What Does the Business Influencer Look Like?
The business influencer could be defined as a regional specialized systems integrator, the small management consultant, a sales influencer, a service delivery partner and even the large global SI recognizing the need to collaborate or recruit business consulting expertise within their organizations in order to land the deal.
The outcome of the study suggested a growing number of regional specialized systems integrators are becoming more vertical-focused and are receiving more than 50 percent of their revenue from business consulting. This group of solution providers is gaining market share by selling technology in a more business-relevant way. As IT vendors recognize the solution provider’s need to differentiate around their services value, they now have to redefine their own business sales model to support a new breed of influencer: one that is increasing in line-of-business clout and requiring a different support set than the traditional product-focused VAR or IT systems integrator.
“We identify our company as both a software vendor and a solution provider,” said Scott Weir, VP of Professional Services for Logica, a global business and technology service company. “We take on different roles with each client; sometimes deploying a software solution that we developed in-house and other times offering business consulting. Because we address the entire solution ecosystem – people, business and technology – we appear differently to different clients. At the end of the day, the important thing is that the client’s needs are understood and their problems solved. To effectively do this, we provide solutions in a business-relevant context. “
Partnering to Influence the Business Decision Maker
While positioning products in a business-relevant context was very important to the majority of IT vendors who participated in this research, these vendors also indicated they were currently experiencing only average success doing so today – based on a limited focus on this partner segment. Only 19 percent of IT vendors said they were intrinsically a part of the business influencers’ solution offering. Over a quarter of them also indicated they may not have enough market clout or brand presence to warrant business influencer attention or investment. Despite the desire to have partners promote their technology in the overall business solution, 24 percent indicate their own company’s sales and marketing efforts have been focused on IT decision makers versus business decision makers.
Geary Sikich, Principal at Logical Management Systems Corp., a business consulting firm specializing in intelligence, crisis management, business continuity planning and infrastructure protection, believes the biggest reason why IT vendors have struggled with gaining market clout with the business influencer is their inability to listen to and actually hear what the customer is saying they need. “I’ve watched IT vendors lose credibility by over promising and under-delivering.
After they have already deployed a solution that is working, they will oversell the client on a new capability that often is not their core competency without doing the analysis to find out if there is even a need. I see it happen all the time and it causes dissention for the client, and makes the business consultant like myself not want to partner with the IT vendor. Plug and play solutions do not work; each client has to be treated as unique, and most IT vendors do not get that.”Key takeaways from the “Influencing the Influencer” study suggest that business influencers are encouraging IT vendors to move away from their standard channel partner engagement approach. Incentives based on the quantity of transactions, investments and support based on solution provider size, providing impersonal web portal service support and promoting product feature sets over vertical use-case studies just don’t pan out with the business influencer partner“I’m not surprised that IT vendors struggle with gaining clout with the business influencer,” added Mr. Weir. “We’re often like the blind men trying to identify the elephant. Your perspective and response depends on which part of the animal you are touching. To a software vendor, the client is an opportunity for license and maintenance revenue.
To a solution provider, it’s project and services revenue that is typically human resources-based – two potentially distinct value propositions and selling approaches. The opportunity is to combine them and create the business value the client really wants and needs.”
The research revealed vendors’ past investment in business influencers has been focused on technical and sales training, followed by local sales and service teams to assist with specific customer engagements. The solution providers’ go-forward expectations from vendors are local sales support and easy teaming processes, which are also the top priority for vendors. However, good sales tools and solution playbooks were prioritized by solution providers, because many IT vendors are not known for the quality of their solution selling guides and/or partners have already established their own solution sales processes.
“Rather than making an upfront investment in generic technical skills and certifications prior to a sale, IT vendors would benefit greatly from investing with us to jointly develop a tangible solution to a complex industry issue,” added Mr. Weir. “Ideally this solution ecosystem includes a client who understands the benefits of collaboration for innovation. By engaging in this fashion, the solution providers differentiate themselves, the vendor demonstrates how its technology provides business value, and the client has a solution to its needs. Most importantly, this approach creates a foundation for future team work and collaboration.” Vendors seem to emphasize finder’s fees or influence rebates as incentive to drive partners’ selling behavior, well beyond the partners’ expectations in this area. Business influencers are instead focused on the services revenue opportunity and typically don’t want the administrative hassle of submitting and tracking claims for influencer fees, unless the deal is very large.
These findings caught the eye of Tyler Prince, Group V.P. of North American Alliances and Channels’ for Oracle’s Applications business. “I am surprised at how many vendors are still investing in influencer fees. Several years ago, Oracle made the conscious decision to eliminate influencer fees. We thought it was not only in the best interest of our customers, but also it was driven by a large number of solution providers coming to us indicating they did not want any part of such a program because it compromises their objectivity. Business Influencers want to be trusted advisors and these types of fees make it harder for them.”
Business influencers are still interested in vendors’ services delivery methodologies and tools, even if they already have their own practices in place. However, they are equally interested in access to local technical and services staff at aggressive rates to help them complete their own engagements. The last two support requirements indicate that IT vendors are clear on the partners’ desire for simple local engagement models, free of direct-to-channel conflict. And for some IT vendors, changing field compensation plans and teaming models to acknowledge partner-delivered services have been the ticket to stronger channel engagement. Both Mr. Weir and Mr. Sikich agree that conflict-free engagement is the ante to building clout with the influencer.
In closing, the business influencer market is becoming one of the most important areas for IT vendors to invest in. Partnering for success begins with listening to the business decision makers’ needs and aligning resources with the complete support of the IT vendor to solve those business critical issues. The “Influencing the Influencer” study offers great insights to close the gap between the solution provider and the IT vendor…Let’s see who’s listening?
Beth Vanni is Vice President of Amazon Consulting and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org