IT vs. Line of Business: It’s Still ITDM’s Kitchens

Cloud marketers must speak to a circle of stakeholders, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of underestimating the prevailing influence of IT decision makers.

It’s fairly well documented how IT buying decisions are no longer made by one or two people within an organization. Rather, there is usually a type of “tech buying collective” that holds influence over decision making, with an average of six to eight key stakeholders possibly weighing in on the purchasing process of cloud technologies, show surveys by business IT member community Spiceworks. Often larger companies will have even larger buying collectives made of 10 decision makers or more.

The research also suggests that the larger the group of decision makers, the longer the buying cycle.

“There’s no single B2B buyer persona that accurately represents every IT buyer making purchase decisions,” said Spiceworks researchers. “Instead, stakeholders with unique needs, preferences and objections make up a buying collective.” Generally included in the buying collective are IT decision makers (ITDMs) who manage and support the technology on a daily basis and line of business decision makers (BDMs) who might be end users or might oversee the approval process.

While this certainly means there are now more cooks in the kitchen who must be engaged and persuaded, the marketers and sellers of cloud solutions must be careful in their efforts to “convert the entire kitchen” not to lose sight of the fact that ITDMs are still the head chefs in the room, and their influence remains strong throughout the entire purchase process.

“Our research on the cloud buyer’s journey shows members of the buying collective turn to internal tech experts early and often,” said Spiceworks researchers.

What’s more, while both ITDMs and BDMs both tend to seek out the same information, ITDMs are more likely to consume marketing content than BDMs, and they are significantly more likely than BDMs to engage with tech marketing through webinars, in-person and virtual conferences, online communities, social networks and blogs, show Spiceworks findings.

These types of marketing engagements cannot be underestimated, as it’s estimated that 70 percent of the buyer journey takes place before a sales engagement, said the Spiceworks report.

Overall, 59 percent of all decision makers said they do the majority of their tech purchase research online, without speaking to a salesperson. Among ITDMs specifically, 64 percent said they avoid engaging with sales during this process (vs. 52 percent of BDMs). Among small businesses, three-quarters of ITDMs prefer researching primarily online without talking to sales.

Cloud Gatekeepers

While it’s true the initial evaluation of a new IT service may stem from a problem experienced by BDMs and the line-of-business end users who report to them, ITDMs largely remain the gatekeepers for new cloud solutions. Spiceworks’ analysis of the levels of engagement by ITDMs vs. BDMs throughout the various stages of the buying process found that ITDMs are about twice as likely to be involved when it comes to determining need, evaluating solutions and recommending vendors. Perhaps not surprisingly, ITDMs become less involved than BDMs when funds and purchases are approved, and final decisions are made. And once a decision is made, ITDMs once again become the primary players to implement and then manage the solution on an ongoing basis, making them central to retention efforts.

That’s especially important for cloud services, the Spicework’s report points out, in which recurring subscriptions are dependent on ongoing user satisfaction.

“Because ITDMs will continue to evaluate the product over time, sales and marketing teams are advised to stay on ITDMs’ good sides if they wish to retain customers,” they advised.

Even during the stages in which ITDMs are less involved in the decision making, their recommendations remain highly influential.

“It’s a given that business decision makers trust IT professionals to make tech decisions and recommendations,” said the Spiceworks report, “but it may come as a surprise that BDMs also trust ITDMs’ business savvy as well. Indeed, nearly three-quarters of BDMs said ITDMs in their organizations understand business needs well enough to make informed tech decisions.

Interestingly enough, “the inverse is not necessarily true,” Spiceworks researcher continued. While BDMs give themselves high marks for their tech know-how, ITDMs don’t necessarily concur. A full 58 percent of BDMs self-reported understanding tech well enough to make informed tech purchase decisions, but only 41 percent of ITDMs agreed. It should be noted, however, that IT decision makers in larger organizations had a higher opinion of their BDM peers, as 56 percent of ITDMs in large organizations (500+ employees) said BDMs understand tech well enough to make informed IT purchase decisions compared to only 34 percent of ITDMs in SMBs (1-499 employees).

