by Hank Barnes | August 26, 2014 | Submit a Comment
I went to college in New Orleans (I’ll save you from many of those stories) and really enjoyed the city and the culture. One of the ideas I learned there was “lagniappe” — which means “a little something extra.” The core idea being that when you give someone a little something extra, they appreciate it, remember you, and smile a little bit more.
My friend, Stan Phelps, talks about lagniappe as a key theme of his GoldFish book series–which explores customer experience, employee engagement, and high value customers.
You can apply the lagniappe principle to your sales and marketing efforts to stand out with your customers (as the stories in Stan’s books show), but you can also apply it to your personal life and daily work approach.
I know that I try to give client, peers, etc. some lagniappe whenever I can (not to say I do it every single possible time). Whether that is arriving to meetings on time (imagine that), recommending one additional thing that could help a client get value, or taking an extra step during an internal meeting to make sure everyone is one the same page, the approach has served me well.
There was one time in my career when it didn’t.
I’d been wooed by a large technology company who told me they were excited to have me contribute and help drive the strategy for one of their business areas. When I joined, one of the first projects I was asked to do was to build a roadmap presentation for the business. Now, those of you that work with me and read this blog know that I believe in compelling storytelling, so that is what I went about building. I spoke to various members of the organization and created what I thought was a great roadmap that outlined the value of what we did today and how we would evolve to provide clients more and more value over time. I was really proud of it.
I showed it to my boss, expecting some questions and suggestions of gaps, unclear messages, refinements. Instead, our conversation went something like this:
Manager – “Where did these slides with these words come from?”
Me – “You asked me to build a roadmap presentation, so I talked to others on the team to build an interesting story of how we are going to help customers get more and more value from our solutions.”
Manager – “Hank, executives many levels higher than you decide when words like these appear on slides.” (side note: I now realized that the recruiting to have me help drive strategy was like the old joke about technology demos—far from reality.)
That was effectively the end of the conversation—and the end of me having any motivation in that job. I took a while, but I eventually escaped. While still there, I did everything I could to help the project teams I was on deliver value, but realized that “doing extra” at a more strategic level was not going to be received—either because that was not the way things worked in that middle management heavy organization or because I was threatening to my manager.
But that was really the only time it hasn’t worked—so my advice if you encounter a similar reaction—get away, but don’t give up on the lagniappe approach.
What are some little things you could do for your peers, managers, customers, or partners that would set you apart from the crowd.
Category: Go to Market Tags: career, customer experience, lagniappe
by Hank Barnes | August 19, 2014 | Submit a Comment
Those two words are extremely powerful and a goal for many technology providers. Successfully disrupting existing markets give you an opportunity to rewrite the rules, create new categories, and drive tremendous growth.
At the same time, it happens a lot less than provide marketing hyperbole would like you to believe. My colleague John Lovelock and I have recently published research (subscription required) that builds off of John’s earlier look at how disruptions impact markets in term of adoption curves and forecasts. One of the key recommendations we make is to avoid making claims of disruption if it is really not the case. It just leaves buyers doubting you, and makes trust harder to build and keep.
To truly disrupt markets, John’s research found that three patterns of buying must occur. The first is true of all technologies-competitive, i.e. simply competing for business against others in the market for buyer projects. The second two, however, are less common and when both occur, you truly have a disruptive product.
The first is additive purchases, meaning that your product is so distinctive that buyers who had effectively not participated in the market, either deciding to wait for something better or just feeling they would never buy that type of product, become customers. Often this is driven by either a price/performance breakthrough or incredible customer experience.
The second is destructive purchases. While the name may be a bit dramatic, it really is about innovations that are so compelling that you replace your existing approach to solve the problem ahead of schedule, e.g. before you have amortized the full value (in the B2B world).
Market disruptions often start in consumer markets, since price points are often lower and the decision to replace is more discretionary. In the B2B world, most innovations have implications far beyond the purchase. People have to be retrained, systems have to be updated, processes have to be adapted, and more. Additionally, in the destructive phase, someone (often the person who made the original purchase recommendation) has to make the case for early replacement. That is not an easy position to take, with its significant political ramifications.
