IT staff and their colleagues need to understand the different roles they can play on the enterprise software procurement team.
Miller Heiman’s Sales Methodology provides a useful framework for understanding them. It defines the distinct purchasing roles and outlines the responsibilities of each role. Each team member should understand their role, to ensure they help choose the best technology for the organization.
Here are the four roles of the enterprise software procurement team through the lens of the Miller Heiman framework.
- Coach or evangelist. Someone in this role champions a particular technology.
- Economic buyer. The person in this role controls the budget.
- Technical buyer. People in this role must endorse the product or service.
- User Buyer. These people will use the product or service.
To these roles of Miller Heiman, the research company Nemertes adds the following additional role:
- Influencer. While every role in the Miller Heiman framework has influence, some people outside of the official buying team can influence buying decisions, such as mentors, board members, and unofficial leaders. Influencers aren’t officially part of the buying process, but their opinion carries weight.
Coach or evangelist: defenders of new technologies
This is the most important role because someone has to advocate for a brand new purchase to happen. Only something like a license renewal on basic, valued and reasonably priced services advances without a coach.
Every major purchase starts with someone advocating that certain software might do one of the following things:
- solve problem X;
- improve process Y; or
- be a cheaper alternative to existing software.
This person can be the CTO or an architect, engineer, analyst or end user. To be successful, an evangelist must offer compelling reasons for the organization to devote staff time and attention to evaluating, acquiring, and deploying software or services. They don’t have to develop a detailed business case before they kick things off, although someone does later in the process.
Economic buyer: finances the technology
The economic buyer has the budget that will pay for the purchase of the technology. Usually, this position gives them veto power over purchases. However, they may not have the ability to authorize the purchase.
A low-cost enterprise software buyer should be an IT professional who understands the following:
- the sources of income that support the business;
- the ways IT supports revenue and profit; and
- the ways the new software will potentially affect revenues and profits.
The economic buyer may not have the authority to approve a large purchase, especially in a small organization. At most, they will have limited discretion, like a few thousand dollars in a small organization, maybe $50,000 in a larger one.
Size isn’t the only factor. The type of IT culture also plays an important role. Companies with conservative IT cultures tend to limit IT spending powers, even for the CIO. On the other hand, companies with aggressive IT cultures are more likely to give IT management significant control over spending.
Those in the economic buyer role can succeed by effectively communicating how the purchase may affect revenue and profit so that those in control of approvals can make the right decision.
Technical buyer: examines the potential for technical and commercial conflicts
Technical buyers in a software purchase are those who evaluate both the technology or service and the vendor to say whether the investment is justifiable for its capabilities and acceptable at the organizational level. Technical buyers include engineers, developers, analysts, administrators, architects, and managers who assess whether a new service or product is fit for purpose.
They must consider whether it can meet the defined requirements. Other technical buyers may include members of the purchasing or legal teams, or other departments who review contract terms and conditions. Environmental, social and governance actors who validate the social and environmental impact of the purchase are also technical buyers.
To be successful in the technical buyer role, IT professionals need to be detail-oriented and have the mindset: “Does this do what we need to do now, and what we know we need to do soon?” Additionally, they should identify any requirements that the product or service must meet.
Buyer-user: evaluates the suitability on a day-to-day basis
User buyers work inside and outside of IT. They focus 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 play a crucial role in defining requirements for purchase, as well as deployments and proof-of-concept testing. They can also help assess whether employees will need training to use the new technology and, if so, what type of training.
User buyers need to think through all the scenarios. They should ask, “Can the software do X?” as well as specific questions about the viability of their business. For example, “Can Terry in accounting use it to do X quickly and easily?” and “Will the IT operations team be able to make this system work without devoting disproportionate attention to it?”
User buyers determine what makes a tool “fit for purpose” and are the organization’s means of filtering out options that do not meet requirements beyond technical capabilities. The software can fulfill its role at the technical level but can be difficult to use or complex to manage.
Good user buyers need to focus their attention on how new software would fit into the workflow of employees, both outside and inside IT. So they’ll talk to other users, ask the right questions, and be their voice in the overall buying process.
Influencer: exercises influence outside of an official buyer role
Influencers have no authority to set requirements, or to approve or block a purchase. However, they influence the opinions of others and can affect buying 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 critical support to technology advocates;
- to 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 current environment.
Succeeding as an influencer is difficult because the influencer does not have the power to make the buyers and the coach pay attention to their opinion. To be successful, an influencer must have a proven track record when it comes to technology choices and must know how to effectively advocate for their choices with buyers, coaches, and business leaders.
Leaders and buyers in other roles who want to counter or use influencers in their organization should try to understand their opinions and scope of influence.
Each of these enterprise software procurement team roles is important to successfully choosing the right technology for a given organization. Understanding the different ways everyone should contribute will increase the chances of success.