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Today, CIOs are in a state of uncertainty. They face enormous complexity in this cloud and digital world. They are pressured to reduce costs, they need to do a lot more with less, and frequently lack the skills and expertise needed to change. Most of all, businesses aren’t only thinking about buying technology products – top of mind is achieving business outcomes.

The customer buying process in tech used to be very straightforward. Typically, the head of IT or someone from the IT department, would simply want to refresh their gear e.g. routers, switches, software, and servers to the latest edition. They would choose among a few technology vendors and evaluate their products’ features and benefits before deciding. In most cases they would select the supplier who can give the best deal and the nature of the conversation typically boils down to pricing and discounts.

It is similar to a game of volleyball – a customer serves the ball (the requirements) to the technology vendor who would return the ball in the form of products. The customer returns the ball when they’ve decided to purchase the products. But the rules of the game have significantly changed, and the customer buying process has evolved rapidly.

 

Playing a contact sport with an expanded playing field and multiple stakeholders

Customers are rapidly expanding to cloud and constantly dealing with thousands of users from all over the world accessing applications on their devices. These applications are connected to a network and sit on either the data center or a public or private cloud. Increasingly, businesses are at not just looking at one domain when buying technology, but multiple domains – the networking, data center, service provider, public cloud, colocation, and application domains.

The way they choose a technology vendor has also significantly changed. Plenty no longer ask a sales rep for primary information. They go online, and by the time they engage anyone from a vendor, they would already be armed with all the latest information about the product that they are trying to procure. Some CIOs access third party websites to get an unbiased view, while others tend to go to online forums to get information from their peers.

However, this is only one part of the customer journey. CIOs also involve multiple stakeholders within their own organization to weigh in. These stakeholders may not have any budget but are highly influential in the decision-making process. For example, this could be the legal department providing input on compliance implications or HR providing input on the impact on people and culture or even members of the board especially when it involves cybersecurity. This can also include people from finance, legal, marketing, operations etc.

A recent example that illustrates this change in customer buying behavior was a Collaboration wins. Not surprisingly, our customer was not IT. It was HR. Collaboration technology wasn’t simply a piece of equipment, it was an important driver of culture and productivity, and will foster true collaboration among the customer’s multiple offices around the region, which is why HR needed to be involved from the start.

Similarly, within our security portfolio, it has become a board level discussion. While the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is the key customer, the CEO and the legal department are actively involved. The discussions don’t only involve technology – it was about risk, compliance, and trust.

These are just two examples of how the conversation has been elevated from bells and whistles to discussions on achieving business outcomes.

Playing rugby to achieve a shared business outcome

In many ways, customer buying behavior has evolved from playing volleyball to playing rugby. Like rugby, the customer buying process now involves a larger number of important players aside from IT such as C-level executives (CEO, CFO, CTO, CIO, CMO), lines of business units, compliance, legal etc. The same is true for the other side of the field for vendors like Cisco. The team has expanded from only account managers and pre-sales to specialists, software engineers, marketing, services, executives, customer success specialist, customer experience managers, and many others that help our customer derive true business value from their investments. Like rugby, both sides need to have ‘forwards’, that can coordinate the precise timing and excellent scrum-halves at the forward position and back positions, as well as talented centers, and great coaches.

However, the only difference is, both sides aren’t necessarily playing to score or win over the other side. Instead, both sides want to play to achieve a shared business outcome.

It is about one side (Cisco) helping the other side (for example, a banking customer) ensure that they comply with regulations like GDPR while safeguarding that the mobile applications being used by their largest customers are running smoothly. It is about helping stadiums and airports provide better experiences to its thousands of visitors by providing secure, fast, and reliable access to the internet. It is about helping governments provide citizen services securely and gain insight into real-time analytics on traffic congestion in its cities. It is about helping petroleum giants securely access and analyze oil rig data, even when they are located thousands of miles away from shore. It is about helping universities provide a digital learning experience to students.

This is the game we all need to be playing today. It involves platforms that span multiple domains across the customer organization, breaking silos to deliver a true customer experience and achieve shared business outcomes.

At Cisco, we are ready to play this game along with our customers and partners!

Originally Posted at: https://apjc.thecisconetwork.com/site/content/lang/en/id/10654