Software-vendor consolidation is a fact of corporate life for CIOs and IT managers these days. After 2009, which for high-tech M&A was more famine than feast, cash-rich enterprise vendors are devouring smaller players to expand portfolios and reel in customer bases.

The vendors' overriding strategy, of course, is to provide customers as much of a "one-stop shopping" experience as possible.

For instance, the combined Oracle and Sun (and those other 60 or so vendors Oracle has gobbled up over the years) offers a broad array of hardware and software options-a stacked and stuffed portfolio if there ever was one. The tagline: "Software. Hardware. Complete."

But is that what customers actually want?

Not exactly, according to a new Forrester Research report by senior analyst Scott Santucci. (Forrester surveyed 166 North American enterprise business and IT decision-makers who have a say in purchasing IT products or services.)

A large portfolio of vendor capabilities, in fact, is less of a differentiating factor with customers than most vendors think, Santucci writes. "In briefings, vendor marketing professionals and business unit leaders spend a tremendous amount of time talking with industry analysts about how their approach is different from that of their competitors," he states. "In contrast, only 16 per cent of executives find a vendor's products, services or capabilities to be the most important factor separating them from the pack."

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So what are IT buyers looking for? Someone-anyone!-who can solve their business problems.

"Executives overwhelmingly believe that the strongest differentiator is when vendors understand the buyer's business and prescribe tailored solutions," Santucci writes. "These same executives also believe that the vendor's ability to relevantly connect its portfolio to suit their needs is the top attribute that makes a supplier strategic."

Apparently, there's more work to do inside some of the bigger vendor sales organisations: The survey showed that just 27 per cent of executives find that salespeople are knowledgeable about the buyer's specific business.

One unidentified CIO told Forrester: "I just spent the last 30 minutes with a salesperson in a well-known company who gave me a stack of brochures almost as big as a phone book to look through. It's as if he expected me to wade through all of that material to find the needles in the haystack for how they can help me."