Looking specifically at the differences in marketing content consumption preferences, “ITDMs want to get a good feel for a product before making a recommendation to business decision makers,” suggested analysts at Spiceworks. Since cloud-based solutions lack tangible products, ITDMs say online demos/walkthroughs, tech spec sheets, how-to guides, hands-on labs and webinars are particularly important to gaining an understanding of what it’s really like to use the product before their organization makes a commitment.

On the other hand, BDMs tend to gravitate toward word-of-mouth, valuing the opinions of existing users and analysts, showed the surveys. “For example, BDMs have a stronger preference than ITDMs for content that includes interviews, case studies, testimonials and third-party research.” Incidentally, BDMs are also more receptive to advertising or podcasts when evaluating a cloud-based solution.

Cost and Security

Perhaps the biggest difference in the type of content that resonates with each group of decision makers comes in the area of costs. While 62 percent of BDMs believe using public cloud is cheaper than self-hosting applications, only 46 percent of ITDMs believe this to be true. Overall, only 27 percent of U.S.-based ITDMs believe that using the cloud is cheaper than self-hosting.

“This pessimism represents a challenge for tech marketers, especially because IT professionals might be initial gatekeepers that have the power to rule out a solution early in the buyer’s journey,” warned Spiceworks analysts.

Another area of misalignment among ITDMs and BDMs is around payment preferences. Across all geographies, 55 percent of BDMs say their organizations would rather pay for tech infrastructure as an operational expense (opex) rather than a less frequent but larger capital expense (capex) compared to 47 percent of ITDMs. Among U.S. organizations surveyed, the gap is even wider: 44 percent of BDMs in the U.S. said their organization prefers opex over capex compared to only 27 percent of ITDMs.

Likewise, BDMs are more likely to view adopting cloud technology as a way to reduce the need for potentially expensive hires or additional training. Nearly six in 10 BDMs said using cloud services can reduce the need for developing specialized IT skills and expertise in-house, compared to half of ITDMs. BDMs also are more likely than ITDMs (49 percent vs. 39 percent) to say their organization follows a “cloud-first” technology strategy.

Turning to the also-important issue of security, a plurality of IT buyers said cloud providers offer superior security compared to their own organization’s data centers, but significantly more BDMs hold this belief (59 percent) than ITDMs (50 percent). “Additionally, our data suggests some BDMs might have a blind spot regarding cloud security,” said Spiceworks researchers.

When using cloud-based B2B solutions, companies essentially pay for the use of infrastructure and services maintained by a third party, continued Spiceworks researchers, potentially leading BDMs to assume their cloud providers will provide adequate security and safeguard everything.

However, the “shared responsibility model” for security and compliance in the cloud says service providers (such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure) are responsible for the underlying infrastructure of the cloud, explained Spiceworks researchers. At the same time, customers are responsible for what’s running on top of that infrastructure, including their own data, access management settings, applications and configurations.

“While we found that the majority of companies (55 percent) have evaluated and addressed the ‘shared responsibility model’ for security and compliance as part of their cloud strategy, there’s a disconnect between ITDMs and BDMs,” said the report.

In small businesses (1-99 employees), for example, 57 percent of BDMs think that they’ve addressed the shared responsibility model compared to only 37 percent of ITDMs. The same phenomenon exists in medium-size businesses (100-499 employees), where 71 percent of BDMs think they’ve addressed the shared responsibility model, compared to only 44 percent of ITDMs.

ITDMs and BDMs are much more aligned in larger organizations, where 73 percent of ITDMs and 70 percent of BDMs say they’ve addressed the shared responsibility model.

Forced to consider a tech buying collective made up of stakeholders with unique needs, preferences and objections, marketers of cloud solution can no longer rely on a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, they must have a grasp of the key differences between ITDMs and BDMs and the specific objections that might need to be overcome.

At the same time, cloud solutions marketers must remain in tune with the types of messaging and materials that ITDMs in particular are seeking, as IT remains central to the cloud purchase journey despite its level of direct involvement in any specific steps along the way.