Small companies will tend to have a less formal purchasing process than their larger counterparts Typically only one or two people will have purchasing authority—usually the company officers in small businesses with the guidance of the IT person, if there is one.
How a company purchases or acquires technology products and services is affected by company size. The size of an SMB and the type of IT organization that they have influences and reflects the technology choices the SMB make. Typically, a small business (defined as a company with 1-99 employees) will have either no IT resources at all or one full-time IT resource.
The technology solutions and services purchase cycle typically involves 4 stages: Identify Need, Evaluate Solution, Select Solution, and Final Purchase Decision. The persons involved in each of these four stages of the process are different as is their level of involvement at each stage, which is usually dictated by the size of the small business, technology sophistication and sometimes the age of the primary decision maker (usually the owner or CEO) in these companies. Figure 1 provides details of all those involved in these technology solution and services purchase decisions at small business in North America.
Figure 1: Personnel Involved in Technology Solution Purchase Process at Small
Businesses (1-99 employees)
Source: SMB Group, 2010
- Identify Need. In more than 75 percent of the cases, the owner of the business is the person involved in identifying need for technology solutions and services support from a end-user employee or senior business manager (non IT). This is usually based on the business pain points the small business is experiencing and how the use of these technology solutions will help address them. Only 21 percent of the cases involve in-house IT personnel in identifying need for technology solutions and services.
- Evaluate Solutions. The role of line-of-business managers and end-users becomes more important in evaluating different solution alternatives, often they are involved with doing a free trial of these solution more frequently online but also sometime by downloading applications. The in-house IT person assists with the technical requirements for the evaluation and the owner is also usually involved in about 60 percent of the evaluations. Small business technology environments are straightforward but in some cases may require some advanced features; small businesses are rarely leading-edge technology adopters. In a small percentage of cases small businesses solicit the help of industry colleagues and/or external VARs and consultants in these more advanced and complex evaluations. The results of these evaluations helps small businesses reduce the number of evaluated solutions to a “short list” driven by predefined criteria.
- Select Solutions. This step is completed by the owner/CEO and the In-house IT person based on the evaluation of various solutions. The factors involved in the selection process are price, ease-of-use, higher quality and stronger brand. As companies grow, the focus shifts from price and ease-of-use to quality and stronger brand as reviews from analysts and social media become more important.
- Final Purchase Decision. In almost all small businesses, the owner or CEO of the business makes the final purchase decision, with the line of business executive or the in-house IT executive contributing in a limited role.
The insights included in the blog are from a comprehensive SMB study on “SMB Routes to Market for Technology Solutions“. The SMB Group’s 2010 Routes to SMB Market Study helps Technology software solutions vendors and services providers identify routes (channels) to the SMB market for their products and services based on how they go about making purchase decisions. Study results and analysis will help them make well-informed marketing, product development, media and channel decisions to successfully reach, influence and market to North American SMBs with one to 1000 employees.