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The way buyers of IT services operate has changed in recent years. From a reasonably structured and well-understood process has emerged a much more fragmented, less formal and better-informed collection of people with the authority to buy what they need.
Most users of technology, let alone the buyers, are now far more tech-savvy than they ever used to be. This puts the buyers themselves in a difficult position.
Whereas in the past IT would spend time translating the business need into a technical solution they could then buy and then negotiate with a small number of preferred vendors, now the business users themselves are often dictating the technical requirements or even connecting directly with potential vendors.
The number of buyers has grown enormously and the more traditional procurement processes have evolved but, in many cases, tech-savvy users are buying directly without structured procurement frameworks.
Within this rather chaotic framework, it is becoming increasingly difficult for technology vendors and IT service providers to differentiate themselves. The tech-savvy employees have learned the value of information and are becoming more demanding in the quality and provenance of the information provided by those who seek to sell to them.
A 2019 Gartner study highlighted that 69% of IT providers are rated as average or below average in their efforts to differentiate themselves from their competition with only 1% being rated as extremely effective in communicating their competitive advantage.
Buyers are using their ability to access a wide variety of reliable information to challenge a lot of the claims that providers have often made during their sales pursuits. The same Gartner research shows that buyers prefer to rely on trusted independent sources of information as well as analysts, influencers and professional associations and communities.
On a scale of preference, marketing activities by the provider rank a miserable 7 out of the 8 sources reviewed, with only the provider website itself scoring lower.
The message is very clear. In this world of tech-savvy and well-informed users where buying power is highly decentralised, trying to win the trust of a prospect to be able to even engage in a conversation is challenging.
The buyers will research providers and check, re-check and cross-check all their claims, seeking as much tangible evidence of their claims as possible before even granting an initial audience.
And when that audience is granted, the approach needs to change. The buyers want to see live demonstrations and hear from existing customers. They may look at white papers, blogs and webinars as well, but these are background.
It is the ability to prove a real understanding of the prospect and to prove that you have a solution that is tangible and used by multiple other organisations who are prepared to discuss it that becomes key.
Above all, prospects value stories. Not fictional accounts of what the provider could do for them, but well-crafted stories that show clearly that the provider understands the prospect, can articulate their problems clearly and has a strategy to solve these problems for them.
Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication in the world and the power of a great story is as powerful today as it has always been.
A really great story will elevate the storyteller from somebody who is simply providing lots of information to somebody who has understood the issue and is providing the right information at the right time in the right way.
However great the story is and however well it is told, it will not have impact unless it is told to the right person. The biggest challenge for the seller in the world of multiple informed buyers is determining which of the buyers is genuinely able to drive action within an organisation.
There are many and varied theories for identifying and connecting with the agents of change within any organisation, but whichever you use, telling a great story to the wrong person is a waste of time.
It is critical to identify who the buyers trust and ensure that they know who you are. They will never trust you unless they have heard of you but they will not trust those traditional marketing-led approaches.
To even consider trusting, buyers need to hear authentic stories that resonate and that they can validate with independent sources so guide them towards these sources.
As the number of buyers proliferates and they themselves are learning to negotiate the minefield of effective buying, providers can guide buyers through to purchase.
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