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Top 10 IT Buyer Information Sources

June 1, 2009 The Internet has become the go to resource for IT buyers who wish to survey the market, educate themselves and ultimately develop a short list of IT solutions for purchase consideration. In many ways, the Web has replaced consultants, sales people, trade shows and industry events as the initial discovery step when commencing an IT procurement project. In fact, even when IT buyers learn of technology solutions offline, they generally perform an online search in order to learn more. This IT buyer shift in the sourcing of information presents proactive IT suppliers with an effective approach to leverage online channels to reach IT buyers.

Vantive Media subscribes to third party research and performs recurring proprietary survey analysis to understand the channels, methods, messages and content considered most useful by IT buyers. Survey questions are designed to understand where IT buyers get their information and how they value that information. Information source composite scores are equal to a blended average of survey ratings in the categories of information relevance, credibility (trust) and authoritative value. The 2009 IT Buyer most valued information sources are illustrated below.

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 CRM Products Top 10 IT Buyer Most Valued Initial Discovery Sources
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2009 IT Buyer Rating
1. Third Party Technology Focused Web Sites
4.4
2. IT Trade Magazine
4.1
3. Business and Management Magazines
4.0
4. Social Media including Blogs and Wikis
3.9
5. Third Party Broad Based Web Sites
3.85
6. Social Networks (such as Forums, FaceBook and LinkedIn)
3.75
7. Vendor Web Sites
2.9
8. Analyst Web Sites
2.2
9. Webinars and Virtual Trade Shows
1.4
10. Twitter
1.25
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To achieve a more qualitative analysis, key findings for each information source are aggregated and highlighted in the following paragraphs.

Third Party Technology Focused Web Sites
Consistent with prior year research results, highly relevant third party technology sites continue to be IT buyers’ highest scoring and most valued information source. The top three factors which influence the IT buyer’s opinion of a third party web site are the site’s focus, credibility and authoritative value. While web site focus is readily apparent, credibility and authoritative value need a more objective and qualitative understanding in order to recognize the buyer’s opinion and perception. The most commonly cited aspects which build or lose web site credibility include balanced opinions, volume of content and appropriate amounts of advertising. IT buyers and Web surfers immediately recognize ‘please everybody’ web sites that promote or glorify all vendors as biased web sites that are dependent upon vendor advertising and promotional programs. These web sites are viewed as nothing more than lead generation tools for the vendors and are generally not credible for most IT buyers seeking sources for balanced vendor information. Similarly, web sites that position and promote advertising ahead of content face the same distrust. Only when third party technology focused web sites provide balanced opinions, including such content as unfavorable vendor reviews, and subtly positioned advertising or call to action promotions, do IT buyers rate the web sites as credible. A web sites authoritative value is determined largely by the trustworthiness of the authors, the quality of the content and links from other relevant web sites.

Third Party Broad Based Web Sites
Broad business web sites and news sources are normally perceived to be credible, however, lack relevancy. The lack of focus with these sites often requires readers to perform multiple searches and time consuming page to page explorations to uncover desired content. If the website’s search engine fails to retrieve and display the precise information desired by the reader or is otherwise ineffective for immediately delivering the desired results (and approximately 84% of English-based web site search engines are poor according to 2008 INS reader survey), the web site visitor will simply abandon the site after 3.1 pages or 35 seconds.

Analyst Sites
Analyst sites are most typically viewed as credible and authoritative, but suffer from cost effectiveness concerns by buyers of all market sizes, and in particular SME (Small to Medium Enterprises) and Middle Market enterprises. Web site readers recognize the analysts make their livelihoods from paid research and report subscriptions. They also recognize analyst information is not cheap which stands at odds with a new generation of IT buyers which prefer initial content to be free. Even IT buyers which subscribe to analyst content will generally still perform an Internet discovery to further validate one source’s opinion.

Blogs
Bloggers are known for their fierce independence and unbridled opinions – and it is exactly this type of content that IT surveyors find most useful. Bloggers are the peers of many IT buyers and can provide the type of testaments and first hand experiences that would otherwise take weeks or months of time to learn. Blogs are generally free of advertising clutter and bias and tend to provide highly relevant content that shapes the feelings and opinions of IT buyers.

Twitter
While twitter continues to enjoy increased growth in the professional community, it lacks relevance, reliability, standing and powers of persuasion for IT buyers. The primary problem is the inefficient signal to noise ratio. Very few tweets are helpful and the more twits you must follow to acquire anything meaningful contributes to an escalating inefficiency. A second Twitter problem is information timing. IT buyers want information when they need it. Twitter however broadcasts information when it is available, not when it’s needed.

IT Trade Magazines
Industry trade magazine and periodicals rank fairly well with IT buyers. The journalism generally produces strong content and the magazines enjoy industry recognition. On the downside, many of these magazines are known to be vendor biased and their business models are in jeopardy. Few technology magazines are even able to charge a subscription fee and must rely on vendor advertising to survive. Print magazines are being replaced by electronic editions or failing as businesses all together at an alarming rate. Business and Management Magazines Business magazines enjoy steady readership by management level professionals. While they are perceived as credible their lack of focus reduces their leverage and influence in procurement cycles. These print magazines are generally used by readers desiring to keep current with a broad number of generalist categories as opposed to be called upon for education, opinion or influence in a IT selection or procurement project.

