ONCE, NOT ALL THAT LONG AGO, buying technology was a fairly straightforward process. A business would identify a need, talk to some vendors about it, purchase something from one of them, and pay a reseller or solution provider to install and support it, at which point the vendor would often slip off to make the next sale.
In the age of cloud computing and subscription-based everything, however, in which deals must be won and continually re-won through seamless procurement experiences and stellar service, buying IT is no longer a process. It’s a journey, and you’ve not reached its conclusion when a contract gets signed.
“You’re in the middle of it,” observes Ryan Walsh, chief channel officer at cloud distributor Pax8.
Indeed, when Walsh and other members of the Channel Advisory Board at industry association CompTIA set out to chart the new technology buyer’s journey last year, they wound up identifying 17 steps, seven of which happen after the sale. “Whether you’re in the front of that buying journey, in the middle, or at the end of it, any one of these steps can knock a buyer out,” Walsh says.
To prosper in a world remade by novel delivery and pricing models, in other words, vendors, distributors, and channel pros alike must understand not only how all those steps fit together, but how much they’ve changed in just a few years.
Dodging the Filters
The early steps in today’s buying journey center around marketing and are typically performed by customers online on a self-serve basis.
“By the time they actually talk to [someone] about a particular product category or a specific vendor’s solution within that category, the customer has already educated themselves about that,” Walsh notes.
Consequently, he and others say, tech companies must make themselves as visible as possible everywhere customers do research. That means investing in search engine optimization efforts aimed at sorting your company’s name near the top of results lists and building a state-of-the-art website that makes finding relevant information easy.
Furthermore, as commoditized cloud economics have made cost a less important consideration than reputation among potential clients, establishing yourself as a trustworthy authority on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Reddit is crucial too. “It’s all about your following,” says Juan Fernandez, vice president of managed IT services at ImageNet Consulting, a solution provider with offices in six states and headquarters in Oklahoma City.