When you look at all these factors, you can see why B2B disruptions often take several years before they reach critical mass. This should be reflected in your strategies. Progress is critical, but focus on the best way to achieve that progress. Get some wins from traditional competitive procurements. Target new buyers that have been on the sidelines since there is less emotional and organizational “baggage.” For destructive opportunities, focus your energies on one or two competitors and implement strategies to ease the transition from them to you.
Once you move out of the disruptive phase (when all buying becomes competitive), you’ll be in a strong position to lead the market and grow successfully.
Category: Future of Sales Go to Market Tags: additive, destructive, market disruption, replacement
by Hank Barnes | August 12, 2014 | Submit a Comment
It is hype cycle season, with the majority of this year’s hype cycle available to subscribers and the last few coming in the next few weeks. Check out the Hype Cycle Special Report page for an overview of this year’s coverage, and some assets that are available to all, even non-subscribers.
I recently held a Webinar (recording available to anyone) on how providers can use Hype Cycles to refine their go-to-market strategies (and published research on the topic for subscribers). A deep analysis of hype cycle reports that cover your technology can be invaluable in driving success in the early stages of markets.
There tends to be a lot of focus on the Hype Cycle Graphic, but fixating solely on that is missing the boat, just like fixating on the Magic Quadrant graphic can lead your astray. The real value is in the detailed technology profiles that provide much more insight and context.
In my opinion, the most important aspect of profiles to understand is “The Priority Matrix.” This looks at the potential impact of the technology, ranging from transformative to low impact and the timeframe for the innovation to hit the Plateau of Productivity.. This assessment should guide providers on expectations, emphasis, and urgency of progress for their innovations. If you have technology in a transformative category, you can deliver a huge impact, but it may be very hard for customers to adopt and learn how to execute that transformation. The more you can wrap around the technology, like services, implementation guidance, best practices, and the like, the better. And you’ll be a great position to capture significant value. Conversely, low impact innovations probably do not merit standalone products. Instead, use them to improve your existing products. Timing is a critical factor as well. Innovations always need to make progress, but expectations for the speed and scope of broad adoption should be tempered by the timing element.
The other important point to remember about Hype Cycles is they focus on innovations in the early stages of market adoption. Navigating the hype cycle is critical to achieving mainstream success, but it is just that. The prize lies at the end, as technologies fall off the hype cycle they are ready to be adopted by the bulk of the market, expanding early stage deployments and seeing more cautious companies adopting. This is when the bulk of the revenue opportunity emerges.
These are just a couple of the points that providers should think about from the hype cycle profiles and reports. For a deeper exploration, check out the webinar recording mentioned previously.
Category: Future of Sales Go to Market Tags: hype cycle, innovation, mainstream, marketing, sales
by Hank Barnes | August 5, 2014 | 1 Comment
Competition is a funny topic. When I talk to Gartner clients about competition, I usually get a list of specific companies that do similar things to the client (unless they go with the “We have no competition” angle). And, while this is valid at some point in the buying cycle, it is often missing the point and can distract you from the bigger prize, delaying growth in your market and sales for you.
With that in mind, do you know the two biggest competitors that every technology company that sells in a B2B environment face?
The first one is somewhat obvious and often acknowledged. It’s status quo. Change can be hard and many companies, despite the time and effort they spend evaluating technologies, many decide to do nothing or delay the purchase. While you can blame this on an unwillingness to change, the real issue is that, in the mind of the buying team (or decision maker), the value of the outcomes they anticipate from your product are less than the effort required to get them. This is more than a simple ROI discussion–it’s about organizational dynamics and effort beyond pure dollars to get value. As part of your selling efforts, likely in the engagement activity stream, you need stories, backed by proof points that outline how to get value quickly, including how to involve and gain support from the people in the organization.
How about the second competitor? If you can prove the value story and convince buyers that the status quo is not acceptable, you are not done. In fact, this is the competitor that is most often ignored.
It’s other projects. Every organization has a budget (yes, we always try to qualify for budget—but budgets get reallocated) and a set of resources that are available to work on projects. Not only do you need to convince buyers that your solution delivers value, but you also have to convince them that your project is more important than the others they are considering.
