One of the most frustrating things IT services providers need to contend with these days is that while the sales funnel has collapsed, it’s actually taking longer than ever to close a deal.

Thanks to the rise of the search engines and social media, customers are taking it upon themselves to research the technology they want to buy more deeply, and long before they ever contact an IT services firm. The traditional sales funnel used to consist of four core elements: Awareness, Consideration, Intent and Vendor Selection. Once upon a time, sales people were involved in every stage of that process.

These days, many customers have already made up their mind about what to buy and perhaps even who to buy from before they contact a sales person. This means that having a digital marketing plan in place is critical. Without the awareness those campaigns generate, chances are a product or service will never even be considered.

In theory, that should speed up the sales process. As it turns out, because IT decisions are now considered to be at their most strategic, there are more people involved in the purchasing decision than ever. A 2019 Enlightened Tech Buyer Report based on a survey of more than 5,000 global professionals published by LinkedIn, finds that 38 percent of employees within an organization are now considered technology decision makers, while 86 percent exercise some influence over that decision. The survey also notes that the average technology purchase process for hardware takes 15 months to complete.

IT leaders and staff still exercise the most amount of influence over these decisions, but don’t always control the budgets being used to fund an IT project. The typical IT organization may exercise direct control over a network that is shared by multiple departments. Chances are high that an application that is primarily used by one department will be paid for using budget dollars allocated to that line of business. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a committee to be formed made up of individuals from both the line of business and the IT department to research every major technology decision.

Obstacles to closing deals

Despite all that effort, the LinkedIn survey reveals that the more people that get involved in the purchasing decision, the more the deck tends to get stacked in favor of incumbent technology providers. In addition, LinkedIn notes that only 27 percent of software tech buyers shortlisted a new vendor in the past three months.

These days trying to get a major IT deal closed is roughly equivalent to shepherding a bill through the US Congress. All it takes is for one key stakeholder to say no for the whole process to become a wasted effort. That’s why sales people that have developed relationships with all the key stakeholders are worth their weight in gold.

Unfortunately, the outcome of all that negotiation doesn’t always lead to the most optimal solution. As British car designer Alexander Issigonis once observed, a camel is a horse designed by a committee. No IT decision is permanent and there’s always an opportunity to address flaws during the next upgrade cycle.

Of course, there’s also always another salesperson somewhere waiting for that same opportunity to convince the committee to change its mind altogether. After all, once a committee establishes control over a process, it almost never gets disbanded. So long as there are people are making the IT purchasing decision, there will always be a need for someone to make the sale.

What’s changing is the skills and patience required to first successfully make a sale, and then make sure the contract doesn’t wind up being terminated later. In fact, successful IT sales people today have a lot more in common with a lobbyist than they do with the person who sold you the last car you bought.

Photo: UNIKYLUCKK / Shutterstock

Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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