Vendor web sites
IT supplier web sites contribute to the IT buyers’ first impression and therefore should possess a balance of design, intuitiveness and content in order to contribute to a positive first impression. IT buyers appreciate vendor web sites that go beyond electronic brochureware to include solution specifications, useful screenshots, online demonstrations, ROI measurements, case studies, customer testimonials, pricing and third party facts. However, IT buyers have no expectation that anything on the vendor web site will be objectively presented and all content, whether written by the vendor or alleged third parties, is scrutinized, marginalized and taken with a grain of salt. For these reasons, vendor web sites score lowest on the trust of information factor.

In concert with the preferred sources of buyer information is the process in how that information is used. A key underlying theme consistent among user survey responses is an often overlooked decision making process. Contrary to some opinion, buyer evidence reveals that buyers do not desire, possess the skills or have the time to pursue a rigorous and methodical process of evaluating all market candidates. Technology buyers seldom consider all the options, weigh them carefully and reach a deliberate or logical choice.

In fact, in most technology categories, buyers will leverage the information sources they find credible as well as recognized industry brands to limit their technology selection population to a small subset (typically a consideration set of three to five) of market offerings. Instead of following a more conventional procurement rational, most software, hardware and technology buyers will further leverage their initial information sources to teach them how to jump start or accelerate the decision making process. From initial information sources, technology buyers learn what they are interested in, how they will choose and more often than not, the short list of candidates to begin the selection process.

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READER COMMENTS

By Ian Calhoun.
I’ve been purchasing IT products for over 25 years and I can attest these research results. Even as a Fortune 1000 company, our IT department is over tasked and under resourced. I’ve lived how the industry’s procurement evolution has changed its information sources over almost three decades. In the 80’s we relied heavily on outside consultants. However, as the consultants got more and more expensive and more closely invested with certain technology players (like Oracle, SAP, etc.) their effectiveness and credibility was diminished and they were then more often used for only select projects. In the 90’s we began leveraging our analyst subscriptions to aid and accelerate our technology choices. However, as my more experienced peers in other companies warned me, their value was insufficient as they have a tendency to only state the obvious, exclude the smaller more innovate technology companies (which often represent the best value), have credibility concerns of their own (i.e. pay for say – it’s no coincidence that they have the best things to say about the vendors that pay them the most money – under the guise of ‘consulting’ or ‘advisory’ fees of course) and are incredibly expensive. During the last five years, I’ve been able to gather more balanced opinion from social media sites than I’ve acquired in the 20 years prior. While many blogs and social media sites lack professionalism, maturity or are not convincing, there are countless sites that have become go-to resources for the IT community. I trust the first hand experiences of my peers more than I have trusted any other source in the past. In the last two months I’ve also chosen to contribute and began my own blog with my own experiences. While I’m no journalistic expert, the blog seems to be appreciated by peers I would have otherwise never collaborated.

comments

By Samuel Wyeth.
While I don’t have quite as many years of practice as the prior reader, I echo his experiences. Our IT budget doesn’t support too many consultants and we abandoned analyst subscriptions years ago. It seems like not a month goes by where I don’t receive a trade magazine with a notice on the cover indicating its final delivery. Advertising is dead.

Response: The death of advertising has been greatly exaggerated.
Your comment represents the feelings of many senior IT professionals. However, one point of clarification may be worthwhile. While industry trade magazines continue to fail frequently, advertising is alive and well – it’s just changing tactics and forms. Media in general becomes much more fractured every day. In 1965 80% of American consumers could be reached with only three television spots. Today it would require 99 spots. Network television once reached over 90% of Americans. It now reaches less than 50%. However, despite the media fracture and new outlets, advertising spend actually continues to grow. Since 2000, ad spending in general has grown about 8.5% annually and both Web and cable television ad spending have enjoyed double digit annual growth. While information technology trade magazines will likely continue to fail, expect that advertising money to be redistributed elsewhere.

social media

By Mark Ford.
We're doing some marketing planning and evaluating B2B social media strategies for the first time. Do you see most marketeres replacing traditional marketing campaigns with social media campaigns or trying to increase the marketing budget to accommodate new social campaigns?

Response: Most marketing budgets are flat.
My experience is that most marketers would love to increase their marketing budget to evaluate new programs, however, marketing budgets are tight, priorities must be determined, ROI is a mandate and new programs come at the expense of existing (lower performing) programs. Adweek recently published a report that illustrated a shift in marketing budgets to support new social media programs. The below graph dipicts this change in a very straightfoward manner.

Marketing Funds

I'm also including the below diagrams which may aid your decision making among social media marketing campaign types. The results further compliment the Vantive Media research, although maintain an exclusive focus among social media tools used by B2B technology buyers.

Marketing Types

Social Media Sources

Buyer Criteria

 

Send comments to blog[at]Vantivemedia.com.

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