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4 enterprise software-buying team roles IT should understand

The enterprise software team has critical tasks to achieve for your organization's success. This guide explains each person's role and area of influence and offers tips for success.

IT staff and their colleagues need to understand the different enterprise software-buying team roles they might play.

The Miller Heiman sales methodology provides a useful framework for understanding them. It defines distinct buying roles and outlines each role's responsibilities. Each team member should understand their part, to ensure they help choose the best technology for the organization.

Here are the four enterprise software-buying team roles through the lens of the Miller Heiman framework.

  • Coach or evangelist. Someone in this role advocates for a particular technology.
  • Economic buyer. The person in this role controls the budget.
  • Technical buyer. People in this role must approve the product or service.
  • User buyer. These people will use the product or service.

To these Miller Heiman roles, research firm Nemertes adds the following additional role:

  • Influencer. While each role in the Miller Heiman framework has influence, some people outside the official buying team can sway purchasing decisions, such as mentors, board members and unofficial leaders. Influencers are not part of the purchasing process formally, but their opinion carries weight.

Coach or evangelist: Advocates for new tech

This is the most important role because someone must advocate for a brand-new purchase to happen. Only something like a license renewal on core, well-liked, reasonably priced services moves forward without a coach.

Every significant purchase begins with someone advocating that certain software could do any of the following:

  • solve problem X;
  • improve process Y; or
  • be a cheaper alternative to existing software.

That person may be the CTO or an architect, engineer, analyst or end user. To be successful, an evangelist must offer compelling reasons for the organization to apply staff time and attention to evaluation, acquisition and deployment of the software or services. They don't have to develop a detailed business case before getting things rolling, though someone will later in the process.

Economic buyer: Funds the tech

The economic buyer holds the budget that will pay for the technology purchase. Usually, that position gives them veto power on purchases. However, they may not have the ability to authorize the purchase.

An economic buyer for enterprise software should be an IT professional that understands the following:

  • the income sources that support the business;
  • the ways in which IT supports revenue and profit; and
  • the ways in which the new software will potentially affect revenue and profits.

The economic buyer may not have the authority to approve a significant purchase, especially in a smaller organization. At most, they will have limited discretion, such as a few thousand dollars in a small organization, perhaps $50,000 in a larger one.

Size isn't the only factor. The type of IT culture plays an important part as well. Companies with conservative IT cultures tend to limit IT spending authority, even for the CIO. On the other hand, companies with aggressive IT cultures are more likely to give IT department leadership significant spending control.

Those in the economic buyer role can be successful by effectively communicating how the purchase might affect revenue and profit so those with approval control can make a good decision.

Technical buyer: Scrutinizes potential for tech and business conflicts 

The technical buyers in a software purchase are those that evaluate both the technology or service and the vendor to say whether the investment is justifiable for its capabilities and allowable at the organizational level. Technical buyers include the engineers, developers, analysts, administrators, architects and managers that evaluate whether a new service or product is fit for purpose.

They must question whether it can deliver on the defined requirements. Other technical buyers can include members of the purchasing or legal teams, or other departments that review contract terms and conditions. Those in the environmental, social and governance areas who sign off on the impact of the purchase on a social and environmental level are also technical buyers.

To be successful when serving in the technical buyer role, IT professionals need to be detail-oriented and present-minded: "Does it do what we need it to do now, and what we know we need it to do soon?" In addition, they should identify all the requirements that the product or service needs to satisfy.

User buyer: Evaluates everyday suitability

User buyers work within and outside of IT. Their focus is on how the product or service suits end users as well as the administrators, engineers and others who must deliver, manage and maintain it. They serve a crucial role in defining requirements for the purchase, and in proof-of-concept deployments and testing. They can also help evaluate whether employees will need training to use the new technology, and, if so, what kind of training.

User buyers need to think about all scenarios. They should ask, "Can the software do X?" as well as specific questions about viability for their company. For example, "Can Terry in Accounting use it to do X quickly and easily?" and "Will the IT operations team be able to keep this system running without devoting disproportionate attention to it?"

User buyers determine what makes a tool "fit for use" and are the organization's means of filtering out options that do not satisfy requirements beyond technical capabilities. The software may fulfill its role at a technical level but could be challenging to use or complex to manage.

Good user buyers should focus their attention on how new software would fit into employees' workflow, both outside and inside IT. So, they will talk to other users, ask the right questions, and be their voice in the overall purchasing process.

Influencer: Exerts clout outside an official buying role

Influencers have no authority to define requirements, nor to approve or block a purchase. However, they sway others' opinions and can affect purchasing efforts. Users in other roles listen to influencers' opinions on what is a desirable tool, vendor or type of technology.

Influencers can do any of the following:

  • provide decisive support to technology advocates;
  • sow doubt among economic buyers; or
  • affect how user buyers perceive the relative difficulty of using a product or how it would fit into the present environment.

Succeeding as an influencer is difficult because the influencer has no power to make the buyers and coach pay attention to their opinion. To be successful, an influencer should build a track record of being right about technology choices and should know how to effectively advocate for their choices to actual buyers, coaches and corporate leaders.

Leaders and buyers in other roles who want to counter or make use of influencers in their organization should try to understand the latter's opinions and scope of influence.

Each of these enterprise software buying team roles is important to successfully choosing the right technology for a given organization. Understanding the distinct ways each needs to contribute will boost the chances for success.

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