Are partners ready for the new technology buyer?

making deals with the new technology buyerA pair of threads wove through most of the presentations and conversations at CompTIA’s Annual Members Meeting in San Diego last week: When it comes to selling business technology, the buyer is changing and the sweet spot is moving out across organizational boundaries.

In nearly every recounting from the anecdotal to the strictly empirical, it’s clear a brisk market for IT goods and services exists, but target has moved. There’s no shortage of resellers stubbornly fixated on the old points of aim, but for the most part, partners are getting the message: It’s time to readjust our sights.

New data out this morning from International Data Corp. bears this out. While the bulk of the headlines trumpet the report’s takeaway that business technology is growing at a 7 percent annual clip — from $275.2 billion this year to nearly $331 billion by 2017 — the morale of the story for the channel is between the lines.

While businesses account for 55 percent of total technology spending in the U.S., the market for enterprise IT is on an anemic pace of less than 2 percent annual growth. So where is all the money coming from? According to IDC, and not a few solution providers chatting in the halls at the Rancho Bernardo Inn last week, it’s  in the Line of Businesses (LoBs) that have been newly empowered to acquire technology in pursuit of critical business outcomes.

This might have been considered “rogue IT” at one point, but it’s time to recognize this trend for what it is: The new normal. LoB leaders are hungry for solutions in what is becoming known as the SMAC segment – social, mobile, analytics, and cloud. IDC, in a slight different order calls these same solutions the “four pillars” of business technology.

These four pillars are transforming business processes including the technology purchase decision and the budget holders, IDC asserts. Buying power is moving away from the CIO and toward the CMOs, CFOs, VPs of sales, and other LoB executives.

Consider that marketing is now the fastest growing area of business technology spending, growing at a 5-year rate of 9.5 percent, according to IDC. The marketing function within the media industry alone is growing its tech spend at an 11.2 percent annual clip. Technology spending for U.S. businesses is no longer adequately measured at the meta level, but is a function of fragmented technology budgets that is sifting through accounting, customer service, engineering, HR, legal, sales, supply chain and more.

Such a shift means significant changes are now needed to market, sell and deliver technologies. Where one message based largely on speeds and feeds may have sufficed to win over a technology-focused CIO in the past, business IT purveyors will now need a full set of fine-tuned pitches for every stakeholder in the purchasing process, messages that address not only technology features but tangible benefits to the business of marketing, selling, finance and beyond.

“The connection between technology and business is accelerating at lightning speed,” said Eileen Smith, program manager for IDC’s Global Technology and Industry Research unit and one of the authors of the United States Technology Buyer Forecast by Vertical: 2012 to 2017report.

We’ve said for some time that the IT solution provider’s value really lies in business services, not in technology. A partner’s ability to speak the language of business — to engage executives and line-of-business managers more on process and outcomes and less on speeds and feeds — is at the heart of the services evolution in the channel. IT needs a seat at the business table.

Unfortunately, even as the world is changing around them, many partners say they don’t feel ready to move the conversations from technology to business just yet. That isn’t going to stop business leaders from seeking out SMAC solutions to address their pressing business issues, with or without the technologist by their side to guide their hand.

As colleague Frank Scavo, president of Computer Economics and Strativa likes to quip: “Technology is too important to leave to the IT department.”

As the new IDC spending number sink in, partners looking to find a point of entry in this new buying paradigm need to find ways to focus on areas like virtualization, mobility and BYOD, data analytics, software-defined networks, cloud computing, security, service automation, and risk management and compliance. These will be the sweet spots that not only require the most input from the technology experts, but also hold the greatest and most obvious potential for positive business outcomes when implemented and leveraged correctly.

That should speak volumes to the new class of tech customers with increasing control of the checkbook.

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