This is a complex effort when selling to large enterprises that have lots of resources and projects, with different sponsors. A path forward is to focus on your project team. Try to get them to share the other projects and priorities they are working on (or considering) right now. That is your competition. One path might be akin to co-opetition–align yourself with a project that is already committed and illustrate how together, even more value is possible. Another is to illustrate why the pain or opportunity that you address is more significant than the other projects. Lastly, you could illustrate how your project would be lower risk with a faster time to value.
Without addressing the other project competition, you run the risk of winning the battle within your area, but discovering a different form of the “do nothing” decision. It’s not that status quo is acceptable. Instead, it’s “we’ve decided that other things are more important.” This is why some folks (myself included), think that BANT as a qualification model may not make sense in all cases (check out this great post from Bob Apollo for another perspective). Just because your project has been budgeted does not mean it will be executed. Other projects, both planned and unplanned, may take priority. And if your not budgeted, don’t necessarily give up, if you can prove you address and issue that is more important, in a way that the buying organization is more confident they can generate value, then you can cause them to change priorities.
Have you faced these situations? Do you take the fact that they have budget for your area for granted? What are other techniques you have used to win the battle against these strong competitors?
Category: Future of Sales Go to Market Tags: competition, marketing, outcomes, positioning, selling
by Hank Barnes | July 29, 2014 | Comments Off
I am not a fan of selfies, at least for myself. I have no huge problem with others who enjoy taking and sharing them, but it just feels a bit narcissistic to me. But then again, I don’t enjoy getting my picture taken in general
(For this post, I asked my daughter for a selfie and this is what she sent me. As a note, she made it VERY CLEAR to me that she does not like taking selfies with just her in them–she saves that for Snapchat, but she took this one to show the tile work while she was traveling in Spain. Her other “selfies” are always with friends. So maybe my daugther is not a narcissist–but I’ll leave that to others to determine–kidding, Alix.)
For some reason I was thinking about selfies a lot this week (don’t ask me why–I don’t really know, unless it was my colleague-Jenny Sussin sharing that she has taken over 26 #MondayMorningSelfies since starting the “trend” inside Gartner as a goof.). I came to the conclusion that selfies have been around for a long long time in the corporate world.
Yup, the corporate Web site (and for that matter most of the marketing collateral and sales presentations), may have been the earliest selfies. Check it out. Browse a few sites, read some collateral, or think about presentations. Too often, they scream “Me, Me, Me!”.
What they should convey is value to you, you, you!
But they don’t.
A few years back, my colleague, Richard Fouts, wrote a research note on how to score your Website for customer-centric messaging. Here was his formula for how to evaluate communications and sections of your Web site:
After doing this, if your score was 25 or higher, the assessment is that you are doing a great job. Below that and you range from wanting to talk about yourself more than customer with lower scores being the ultimate “Its all about me!” experience.
As you develop stories to improve your messages or meet with customers, consider Richard’s model and ask yourself it you are creating a selfie or communicating value to your customers.
Category: Future of Sales Go to Market Tags: customer centric, messaging, selfie
by Hank Barnes | July 22, 2014 | 1 Comment
This week, I was talking with a client about positioning and segmentation. They have a product that operates in a well established traditional market, but are introducing some very cool and innovative visualization capabilities. It is yet another example of the consumerization of IT as visual tools that we see in clothing e-commerce sites are extended to B2B applications.
During the discussion, we spent some time talking about the potential risk of focusing heavily on these visualization capabilities to the detriment of buyers that don’t need or are not ready for visualization. Since visualization is but one of their capabilities, it could a significant risk for them.
My initial reaction was one of my mantras–great positioning requires giving something up. By focusing on capabilities that set them apart from the competition the benefits will be much greater than a watered down story that makes them just another provider in the crowd. Like in chess, sometimes sacrifice leads to a stronger strategic outcome.
But as I thought about it more, that may not always be true.
Even though I advise against it, I was sucked in by a very cool feature (caveat–we did spend a lot of time talking about the value of the feature). Making a feature the core of your positioning and differentiation is rarely sustainable in today’s market. Features are quickly copied.
But when I looked back on the value of the feature, I realized they had a better opportunity.
