The pandemic has changed all of our work-life habits, some of which require us not working in the office at all. But when it comes to building a company, maintaining a fully functional enterprise looks very different when your team is remote. One of the key hurdles team leaders face is acquiring new tools and services to keep the workflow, well, flowing, through remote work. This has raised several questions relating to procurement of the software that keeps us all connected. So how has the process of purchasing and managing software changed for customers and vendors working from home?
Previously, software purchasing may have been a process that required internal meetings, months of cost-efficiency reasoning or years of planning and research before reaching a team consensus. However, a 2021 survey by G2 reveals that 55 per cent of buyers needed less than three months to make software purchase decisions of $20,000 or more, while 85 per cent of all purchasing decisions are made in under six months. It all points to shorter buying cycles and an increase of technology pickup.
Mike Pearlstein agrees. As the CEO of Fusion Computing, a Toronto-based IT consulting firm, he’s overseen sales before and after the onset of remote work. “Through COVID, IT budgets have been going up, but I think we’re right on a pivot point.” He notes that the threat of a looming recession could lead to tech spending dropping off, meaning less jobs or layoffs for employees, and, potentially, a wave of outsourcing. “It’s cheaper to outsource. If I have five internal IT staff and I hit a recession, I need to reduce my IT budget, then maybe I'm gonna have two IT staff and outsource the rest of the functions.”
Peer reviews for software over traditional research
Like watching every unboxing video you can before deciding on the perfect laptop for you, SaaS buyers are looking to their peers for guidance. The same G2 report reveals that the majority of buyers use peer review sites while buying software, instead of relying on traditional research from third-party analysts. This is where partnerships prove to be a more efficient way of purchasing software from home. Instead of the traditional path of software purchasing, a network of affiliates, referrals, resellers, and influencers can provide more nuanced expertise for your specific business needs and can convert leads into sales much quicker, keeping your business on the right track.
Getting selective with software buying
No one quite knows when things will be truly back to normal, and this has led to tech companies being more selective with their technology purchases. A 2020 TrustRadius survey, sampling over 2,100 software buyers, revealed investment in tech supporting video conferencing and VPN is increasing, while businesses reduced spending on marketing software and IT support technology. More importantly, pre-COVID decisions were being made by teams or committees, rather than individual department heads. As recently as late 2019, TrustRadius research showed that 61 per cent of buying decisions were made by up to five stakeholders, while 15 per cent of decisions involved 11 or more people. In the remote work era, budgetary decisions seem to be made by executives, rather than delegating to team members. Two years since the publication of that data, Pearlstein says “there’s usually a champion involved” in software decision making. Of course there are research firms like Gartner and Infotek, publishing incremental data on tech companies and their offerings but “your average consumer can’t make sense of that, and neither can your average business owner. They need to rely on somebody who lives it.”
The chip crunch isn’t helping
Parallel to the pandemic, supply chain issues have led to global chip shortages, as demand for tech for remote workers increased, and making purchasing decisions even more difficult. After all, it’s hard to close a purchasing deal when the equipment or services required to fulfill that deal are delayed for a year. Moreover, the tech industry moves fast and product cycles and updates happen frequently — nearly every six months. Investing in systems is especially difficult when there’s perpetually something faster, slicker, and more productive on the horizon.
Pivoting your pitch
For marketers, vendors, and negotiation managers, offering their software is increasingly done via Zoom. Pearlstein says the reliance on e-comms has its upsides and its downsides, both of which are worth considering. Negotiations have relied on human contact for a long time, and can have an impact on the sales process. “Being in front of somebody is more personable. It’s more social, you can read their body language. You can see them for who they are, and [see] all of those non-verbal cues we give to each other.” But the loss pales in comparison to the benefits gained from working remotely. After all, it stands to reason that the best place to be during a stressful, high-budget sale is at home and in your element. Plus, it takes logistical issues out of the way. “If we met in person,” Pearlstein says, “I would have to drive to you, then we have our meeting, and then I have to drive home.” By contrast, “this is 30 minutes, and then I’m onto my next thing. So, it’s more efficient that way.”
A 2020 McKinsey survey revealed that more than three quarters of software buyers and sellers interviewed say they favour remote human engagement and virtual interaction over face-to-face interactions, preferring the speed and convenience in getting information, placing orders, and booking services. Furthermore, key decision makers are increasingly convinced that digital is the way to go. Across the 11 countries surveyed, 46 per cent of survey respondents say digital meetings were more effective in reaching and serving customers.
Read more: Work culture trends we hope to see continue in 2023.
Digital decorum — etiquette evolving in a changing time
But Pearlstein has some rules for digital sales interactions. First, don’t be invasive. “Personally, I'm inundated by vendors who want to sell me stuff, and the rate of inundation is significant. It's caused some side effects to my life.” As a result, Pearlstein gets his emails filtered to him and rigorously screens his calls. When vendors can’t get through to him, they pre-purchase his contact information in order to pitch a cold sale. Those vendors, according to Pearlstein, find themselves on his personal do-not-buy list. The overly forward pre-sale process diminishes his desire to work with them.
Second, knowing the client is always important. Don’t assume your client needs your service just because they’re a startup IT services company. “It means that they're always at the wrong conferences. They're always doing webinars that aren't directed well, they're always taking tact in a direction that doesn't really apply to their clients.” Finally, transparency is a big must for marketers, especially when it comes to price. Pearlstein reminisces on sitting through six-hour demonstration meetings before vendors would share their pricing. “We were evaluating a piece of software, and my expectation was it was going to be three grand a year. And when they sent us the quote, it was 45 grand a year.” He turned down the inflated deal. “If they had shared it upfront, we probably would have been able to proceed. That killed the deal, from my perspective. I think that a lot of these vendors go in and they don't realize the way that the software is being bought. It's being bought for a purpose. We're talking to you because we've defined your products within scope of what we need to do.”
Security and compliance become a bigger concern
With the advent of remote work comes the need for additional security measures, especially when managing costly purchasing and sensitive agreements. When an office space becomes anyplace, companies must take measures to secure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. When employees were in an office environment, information would be protected by the company or network’s firewall.
Now, however, in a time with 100 users in 100 places, every single one of those workspaces, whether at home or at a cafe, must be primed against security threats. Residential areas have become more common for remote workers, but there’s only so much policy you can enforce in an employee’s private dwelling, says Pearlstein. His suggestions for solutions? VPNs, that allow users to access their organization's network and applications without the need for specialized software, and zero trust network access (ZTNA), which he describes as “the future” of security compliance.
“Zero trust is the idea that no matter where you are in the world, I don't trust your device.” For example, if a user is remotely working from the airport, the first thing they must do is provide multi-factor authentication on the airport’s WiFi. When they board the plane and crack open their laptop, they must repeat the process. “Every device that connects has to authenticate to be trusted. In the long term future, it's very likely that all businesses and personal [computers] as well, will move to this ZTNA model,” says Pearlstein.
New normal or just a moment in time?
Your company is undoubtedly going to have growing pains through remote work, but it’s also an incredible opportunity to recognize the value of partner ecosystems. When it comes to issues like cold pitching or deciding between tools and services from home, partnerships can accelerate decision making and take the guessing out of the B2B sales game.