Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Johnnie Can't Buy

Corporate IT buyers report that completing a typical enterprise IT purchase takes more than five months, two months more than they would prefer. While they blame their vendors for contributing to just over a quarter of the delay, they acknowledge that their own faulty buying processes contribute to two-thirds of the delay (source: IDC 2011 Buyer Experience Study).

What’s going on here? Why can’t buying teams be more efficient with their enterprise IT purchases?

It’s not their fault…mostly.

Many, perhaps most buying teams are assembled on an ad hoc basis to address a specific business issue. They may have little or no experience in working with one another and limited (if any) experience in evaluating, purchasing and implementing the specific product or application. After all, this is probably a one-time exercise for them. As a result, they lack the structure and processes necessary to identify and prioritize critical business requirements, application and service criteria, implementation challenges and more.

Typically, the members of the buying team with repeat buying experience include those from IT, Finance or Procurement. These participants tend to focus the discussions on either technical or cost details…not where most vendors want to focus (or where the buying team should focus!). Few buying teams include formal facilitators with deep process experience who can extract the critical business requirements and develop consensus among the members of the team.

Selling teams, on the other hand, engage with buying teams every day. They work with multiple organizations and handle the same set of questions, concerns and objections over and over. They see the patterns across these organizations. Based on these repeated experiences, the selling team should know what’s important to the individual buyer and be able to propose a well-thought out evaluation and decision framework.

While the selling team is in a unique position to guide their prospect through the consideration and evaluation process, most don’t. They either don’t believe that it’s their job to do so or out of habit they defer to the buyer’s (flawed) processes.

Top salespeople will identify the void in the buying team’s experience and assist them in identifying and prioritizing critical business requirements and in developing consensus among the members of the team. They do this naturally and without specific attachment to individual outcomes. If the fit isn’t right, they disqualify the prospect and move on to other opportunities. A few large vendor organizations incorporate engagement project managers on their enterprise account teams to help ensure this focus (and the delivery of the appropriate resources at the right time throughout the engagement process).

B and C level sales people, on the other hand, work within the buyer’s flawed processes, searching to match their assets with what appears to be important to the buyer. Since the critical business requirements are a moving target in this environment, the sales person will never really connect. Purchase decisions are made on faulty assumptions and the desired business results may never be reached.

Enterprise buyers place tremendous value on the consultative capability of their vendors. They know that their vendors work with a wide variety of organizations and can bring deep and broad implementation and business expertise to the table. It’s up to sales management to ensure that this expertise is developed and offered as a primary benefit of the relationship. It also requires a shift in focus from “solution selling” to true consultative selling. (See Buyers Don’t Want Solutions for a deeper discussion of why solution selling is bad.)

In adopting and fostering this consultative approach, the vendor will move from simple (and fungible) “vendor” to “trusted advisor” status and enjoy higher sales productivity, share of wallet and customer satisfaction.

Resources: I’d strongly suggest the book entitled Mastering the Complex Sale by Jeff Thull. Jeff has developed a formal process for managing consultative selling opportunities, one that helps to surface the key decision criteria and to gain consensus on the value and weight of those criteria.  You can purchase it here on Amazon.

I'd also recommend taking a look at the emerging vendor LeveragePoint. A spin-out of the Monitor Group, LeveragePoint provides an environment that assists sellers in surfacing and validating the handful of key decision criteria and in weighting those criteria to support optimized pricing on a deal-by-deal basis.