Thursday, November 04, 2010

IDC: Economic Buyers, Digital Overload and Sales Enablement Define Marketing for 2011

I just had the pleasure of presenting a webinar with Randy Perry, VP Business Value at IDC. In this session we discussed some important value selling and content marketing research for technology marketers, much of which extends to other B2B segments, with trends and advice you need to excel in 2011.

In this blog post, I present a few of the key research metrics and advice. If this overview is of interest, you can listen to the full webinar as well as download the presentation at:

Three Key Technology Marketing Trends for 2011
According to IDC, there are three significant marketing trends to focus on into 2011, and these trends have important implications for strategy and budgeting:
  1. IT purchases are strongly influenced by economic trends, and marketers need to target the economic buyer more than ever before, in order to get attention and win the business. According to IDC, over 90% of IT buyers are economic buyers / economically focused;
  2. Technology marketers are focusing more investments on digital channels, and this is good because executives and economic buyers favor on-line research and content. However, with more marketing channels available, and more messages per day than ever reaching these skeptical buyers, marketing fatigue and information overload are prevalent;
  3. Investing more in Sales Enablement is critical as buyers indicate that internal decision making is becoming more complex, while at the same time, sales professionals are not adding the needed information and value needed to overcome the growing buying cycle complexity. As a result, sales is being invited later into the decision making process, sales cycles are extending and deals are stalling.
Let us examine each of these IDC trends in detail and what they mean to 2011 strategies and budgets.

Frugalnomics Reigns
Since the technology bubble burst at the start of this decade, we have found that technology buyers have become more focused on quantifiable bottom-line proof points for most large investments. With the Great Recession more pressure than ever is on IT to do-more-with-less, and the economic buyer is firmly in control, demanding even more financial due diligence. We call the economic buyer trend Frugalnomics, where buyers seek quantifiable proof of bottom-line impact, significant ROI, fast payback and superior value from each purchase.

IDC’s most resent customer experience survey of over 200 key IT decision makers reveals that Frugalnomics is indeed in full effect. Research on what drives IT purchase decisions indicates that decisions are predominantly made based on financial requirements, such as enabling business growth (29%), improving profitability (25%), and reducing costs (22%). These economic driven decisions greatly exceed sentiment for all other purchase drivers such as improving competitiveness, meeting regulatory requirements, or increasing staff utilization.

From this research, it is clear that messages and tools need to be provided to deliver to  buyers  the evidence they need to understand the value of solutions in enabling business growth, improving profitability, and reducing costs. Failure to provide this content means that buyers are left on their own to determine how your solutions might deliver on these goals and to quantify for themselves what value the solutions might or might not provide. This can cause buyers to slow the buying lifecycle as they struggle on their own to put the pieces together, or worse, dismiss your solution altogether because of perceived benefit or value issues.

When ranking the important factors that influence IT purchase decisions, survey respondents indicated that economic factors once again reign. For the IT buyer, business benefit assessments (34%) and financial assessments (26%) were both highly important to making a purchase decision, greatly exceeding, by more than 2x, the vendor relationship (14%) as a decision driver.

When we look at marketing budgets however, we find that marketing spending is not aligned in most cases with this financial decision making criteria. Most organizations continue to spend much more on branding and relationship management versus value-based sales and marketing initiatives. From these findings, to better align sales / marketing with buyer requirements, the advice from IDC is to allocate more budget to business benefit and financial assessment content, tools and sales support.

Value Selling is a Requirement
The IDC buyer survey indicates that the way IT solutions are currently marketed and sold needs to change. In the early days of IT, product selling was prevalent, pitching products to innovators who were shown a product’s features and functions and then figured out on their own how to apply it to a pain / opportunity.

This advanced in the 1990s to solution selling, where several popular methodologies prompted sales and marketing to ask a buyer questions about their pain points, then aligning solutions to help solve these opportunities.

