During the design phase of the Industry and Influencer Relations (IIR) program at SAP (in 2006) we conducted extensive research to understand who the decision makers are in our market when it comes to purchasing business software and more importantly who influences these decision makers. It was a six month project that returned some very interesting results that supported the decisions made in designing the IIR program and team structure.
I would like to share a nugget of information gathered from our research - based on results for the U.S. market.
The charts below illustrate a ranking of the most important influence channels in four distinct views. The first column outlines an aggregate ranking (based on 500+ responses) of the most important sources of influence - in priority order. The other three columns provide rankings relative to importance by company size (small, medium, large). In the survey, we asked the respondents (qualified decision makers) the following question: “How influential are the following outside sources of information on your business software decisions / recommendations?”
In comparing the rankings by company size, there are a number of very interesting observations to be made. To no surprise, the experience, counsel and word-of-mouth of one’s industry peers/colleagues rank among the highest source of influence – across company size. The interesting conclusions come when you analyze the separations in the rakings between the groups of 5-10 and 10-15. Below are high-level observations:
- Small and mid market decision makers rank industry analysts and analyst executive programs much lower level than the large market.
- Observation: No real surprise here as the business and engagement models of most analyst firms do not cater to the needs and budget constraints of small and most mid-sized companies.
- Mid market decision makers rank press (Tech, Job Function, Gen’l Bus.), business software vendor partners & board of directors, higher in influence.
- Observation: One conclusion could be that most mid market companies have ‘just enough’ experience and sophistication with business software that the quality of information and insight reported by the media about industry trends, vendor reputation and best practice provide decision makers enough information to form opinions that require less dependency on 1:1 interaction with 3rd party experts – such as industry analysts.
- Small companies rank most forms of publications (tech/business press, books, etc.) as low on influence, indicating a much higher level of trust to consultants, peers, and software vendors.
- Observation: Small business owners either don’t have the time to read or the issues relevant to them (related to business software) are not adequately being represented by media (maybe too high-level or not representative of core issues) so they rely more on peers, consultants and other trusted advisors for insights.
- Blogs were ranked lowest for all decision makers (at the time of the research)
- Observation: I suspect that this may have changed in the last 18 months as more consultants and industry experts have adopted the use of blogs to syndicate their research and insights to fuel their consulting business models.
You can draw additional conclusions from these rankings. We plan to update the research later this year to track and analyze trends and changes. I suspect that most of the changes will be in the lower half of the rankings, however.
The comparison of the U.S. findings against emerging/growth markets such as China, India, Brazil, Japan, and Russia are very interesting. Each of the above mentioned countries have very distinct ‘influence ecosystems’ affected by the importance of relationships, culture and politics. For global or multinational companies doing business in these countries, it is critical not to over or underestimate the cultural and sociopolitical factors when establishing influencer strategies and programs.