Buildings don’t buy from buildings, people buy products from people, and so marketers need to focus on people, not B’s or C’s.” Jonathan Becher, Chief Marketing Officer, SAP

Is this idea that far-fetched? How can this be relevant for multi-million dollar purchases of enterprise software or hardware equipment? After all, it’s not like a company would ever place an order on the web by supplying its CFO’s credit card.

The answer I believe is not that simple. Analysts have been talking about the consumerization of IT for more than 10 years. And let’s not forget how Salesforce got started. From its humble beginnings in a San Francisco apartment in 1999, the company has grown to a force-to-be-reckoned-with in enterprise software (their revenues in 2012 were $2.2B). The very first version of their website in late 1999 had one simple message: “Just Sign On”. Very appropriate message, since they were selling to sales executives who wanted a simple tool to manage their sales opportunities.

Fast forward to this century. There have been many advancements in technology that I believe are forcing the enterprise technology industry to re-invent itself. From the emergence of the ‘enterprise’ cloud pioneered by Salesforce, to the explosion of mobile devices (and ensuing Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) phenomenon), the enterprise consumer is fast becoming both more demanding and willing to bypass corporate IT policies in order to get their work done. What is even more interesting however, CIOs at forward-thinking companies have decided to embrace this movement rather than fight it.

While technology continues to play a key role, the fundamental drivers in my opinion are the increasing expectations and sources of information enterprise consumers have at their disposal. Enterprise technology veterans cannot help but reminisce the good old days when our sales people controlled the conversation with our customers. Those days are old gone. It doesn’t matter if you sell t-shirts on the web or multi-million dollar enterprise systems. Your customers in many cases know more about your product or service than your salespeople.

The proliferation of the social media phenomenon is breeding a new kind of consumer that is constantly bombarded with information, whether it is from your competitors, their peers and advisors, the private communities they participate in, and yes, the public social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

So what can you do? The choices are simple: You can either embrace the change or fight it. In early 2011, I wrote a case study of how SAP, my then employer, was leveraging social media to extend the reach of its events and connect with an audience that far surpassed the number of people physically attending the event. Today SAP is recognized as a leader in embracing this change. There are many other great enterprise technology companies in that league. Companies such as IBM, Cisco, Intel and many others have recognized the importance of truly connecting with the people who are using their products on a personal level.

If you are still not convinced, just look at this recent study of the Fortune 100 Social CMOs. Technology companies dominated the list with seven of the top 10 social CMOs. Of those seven companies, not one was selling to just end consumers.

It’s your choice…

As always I look forward to your feedback and comments.