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In Enterprise Tech, Sell Broadly (Within An Account) Is The Only Answer

by Hank Barnes  |  September 27, 2016  |  Submit a Comment

A couple of questions we hear regularly from tech providers is “how can we sell to the business?” or “how can I make my message apply to the CxO?  We want to sell high.” While these are great questions, they could lead your sales teams astray.  Particularly, if they cause the sellers to think that one group or person owns, or dominates, the buying decision.

In Enterprise tech sales, it is a team buy: multiple decision makers, multiple influencers, and many, many participants.   In our most recent survey of tech buyers, respondents indicated that approximately 7-8 people are actively involved in all of the activity streams (exploring, evaluating, engaging) of the buying process, with an additional 5-6 people occasionally participating.  That mix could be the same people throughout the process or you might see some people be actively involved in one stream and not involved in others.  Other scenarios might play as well.   Complicating things further, the leadership responsibilities within these teams may shift and evolve throughout the process.


This is the problem with “sell high” or “sell to the business” strategies.   Yes, you have to “sell high” and “sell to the business”, but you also have to “sell low” and “sell to IT” and “Sell to finance.”   This could make a great Dr. Seuss book, illustrating all the directions you must go.

How can you do this effectively?  It is not easy, but here are a few recommendations:

  1. Find an entry point that you can build trust with and use as an ally to understand the composition, leadership, and dynamics of the team.
  2. While you need to message to different roles, make sure they unify around an enterprise objective–don’t let efforts to appeal to personas create conflict and confusion within the team.
  3. Create content for sharing within the team.    Be conscious that not everyone will be part of your conversations, so make sure that you provide “leave behinds” that would be clear to others on the buying team who did not hear the discussion.
  4. Acknowledge the challenges to the team members you work with.   Ask them what you can do to help build consensus.

And a big thing not to do:  Don’t lock out IT.    Yes, the IT group may not have control of as much of the technology budget as they used to, but they still have a big budget AND they still are involved in most purchase decisions (of any scale—think beyond the pilot).   In fact, people in IT roles tend to be involved in many different buying projects concurrently.  From our survey it was between 4 and 5 projects fitting our survey criteria (over 25K contract value for small/mid-size firms or 50K for larger firms in one of 5 technology spending categories).  People in business roles were involved in 2 to 3 projects, on average.

This represents another challenge–keeping your project top of mind.  But it also could be an opportunity—getting introduced to other teams and/or linking your value to other efforts.

The bottom line is there is no one place to sell.   You are going to have to jump from wherever you start to a diverse team of active and occasional participants with varying agendas and priorities.   You’ll need help (ideally within the team) to navigate this effort.  And you’ll need to help your allies convince others and build consensus.

It’s hard.  But if you truly can provide differentiated value to the enterprise, then you can win.  Enterprises find a way to buy, despite this complexity.

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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: buying-cycle  enterprise-sales  team-buying  tech-sales  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

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