In today’s frugal environment, buyers don’t always have the resources to research issues or frameworks to understand what might ail them. These buyers seek diagnostic advice to help proactively uncover issues, recommend improvement roadmaps, quantify benefits and assure best value. Survey results from IDC indicate that on average:
  • 90% of corporations surveyed require quantifiable proof of bottom-line benefits on most projects;
  • Two-thirds (65%) of buyers indicate that they do not have the knowledge or tools needed to do business value assessments and calculations;
  • 81% of buyers expect vendors to quantify business value of proposed solutions.
From the research, IDC indicates that vendors should invest in content, tools and support to help buyers proactively identify and frame their issues / opportunities and quantify the benefits and value of proposed solutions in order to prove contributions to growth, savings and bottom-line impact.

IT Marketing Spending Significantly More on Digital Media
As the second most important trend for 2011, IDC indicates that to no-ones surprise, IT marketers are allocating a higher percentage of the budget to Digital Media, including growing spending on corporate websites, micro-sites, blogs, webinars, virtual tradeshows, search engine optimization, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, banner ads, on-line video and e-mail marketing.

From survey results of IDC’s Technology Marketing Barometer, comparing 2009 to 2010 marketing allocations, technology marketers indicated that digital would experience the most growth year-over-year, greatly exceeding traditional advertising, public relations and events in year-over-year growth.

Within digital marketing, analyzing the allocations from 2009 to 2010, IDC found that 2010 spending on digital marketing programs is not changing dramatically year over year. Not surprisingly, spending on company websites will increase the most, growing 43% over 2009 levels, and social network marketing is expected to increase as well, with an increase of 45% over 2009. Declining from 2009 is budget allocations and spending for search ads and search engine optimization, as well as display ads. Buyers are more skeptical than ever, and seem to be using search results less and less to perform research and support key purchase decisions. Instead, trusted sources are becoming more valuable, including content and advice from industry and trade publications, analysts and more and more, peer networks.

Content is King?
Is this digital spending allocation aligning with buyer needs? When asking over 200 IT buyers what they felt was most important part of the overall purchase process, over 1/3rd of the buyers indicated Vendor Content as key to the purchase decision. Content may indeed be king.

IDC survey results indicate that buyers rely on Vendor Content greatly, exceeding the value of direct vendor engagements with technical teams, sales representatives and executives in making key purchase decisions. With a wealth of information available at the click of a mouse, buyers are doing more of their own research and evaluations on-line relying less and less on vendor interaction to progress through the decision making cycle. We call this the “Internet fueled buying cycle.”

Content marketing, and developing content in particular to attract today’s economic focused buyer, is more important than ever to help connect and engage with buyers, and help customer stakeholders make better and faster IT purchase decisions. From these survey results, increased spending on content marketing for corporate web sites and social media would seem to help drive more / faster buying decisions. To help cut through the constant information overload, and help guide decisions more effectively, the most valuable content is that which is tuned to be relevant and engaging to the buyer - one-to-one personalized for example by industry, location, size, stage in buying cycle, role, pain points and opportunities.

The End of Sales as we Know It?
The importance of content marketing, from these survey results, help guide marketers that they should indeed be investing more in developing and delivering the right personalized and engaging content to help buyers drive decisions.

However, the importance of content and lack of priority towards direct engagements points to a troubling trend in that today’s Internet fueled, buyer controlled purchase process is disintermediating sales from the purchase process. Buyers are doing more and more of their own research in the early and middle phases of the sales process, and involving sales reps later and later in the sales cycle, often after key purchase decisions have already been made. Can sales be made relevant and valuable again in these key stages of the buying cycle?

The key to shaping the trends back in the vendors favor certainly requires an investment in content marketing, but also may mean investing more wisely in Sales Enablement to be sure sales is armed with the content they need to effectively engage buyers earlier, and with more value in the process.

Sales Enablement or Perish
Sales Enablement is defined by IDC as: “The delivery of the right information to the right person at the right time in the right format and in the right place … to assist in moving a specific sales opportunity forward.”
However, many vendors would say that sales opportunities are not moving forward the way many would like. Research has revealed that buying cycles have changed dramatically through the Great Recession, as:
  • 62% of technology vendors need more leads in order to generate the same amount of sales;
  • 72% indicate an increase in buying cycle time over the past 6 month, while the buying cycle timeframe has increased over 10% in the past 12 months.
The good news is that it’s not only the tech sales and marketing teams that wants the purchase cycles reduced. Surveys revealed that IT buyers too do not like the duration of todays decision making cycles, and want to shorten the buying cycle time by ~50%. So what is causing the buying cycle delays and frustrations, when all want a quicker, more streamlined buying process?

