Blog post

Clarity of Criteria – A Signal of What Lies Ahead

By Hank Barnes | March 16, 2021 | 2 Comments


I’ve been talking a lot lately about Gartner’s Enterprise Technology Adoption (ETA) profiles.  You can search my blog for other posts if you aren’t familiar with them, but basically they are akin to a Myers-Briggs way of categorizing companies based on their attitudes and behaviors regarding technology decisions (I’ve also provided a summary table at the end of this post).  A LinkedIn friend, Gordon Hogg, recently commented on one of my posts, “ETA’s are some of the best work I’ve seen come out of Gartner. It’s been around for a while now and I get the sense tech providers skip over it in favor of the “tried and true” firmographics and personas. Big mistake.”   Well things are changing and we are seeing more and more interest from our clients.  We believe ETAs are as beneficial to the organizations that buy technology (to help them understand the challenges they may face and design a path to change) as the ones that sell technology and services.   We’ll continue to leverage them,

In a lot of ways ETAs are like a start-up with a new and different idea.   It takes years or work to become an overnight sensation.   We’re getting close to that point.

But how about I continue to prime the pump a bit.

In our latest buying study we explored what matters most and least with enterprise buyers across 13 criteria options.  All of them are valid and important criteria, but we wanted to understand relative importance.   I’ve published research for clients that presents the data in more detail (link for clients), but the overall story is that the pandemic has created a world where most organizations are seeking risk-mitigated innovation.

We studied the criteria using a MAXDIFF statistical test.  It shows the relative importance across the criteria.   Across most ways of cutting the data, the top 2 or 3 choices were relatively consistent (again, for clients, I’m happy to explore those that did not align to these):

  • Vendor of offering is bringing leading edge innovations from other industries to solutions for my industry
  • Offering is compatible with our existing technology systems
  • Vendor has highly regarded capabilities to provide service and support for solutions.

Similarly, the least important criteria was also fairly consistent (please note that this does not mean this choices are unimportant–we know they matter–they are just secondary to the other items on our list.

  • Offering has the lowest cost of the solution
  • Offering is provided by a vendor that is a market leader
  • Offering delivers the shortest time to results.

Where it gets more interesting is when you dig deeper into relative importance.   We looked at the data differently by calculating the spread in scores between the most important criteria and least across several dimensions (geography, industry, size, and ETAS).  Respondents with a broader spread are much more clear on what matters to them.  Those with a narrow spread are closer to a model where everything is important (and often, then, nothing is important).   What we saw is that the traditional segmentation approaches told us little.  ETAs told us a lot:


Source: Gartner, Inc.

Basically, three of our ETA groupings are much more definitive about the things that matter a lot to them and those that don’t:

  • FID – Flexible Planners, IT Led,  and Dynamic. FIDs are classic catalysts for markets.  They view technology strategically and like to move fast.  When COVID-19 happened, they were likely to be the first to adjust plans.
  • SIR – Strict Planners, IT Led, and Responsive.  SIRs are more of a follower. They set a long term technology strategy and evaluate options against this.  They don’t move as fast as FIDs, preferring to have more proof of value and knowledge to reduce risks.
  • SCD – Strict Planners, Cooperative model for Business and IT, and Dynamic.  SCDs are typically fast followers.   They also have a strategic technology vision, but they will move forward with innovations faster than SIRs.

These three groups are generally about 1/3 of the market.

The others are less clear, particular the FCM (Flexible, Cooperative, Measured) and ACR (Accommodating, Cooperative, and Responsive).  These groups view technology less strategically and are more cautious about innovation.   They tend to have very mixed views of what matters, which often gets in the way of success.  They are also about 45% of the market.

The interesting thing is that we have also used ETAs in other studies to understand high quality deals and pessimism.   Different studies different samples, but similar results:

  • Most likely to “deliver” a HQD:  SIR, SCD, FID
  • Least Likely: FCM, ACR
  • Most likely to be pessimistic about technology subscriptions: FCM, ACR
  • Least Likely: SIR, SCD, FID

The patterns repeat over and over.   Vendors working with clients to discover their ETAs gain a better understanding of the clarity and confidence driving the buying effort.  When working with those that are more conflicted and confused, more work to help them figure out what matters will help reduce your risks and frustrations.

And those with clarity of criteria will be a demanding, but high quality client, that will work with you to drive success for their organization.

Are your customers and prospects clear on what matters most to them?

ETA Acronym Quick Reference:

First letter – Strategic Technology Planning Approach from Flexible (open to any technology regardless of fit with strategic plan) to Strict (evaluate all technologies against fit with strategic plan). Accomodating is the middle option.

Second letter – Control of the technology agenda from Business-led to IT-led.  Cooperative is the middle ground.

Third Letter – Pace of Change (how fast they react to new things (tech, situations, competitors,etc).  From Measured (wait to see the impact before changing) to Dynamic (change early and often). Responsive is the middle group.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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    • Hank Barnes says:

      High Quality Deal. In our method, a high quality deal occurs when:

      (1) The respondent to a survey strongly disagrees (a choice of 1 or 2 on a 7 point scale) with the statement “The offering we purchased is failing to meet expecations”

      AND either of these two other conditions are met
      (2) The respondent strongly disagrees (same scale) with the statement “We initially considered offerings that were/are much more ambitious than what we ultimately decided upon” (As a note, we generally call terms 1 and 2 “regret”)
      (3) The respondent strongly agrees (choice of 6 or 7) with the statement “The offering we purchased from this vendor was a high-end, premium solution”

      So the logic is (1 AND (2 OR 3))