product type in order to channel their marketing dollars into a strategic, smart, effective campaign.
While business decision makers come into play in the final approval stages, it’s clear IT decision-makers should be targeted early on in the purchase process and throughout the research phase when various solutions are evaluated. But even though IT buyers do more heavy lifting in the early phases, they maintain influence throughout the entire process and shouldn’t be overlooked in the final stages.
Ultimately, despite the perception amongst marketers that the balance of power has shifted, our research suggests otherwise. The ultimate technology influencer and gatekeeper is still the IT decision-maker.
About John Webb
John Webb has more than 20 years of B2B marketing experience, working for well known B2C and B2B brands.
He started as a Senior Brand Manager for HJ Heinz before moving into technology with a role as European Head of Marketing for Yahoo! He then became Global Brand Manager for Eidos, moving on to become European Marketing Director at InfoSpace, UK and Ireland. He then became Marketing Director with THQ, entered the gaming industry as International Marketing Director for Rockstar Games, Marketing Director - Startups, Developers & Investors with Rackspace and more recently European B2B Marketing Director for Samsung.
John specialises in the intersection between B2C and B2B, where the spheres of work and life blend and the expectations of commercial decision makers and buyers are conditioned by their experiences as consumers. His experience across consumer and business focused organisations makes him the perfect speaker to talk about social media marketing and the importance of engagement on professional networks.