Their real story, and a position that can continue to drive and focus innovation for them, is that they deliver an incredible user experience. A user experience that translates into less errors in orders, user excitement and confidence, and the possibility of guiding toward higher value (and cost) purchases.
With that story, visualization is only a part of it–a major part, but just a part. The real story is the entirety of the experience. Someone adding a visualization feature will not kill their differentiation (unless the experience they deliver is even better). It also links to other aspects of their solution that provide value to the experience.
As they evolve, all of their decisions about product evolution should be geared toward “How does this help us continue to deliver the best user experience in the industry?” They can also expand this to a total customer experience focus and how they help their customers (manufacturers and their distributors) do the same.
And, with that positioning, they may not be giving anything up–they are only giving up those customers that don’t care about a great experience (and frankly, I’m not sure they need them). They will still target buyers where visualization is critical or high value, but for other customers that find them, they still have a story to tell.
The key insight here—when you focus on value, you might be sacrificing less opportunity than if you focus on a single feature area. You still need to segment and target, but the story has a longer life and broader applicability.
Is your positioning focused on a unique product feature or on the overall value that that feature (and others) provide?
Category: Future of Sales Go to Market Tags: customer experience, positioning, user experience
by Hank Barnes | July 14, 2014 | Comments Off
It is almost Hype Cycle season again. As most of you probably know, Gartner publishes Hype Cycles for many categories every year. This year’s reports are starting to trickle out, with the majority of them becoming available in August. Hype Cycles are written for technology buyers to help them understand the hype, and maturity, of innovations.
At the same time, Technology Providers can use hype cycles to tune their marketing and sales strategies. I will be presenting a Webinar tomorrow, July 15th, on that topic. You can register here – gtnr.it/1nepp0J. I will also have a note coming out soon on the topic that complements a research note that was published last year by Tiffani Bova and Jackie Fenn. Gartner research subscribers should read the note - Tech Go-to-Market: Managing Various Sales Strategies Through the Hype Cycle of Technology Adoption.
One of the most important things to remember about Hype Cycles are that they are about expectations over time. As the picture below shows, in technology markets, early expectations are usually driven by assumptions and hope (aka hype). As projects occur, with a mix of success and failures, expectations sink–usually driven by either innovation immaturity, overselling, or the lack of solid project knowledge on how to implement successfully. (Michael Krigsman, has a blog on ZDnet that covers IT project failures, and how to move past them, with over 1000 articles). Finally, as the innovation matures, proven examples of success and value result in rising expectations that are based in experience.
As you review hype cycles for insight into the products or services you provide, there are a few things that are very important to remember.
- Look Beyond the Graphic - Hype Cycle graphics plot where innovations fall on the curve. But much of the key information can be found deeper in the documents in the profiles that are developed for each innovation. There you will find the potential impact of the innovation (transformational, high, moderate, low) that validates (or should be used to adjust) your assessment of your innovation, and your corresponding investment levels to capitalize on the opportunity. Additionally, you’ll find details on the estimated market penetration and the anticipated time frame to reach “the Plateau of Productivity” or mainstream buyers. Be sure to read the profiles for these and other insights.
- Check Multiple Hype Cycles - Many innovations have impact in different contexts. As a result, they may appear in multiple hype cycles. Make sure your Hype Cycle search does not stop at the first occurrence of your innovation area. If it does appear in multiple reports, the analysis and profile details may be very different. For example, e-discovery appeared in at least 3 Hype Cycles in 2013 (with mentions in several others) with a variety of placements on the curve and estimates of time to plateau. Understanding these relationships can be useful to segmentation strategies and market prioritization.
- Don’t panic - Finally, don’t panic. Hype Cycles only cover early stages of the market. The most significant revenue opportunities come after innovations have moved past the hype cycle. This is when buyers are expanding their deployments and success is driving more and more buyers into the market. Additionally, the introduction of many innovations care with it a provider focus on “speed to market”. While gaining early traction is important, the time frame to the plateau can help you understand how fast you really need to go. Over-investing too early may even be worse than going a little too slow. It causes you to burn cash quickly and often leads to the disillusionment in the market permeating your business. Once that happens, it is hard to recover. Focus on steady progress, with speed and investment linked to the opportunity, the timing, and potential impact.
