2020 was already set to be a reckoning on corporate technology and a consolidation of digital transformation efforts. It was discovered that many ecosystems were not optimized or connected, often due to a lack of IT governance and architectural strategy. This was especially true for those organizations that didn’t have or make use of strategic channel partners. In established organizations, legacy systems continue to be a top pain point. Compounding those challenges for IT is all the shelfware piling up. There is a lot of software in tech stacks that can’t or won’t be used, which is a big problem. If you read the reviews and reports, it’s largely because the platforms were not as flexible or user friendly as promised; they don’t integrate with other systems or their data; implementation didn’t go as expected; and/or support is negligible.

As a result, business units struggle to realize the value of digital let alone demonstrate any returns on investment to the CFO. Another problem.

Present day.

Data from the latest Demand Gen Report confirms that most business priorities have shifted post-COVID and 82% of purchasing has shifted with them. And depending on how those priorities shook out, projects have been delayed (47%) or expedited (30%). Accordingly, sales cycles are increasing for some, decreasing for others. Barring a need to stand something up quickly, it’s mostly the former. Going forward, few tech purchases will be evaluated as stand-alone solutions. Rather midmarket and enterprise companies will be looking at their technology options more holistically with an eye to balancing longer term innovation and immediate operational improvements.

The practice of purchasing by committee is also evolving. Midmarket companies have taken a page from the enterprise playbook and are formalizing buying centers more often. Per the Demand Gen report, 71% of organizations have them in place. This is not a post-COVID trend. The number of corporate buying centers has consistently risen year over year.

Depending on the company type, size and industry, these decision-making units are comprised of a variety of stakeholders that have skin in the game. They are often measured by their technology selection and the adoption of it. The number of stakeholders involved keeps growing – in some companies its up to 25, according to IDG. Some of those buyers will be known to the vendors being shortlisted, but many will not be.

One type of buyer that will have higher authority is the IT Decision-Maker. The IT Department isn’t what it used to be. The function has transitioned from being a perceived bottleneck, to a strategic partner, to keeping the lights on during a shutdown.

CIOs have reimagined and reorganized IT to better support Digital Transformation efforts. Last year’s State of Digital Transformation Report has CIO’s as the primary driver. Today’s IT Pros are highly specialized. They have moved away from their traditional swim lanes and are embedded throughout organizations to extend their functional capabilities and connect their data. We see this with HR and Finance and in sectors like Manufacturing. And, many modern marketing departments are technically native.

An early adopter of digital and a corporate driver of transformation efforts – particularly around customer experience, Marketing was one of the first strategic partners of IT. In forward-thinking companies, the CMO and CIO forged an early alliance to ensure that marketing’s digital requirements for CX were met, and that the technology integrated with existing architecture. Even when platform decisions were marketing-led, IT was on board. 

Speaking of CX.

“The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling, it’s our customers’ struggle to buy.”  Brent Adamson, Advisory VP, Gartner.

We opened this blog addressing the notion that B2B Tech customers struggle with the sheer number of solutions and vendors in the marketplace. Given the nature of today’s sales and lead gen tactics, prospects try to fly under the radar as long as possible. More red flags from the Demand Gen report:

  • 71% are conducting anonymous research for the first 3 months
  • 20% try to stay dark up to 6 months into the process
  • When comparing solutions, they only give each vendor sales rep about 5-6% of their time

That’s because buyers don’t view vendors as strategic, only necessary. Looking at the real quotes on the slide below, you can feel the frustration buyers have about their typical digital experience. 

What we can learn.

Given these changing dynamics in the B2B tech marketplace, we wanted to get a read on how well different sectors deliver on digital customer experience. The ComBlu research team is in the process of analyzing a number of solution providers in multiple sectors against digital CX best practices. First up, the HR Tech sector.

A quick preview.

While there are notable best practice models in the space, we were surprised to discover a gap in relevant and in-depth IT-focused content from the sample set. In fact, most of the vendors we scored took more of a one-size-fits-all approach with their content and messaging strategies. Rather than a multigenerational buying center approach, most were more singularly focused.  That’s a risky strategy in a highly competitive software category full of disrupters.

The complete HR Tech Report will be available soon. In addition to best practice models and industry benchmarks against digital CX best practices, we identify opportunities to help get some distance from the pack – concepts that can be applied to other B2B tech sectors as well. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here are some additional perspectives on B2B buying centers:

Jennifer Voisard
Jennifer Voisard

Senior Consultant

Jenny is a digital content strategist, who leads customer-centric engagements that focus on understanding B2B buying behaviors and developing custom roadmaps.

Her expertise is creating buyer personas and mapping digital content journeys to assess the multi-channel user experience. She helps clients operationalize plans across workstreams and identifies processes to create efficiencies in marketing operations. Jenny also has extensive time under her belt developing and managing customer advocacy programs and community building.

She has helped a diverse group of organizations including Cisco, VMware, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, BMO Harris, Capital One and many others become more customer-centric.