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The DEVOlution of Enterprise Technology Buying

by Hank Barnes  |  February 19, 2019  |  Submit a Comment

A few weeks back, Jon Reed, the master of the strikethrough of diginomica, referenced a Devo song “Through Being Cool” when sharing my post “Keeping Attention – Substance over Style” in his weekly Enterprise Hits and Misses Column.  I could not have been more proud.   But it also ruined occupied my weekend as various Devo songs ran through my brain and I tried find ways to relate them to B2B tech buying.

It wasn’t that hard.

Let’s start with the band itself.  As stated on their fan site,, the band “took its name from their concept of “de-evolution” – the idea that instead of evolving, mankind has actually regressed, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society.”  Unfortunately, I think you take this same stance toward enterprise buying.   Despite the years of buying technology; despite (or maybe because of) the wealth of information that an be discovered; despite plenty of articles about failed implementations of high cost purchases from well known brands (and unknown brands for that matter)–we still see much dysfunction in technology buying and those same brands getting stronger and stronger.

Indeed, Devo is the band for this market.



But let’s look at just a couple of songs that build on the theme.  I won’t include their great Rolling Stones cover, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” but it certainly fits, too.

Freedom of Choice” –  The theme of this song is pretty direct.   We have freedom of choice, but we really don’t want it. Choice creates uncertainty, confusion, and free of mistakes.   We’ve seen this in all sorts of tests and examples–the more choices offered, the less likely a person is to choose any of them.     For those that have to do something, many default to the “safe choice”–the known brand.    No matter how often people say (and I’ve said it) “The customer is in control” the reality is that broad choices mean that control is scary and risky to them.    It really is a case where, as the last lyrics of the song state, “Freedom of Choice/That’s What You Got/Freedom from Choice/That’s What You Want.”

Jerkin’ Back and Forth” –  While choice paralyzes buying teams, it’s not all their fault.   Recently Brian Sommer shared a post about the challenges of quality integrators that included a link to a mystery HR services shopping effort by Raven Intel.   The posts and song reflect the control that one party has over another.   Vendors know what it takes for their clients to be successful, but uncovering that information is a huge challenge.   Perhaps it is more difficult than it should be because details make people think–is there a vendor fear of delayed decisions?  Maybe, but which do you prefer?  Delayed decisions, which are more likely to happen when buyers are uncertain, or failed projects, when customers buy, but then struggle to implement.  As the song says, “You got me lookin’ up high/You got me searchin’ down low/You got me I know you know/You got me jerkin’ back ‘n’ forth.”

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.   It’s an imperfect world and long standing practices, risk aversion, and broad buying teams are reinforcing the bad, even as both sides improve in some areas.  It could be a truly “Beautiful World,” but today it’s not for everyone.  It is gonna take some change by vendors, by partners, and by customers to get to where we should be.  Maybe start with a shift from line item requirements to scenarios.  Continue with providing more clarity on how to achieve those scenarios and what partners can help with each situation.  As we build confidence, clarity, and calm within buying teams, we can make progress together.


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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: b2b-buying  brand  devo  implementation  partners  scenarios  

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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