Applied effectively, Hype Cycles can be just as effective a tool for providers as they are for buyers. Get ready, they are coming soon for 2014. (And a second plug for my Webinar, tomorrow-July 15 at 11 Eastern - gtnr.it/1nepp0J)
Category: Future of Sales Go to Market Tags: hype cycle, innovation, marketing, sales
by Hank Barnes | July 8, 2014 | 1 Comment
At Gartner, and pretty much everywhere else you look, the advice is consistent for tech providers–focus on the business outcomes of your product or service to build buyer interest. That mantra has been a focus of many of my other posts, including ones on the importance of telling why and on the lousy state of messaging.
If you think about it, those outcomes are about the impact that you can have on your customer’s business. One of the definitions of impact is “to have a strong effect on someone or something.”
Not just an effect, but a strong effect. Strong effects are emotional and make a difference. That is one of the reasons why outcome-oriented messaging is so important.
But, even for cases where I have seen more outcome oriented messaging, there is another area where impact is as, or even more important.
That is in communicating the need or opportunity that you address for your customers. Beyond not telling why and communicating outcomes, this is often the weakest part of messaging that I see.
As I work with providers on needs, they are often stated in general terms and not very compelling. My review and comments are pretty consistent, “Would you, if you were a customer, spend money to address that need? And if you would, where would it go on your priority list?”
They way to rise towards the top of priority lists is to communicate impact.
As my colleague, Richard Fouts, always advises, don’t just communicate the Situation and Resolution, communicate the impact. The classic format is called SIR (Situation-Impact-Resolution) –and we now add that you lead with outcomes, O-SIR if you will.
Impact is a critical part of the model. Without communicating impact, you are hoping your potential customers will do it for themselves (kinda like hoping a customer can figure out the potential outcomes from your product features).
For example, the need you address might be something like “reduce the average days outstanding for accounts receivables.” That is good, but what is the impact of that pain? It might be “that are putting strains on your cash flow and constraining your ability to grow”or “reducing investor confidence” or a few other things. But its the impact that makes the emotional connection to drive someone to do something now.
I work with one firm that helps high tech clients manage revenue recognition issues. While that might sound somewhat boring, when you talk about the impact of not doing that well (e.g. “We help you make sure that those last minute deals you bring in to ‘save the quarter’ can all be recognized—making the difference between being a hero or a scapegoat.”), it gets pretty compelling.
If you don’t communicate the impact of the need you address, or the current way of doing business, you may not even get to the point of having anyone care about your outcomes.
So, as you think about outcomes, don’t just focus on what you do for people, focus on the impact of not using your products and services. The impact of the need you address or the impact of the current way of doing business. Needs are good, but impacts are better.
Category: Go to Market Tags: impact, messaging, outcomes, resolution, SIR, situation
by Hank Barnes | July 1, 2014 | 3 Comments
Exactly three weeks ago, I woke up with my face feeling very, very strange. I had had some ear pain two nights before followed by a watery eye and some tiredness–I thought I was coming down with a cold. But the morning everything was different. I could not drink from a soda bottle unless I was very very careful not to spill. My wife, who was out of town, basically ordered me to go to the doctor, which was fine with me–I don’t have any “doctor phobias.”
But first, I took my dog for a long walk and felt great–other than the weird feeling in my face. At the doctor, they immediately started testing me for a stroke, but that all came back negative (which I assumed after walking the dog), as did some other tests. The doctor assured me I hadsomething called Bells Palsy. The right side of my face would not move at all. This was strange to me, since I thought it was the left side that was a problem. Looking in a mirror, I finally realized what was up and then immediately went into research mode. They don’t really know what triggers Bells Palsy, but it is caused by inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles in your face. It lasts a variable amount of time, anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks to months. Steroids and anti-viral medicine (which I was given) may help, but that is not proven either.
My biggest concern was how I sounded on the phone, since much of my day is spent talking to clients. Additionally, the following week I was scheduled to be a keynote speaker at Asigra’s Partner Summit. After confirming with the doctor that there was no risk to anyone else or me, I decided to go on as planned, even if my speech was impacted.