First, the decision making cycle within most organizations has become more complicated, with more stakeholders than ever before, and more financial due diligence requirements to assure that scarce funding is going towards the highest impact, best value and lowest risk projects.

The key for vendors to address the complexity issue is to help the buyer champions obtain support from the stakeholders throughout the business and provide the supporting financial proof-points of superior benefits, return on investment, quick payback, superior value and lower risk to make funding diligence and approval easer.

Second, the survey results highlight that sales repss are being tagged as not understanding buyer needs, not having valuable resources to add value to the sales process, and not being prepared. To help alleviate these issues, marketing needs to create the right content that buyers see as unique and valuable, and sales needs to know when to use and engage with this information to best effect.

So how can the sales help to address the more complex decision making cycle and add more value to the process? We recommend the following value selling / marketing initiatives:

  • Assessment Tools and Interactive White Papers- Early in the sales cycle, buyers are looking for strategic guidance to assure that the selected strategy is right. Assessment tools can be used to engage and discover where the prospect is on a capability / maturity scale, comparing progress to peers and leaders to determine how ahead or behind the prospect is compared to others. The assessment could be used to help engage the growing number of stakeholders to understand the reasons for the recommended solutions and align them towards a common goal and solution set. Interactive white papers can be used to better engage overloaded buyers with content personalized based on industry, location, size, pain points and opportunities - delivering more relevance and engagement.
  • ROI Tools – In the middle phases of the buying cycle, specific solutions are being considered, and need to be prioritized and justified. To engage better with skeptical buyers, sales could use benefit calculators and ROI tools to help quantify the impact that various solutions and options could have to the customer’s bottom-line. Financial business cases could help present the value propositions in unique terms for each stakeholder, and help align the decision makers to a common cause, tieing the proposal to important and unique economic financial goals for each. In this manner, sales can help prioritize and gain support for proposed projects with each stakeholder.
  • TCO Comparison Tools - In later stages of the decision cycle, the vendor can deliver a total cost of ownership comparison proving lower total cost and better value can help the team know that the best solution was selected. This can help verify amongst all stakeholders that the selected solution represents the best value choice.
The Bottom-Line

From the IDC research, it is clear that today’s technology buyers are more overloaded, skeptical and frugal than ever before. These three trends are driving marketers to revisit and potentially change the way they engage technology buyers:
  1. IT purchases governed by economic buyers more than ever before. Marketers need to directly connect and engage with the economic focused / frugal buyer more than ever before. One way marketers can do this is by providing on-line interactive white papers and assessment tools to help buyers uncover potential improvement opportunities and quantify the business and IT benefits, ROI and payback of proposed solutions.
  2. Buyers rely on digital channels and content more than ever, with most purchasing cycles now fueled by the Internet and controlled by the prospect rather than driven by sales. The key for marketers is to mazimize investments in these digital channels, but understand that information overload is prevelant from the abundance of digital channels and content. Marketers need to work that much harder to break through the information overload with content that will better connect and engage today's more skeptical / frugal buyer. One suggestion is to use more interactive content such as white papers and assessment tools personalized based on industry, location, size, pain points and opportunities.
  3. Buyer decisions involve more stakeholders and more hurdles than ever before. At the same time the decision cycle has grown more complex, sales seems to be less and less relevant in helping buyers overcome the increasing complexity. Sales is being invited later into the decision making process and even worse, potentially disintermediated from the cycle altogether. Marketing in the race to support the multitude of digital channels needs to be sure not to forget that sales is a customer as well, and Sales Enablement is a requirement in order to make sales relevant in this new decade. Investments in the right Sales Enablement processes and assessment, benchmarking, ROI and TCO tools can help make sales professionals more consultative, and enable sales to help buyers overcome their internal concensus, financial diligence and process issues.
To help address a more skeptical, overloaded and frugal buyer, a value sales / marketing tool and process campaign could help, delivering the interactive smart content™, assessment tools, ROI calculators and TCO comparisons needed to overcome skepticism, break through the information overload, and fight Frugalnomics.

Learn more about these recommendations at:

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