If you are involved in selling an enterprise software or technology solutions, you already know the importance of understanding the inner workings of the various departments within the prospective customer’s company. Your solution might be purchased by the information technology department and used by accounting and human resources. It might be selected by engineering (with the IT department’s help) and used by manufacturing. Or it could be selected by finance and bought by the IT department. Almost every enterprise software purchase decision requires multiple departments to become involved. Therefore, it’s critical to map out the interrelationships of the departments within an organization.
Over the past decade, I have performed win-loss sales analysis studies for a wide variety of software and hardware technology companies ranging from start-ups to companies with sales billions. To complete these studies, I conducted blind surveys of the senior IT executives, mid-level managers, and low-level technical evaluators who had selected or rejected the software from the company for which I was completing the study. While the purpose of these studies was to improve the sales force’s effectiveness, interesting patterns of IT organization behavior became apparent. These patterns supersede the standard hierarchical organization chart that salespeople and marketeers have grown accustomed to studying.
Four models can be used to define the information technology’s departmental interrelationships that will influence their buying behavior: departments are either consolidators, consulters, responders, or bureaucrats. These departmental types (consolidators, consulters, responders, and bureaucrats) have different orientations toward the operation of their departments. Most importantly, they buy software, technology, and Softwaree as a Service (SaaS) in different ways and for completely different purposes.
1. Consolidators. Consolidators are IT departments that seek to increase their power, authority, or control within their organization. To grow their sphere of influence, they launch grand initiatives, major companywide projects that affect the operations of other departments.
The planning and creation of a grand initiative are at the direction of the department’s executive leadership (CIO, CTO, and VP of IT). This type of project does not percolate up from lower-level personnel through the chain of command; it is driven down from the top and out to the rest of the company.
The underlying motivation behind grand initiatives like this one is always power, whether it’s to gain more, consolidate it, or decrease that of other leaders and their departments within the organization. In the example above, the information technology department is exercising its power over engineering and finance.
2. Consulters. Consulters are IT departments that take on the characteristics and attributes of a consultant to their organization. They seek to understand the problems of other departments and offer recommendations on how those problems can be solved using their services.
They proactively share their proprietary knowledge and departmental expertise or offer unsolicited advice to other departments in an attempt to show how they can improve efficiency. Therefore, they are continually polling the other departments, seeking opportunities to promote their services, and pushing out their ideas, philosophies, and opinions.
Like a consultant hired on an hourly basis, consulters seek to continually validate their benefits and justify their existence to their customers. Selling to consulters differs from selling to consolidators because consulters enjoy the company of other consultants.
3. Responders. Responders are weak IT departments that operate under the direction of other departments. Whereas consolidators seek power and consulters seek to proliferate their services, responders are just trying to survive. Many times, IT responders are literally under attack from other departments that are unable to meet their objectives because of the IT department’s ineffectiveness. In some cases, the other departments have been disappointed by the past IT blunders. As a result, IT responders tend to be treated disrespectfully and suffer from a lack of departmental esteem.
When selling to a responder, you must sell to the business unit as well as IT, whereas with consulters and consolidators, your main sales effort should be directed inside the IT departments. For example, let’s assume a powerful accounting department at a company is complaining about escalating phone costs and your company provides phone bill audit software. You need to make both the business unit (accounting department) and the responder (IT department) aware of your services.
4. Bureaucrats. The final category of IT departmental buyer is bureaucrats, faceless departments whose most important priority is to maintain the status quo through rules, regulations, and delaying tactics. The features of a bureaucrat department are secretiveness, a response system that reflexively rebuffs demands made upon the department, and administrative centralization around the departmental leader, the arch-bureaucrat.
The structured environment, similar to a military command-and-control environment, stamps out innovative thinking within lower levels of the department and hinders the free flow of information from other departments. Instead, the bureaucratic monarchy considers other departments outsiders and issues edicts that must be complied with for fear of consequences.
Final Thoughts: Because IT executive leaders of consolidators, consulters, responders, and bureaucrats have different motivations, they have different perceptions of a product’s true value. The perceived value of a product depends on the psychological, political, operational, and strategic value it provides the executive decision makers. Every enterprise IT sale involves consolidators, consulters, responders, and bureaucrats. You must determine a project’s wellspring in order to know to whom and how to sell your solution.
The essence of successful enterprise technology sales is understanding not only who to sell to, but how to craft a message that appeals to consolidators, consulters, responders, and bureaucrats. And, this is the reason my new book HEAVY HITTER IT SALES STRATEGY: Competitive Insights From 1000+ Interviews with Key IT Decision Makers and Top Technology Salespeople focuses on language-based strategies to secure face-to-face meetings and convince skeptical customers to buy. You can learn more “Sales Linguistics,” the revolutionary new field of study on my web site at https://www.stevewmartin.com/