During my trip to Toronto, and for my talk, I decided to be transparent. I let everyone know that I had this condition, even joking that they would not catch me talking out of both sides of my mouth–since one side would not move at all, and that I might slur a few words or even drool or slobber a bit (considering that I’ve had a slobbering and drooling problem for most of my life, this was not that big a difference).
In the end, I got a lot of positive feedback on the talk and also heard from many other folks that had either had Bells Palsy or knew someone who did. But that is not the important part of this post. What I also heard repeatedly was that if I had not told them, they may not have noticed. While I am a bit skeptical of that, I do think it is true to a degree.
We, both as individuals and businesses, tend to magnify our faults (or what we think are faults). We believe that everyone knows all about them and as a result, we overcompensate. Having Bells Palsy taught me that others don’t fixate on your faults, unless you force them to. So there is no reason for us to either. Yes, we should look to address them and improve, but we don’t need to spend time convincing customers and prospects that the faults don’t exist or trying to address what you perceive as concerns they have because of the faults if they have not expressed those concerns directly to you. If they do ask about them, then you can and should address their concerns.
And, if it is something you can’t control, like Bells Palsy, just acknowledge the issue and move on. Particularly if they are highly visible or if you feel they may be acting as “the elephant in the room.”
A similar thing happens with messaging. We hear our messages over and over and over again. As a result, we often get concerned that they are getting stale. While that may be the case, don’t forget that your customers and partners don’t spend all their days listening to your messages—they hear some of them, but most of the time they are thinking of something else. So what sounds stale to you may still be fresh with them. Don’t overcompensate and change to soon.
As for my Bells Palsy, I’m feeling lucky. I’m almost back to normal (well, if you call me normal). It is 3 weeks later and my face is about 80-90% back to normal, almost like a never had it. It is another reminder that many of our faults are temporary and can be corrected. So move forward, correct what you can, and focus on the positives and your strengths. That is what is most interesting to your customers.
Category: Go to Market Tags: expectations, faults, messages
by Hank Barnes | June 24, 2014 | Comments Off
Maybe it is just me.
Most of us have heard the phrase “If you assume, you make an *** out of U and Me.” Hearing that over and over has left me with a bad opinion of the idea of assumptions. Whenever I see the word, my initial reaction is negativity. After spending some time thinking about it more, that needs to change.
Assumptions are at the heart of most innovations and are often critical to gaining fresh insight. In the scientific world, nothing is learned without an assumption (called, of course, a hypothesis).
As a result, there is no problem with many assumptions. The problem is when you just take them as fact and don’t attempt to prove or disprove them.
Assumptions are at the heart of the Lean Startup movement, an approach to innovation that is based largely on having a vision and then creating assumptions that are quickly proven, or disproven, to decide if to continue on the course (persevere) or to adjust your plans (pivot).
Assumptions are also core to how innovation happens. In his compelling book, Where Good Ideas Come From, author Steven Johnson talks about the several ways that highly impactful scientific progress has been made. In most cases, it starts with an assumption (that then turns into a slow hunch and evolves with adjacent possibilities, errors, etc.). You can see a quick summary of his stories in this great YouTube Video and TED Talk.
Assumptions are at the heart of Gartner’s forecast methodology. Once defined, they are applied to a technology area to project the market into the future. As those results are generated and viewed in the context of existing behavior, the assumptions are refined. Without assumptions, forecasting would be nearly impossible (Note: I am not a forecaster, but simply using past behavior to predict the future seems like a non-starter to me, particularly with the volatility of technical markets. And without assumptions, I’m not sure how else you would make your projections).
If you think about it, many of the marketing claims that we make are assumptions. We can say, “Our software has helped all of our customers increase revenues by an average of 25%” and that may be a fact. But when we apply it to a new customer, “therefore, you can expect to increase your revenues by up to 25%”, it is an assumption. The client, and you, then need to work together to, hopefully, prove that assumption, or disprove it (and make adjustments).
So the next time you hear someone talk about “assuming” or “assumptions”, don’t immediately reject it. Instead, assess if they are approaching it with something like the scientific method–seeking to prove or disprove it. If that is the case, its a good thing.
No real progress occurs without assumptions that start the ball rolling toward a new approach.
Category: Go to Market Tags: assumptions, hypothesis, lean, lean startup, scientific method