Hank Barnes

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Hank Barnes
Research Director
1 years at Gartner
25 years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. He focuses on issues related to product marketing, positioning and customer experience. Read Full Bio

The Biggest Content Gap in Technology Marketing

by Hank Barnes  |  December 16, 2014  |  6 Comments

A few weeks ago, Jon Reed (of diginomica), and I had an interesting (at least we thought so!) dialog via twitter and blog comments about case studies.  We both were lamenting the lack of great case studies in the technology industry.  But we had a disagreement about what needs to be in them.  Jon, who is a savvy businessman and strong technologist, is a big believer that case studies should almost always have information on implementation, training, and support.  I, on the other hand, believe in fit for purpose.  If you are using a case study to illustrate why someone should consider doing something different, you don’t need to talk about implementation details.  Save that for later.  For me, it’s all about where you see the case study helping the reader in their buying process.

That being said, within this dialog was something that I may have unintentionally implied was not important.   That is the necessity to provide potential buyers with details on implementation, training, and support.   The lack of good content in this area is, for me, the biggest gap in technology marketing.

mind_the_gap

There are a couple of research data points that illustrate the importance of this.

First, in our survey about differentiation early in 2014, the respondents told us that Service and Support was the strongest differentiator.  This was for people that felt providers did a good job of differentiating themselves.  Conversely, those that said providers were not good at communicating differentiation–the majority–cited the inability to understand the details of service and support as one of the major issues.

Second,  in our more recent research on buying cycles and influential marketing activities, two of  the top three reasons for buyers stopping a buying process–the dreaded “no decision”–were concerns that buyers developed about achieving the targeted ROI and the risk of the project.   Effectively, we interpret that to being an issue where buyers initially think the project makes sense and they get some evidence of this during the evaluation process.  But at some point, they are unable to embrace how they specifically can achieve value and minimize risk.

This disconnect is often driven by the lack of information to help buyers understand the steps that need to be taken to get value.  I believe that if providers developed content that described “the first 90 days with our product” (or any other relevant time frame), that these concerns would diminish.  In that content, you would outline the steps that have to be taken by project teams to be successful.  Implementation steps. training.  How to engage support.  What the customer needs to do and what you as the service provider will do.

And not just a description of your training options or support programs.   But an authentic story about how to take those things apply in specific scenarios.  Jon is definitely right here.  Case studies that share how other customers achieved success are fantastic for this purpose.  (Here is a good example I came across recently from Minitab.  While the story does not explain the exact details of implementation, it does provide a lot of detail on how their product was used to come up with a solution that had a big impact for their customer, Ford.)

I’d be shocked in anyone questioned whether this makes sense.  But the reason for the issues is that this is easier said than done.   This type of information lies at  a bit of a tipping point (not in the “innovation sense” of the phrase).  It is the bridge that moves from more traditional marketing materials toward what we think of as documentation or help.    Marketing can’t (or shouldn’t) develop this material alone.  They need to work with the services, support and product teams.  At the same time, if you leave this purely to the services or product teams, you run the risk of it being overrun with minutia that, while important at some point, derail the story and the sales effort.  It is a tricky balance.

Navigating this “content bridge” and then going deeper along thispath with all the other content that actual customers need  (online help, user guides, etc.) is a critical, often forgotten element of delivering a great customer experience.   The stories aren’t the same, and the depth of coverage is different, but the storyline and narrative needs to be consistent.   Inconsistencies confuse customers and can halt them in their tracks.

What does this all mean?  I’d suggest you do a content audit to assess if you have the information potential customers need to help them understand, quite specifically, how they will actually be successful with your solution.   Then make sure that the additional customer documentation extends the storyline.  Ideally, use some of your case studies (does not have to be all of them) to help tell these stories.  Done right, you’ll be better positioned to deliver on the expectations that you set in your marketing and sales efforts, without confusing the customer with different stories and themes.

If you have this content gap, fill it and let me know if it helps you progress deals faster.   If you’ve already filled it, I’d love to hear how (and if it is working) you use this content to accelerate deals and build customer confidence.

 

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Category: Future of Sales Go to Market     Tags: , , , , ,

The Stories of Advocacy Marketing Success – Submit Now

by Hank Barnes  |  December 9, 2014  |  17 Comments

At the beginning of 2014, I made what some found an intriguing statement, asking “Will 2014 be the Year of Advocacy Marketing?”  My belief was that it could be, and should be, simply because buyers are consistently telling us that they trust peers and third parties more than they trust the vendors that provide them with product and services.

Can you hear me?

Since the year is almost over, it is a good time to reflect.  Did Advocacy Marketing have a big impact on businesses this year?   Intuitively, I think it did, but I’d like some validation.

If Advocacy Marketing had an impact on your business in 2014 (or even earlier), I’d like to hear about it.   Please send me your stories (restrictions and requirements below) by emailing me at  hank (dot) barnes (at) gartner (dot) com.    I would like to use the best stories in a future research note on the topic.  If I get enough, I will also share some of the stories here in blog posts.

Now for the details:

Requirements

  1. Must submit the story by no later than 1/31 to be considered for the research.
    (I would love stories anytime, and will share interesting ones via my blog when possible, or save for future notes, but for the current work I am planning 1/31 is the deadline.)
  2. Must be submitted by, or on behalf of, a company that provides technology products or services, preferably in B2B environments (but B2C technology use cases are acceptable).  If you are a company that provides Advocacy Marketing products or services, and are doing advocacy marketing yourselves (I’d be shocked if you aren’t), your stories are eligible.
    (I know that advocacy can be used in most industries and is great for building up consumer fan support, but my specific focus is technology and those are the clients that I serve, so please focus there.)
  3. Must have a proven, ideally quantified, business impact, such as increased revenue, reduced sales cycle times, improved retention rates.
    (Less interested in stories about improved response rates or increased lead generation (e.g. increase in pipeline), but will consider them.   Strong preference toward stories that show the ultimate results–more revenue, faster revenue, less churn.)
  4. Must provide contact information and include a statement about  your willingness for me to share this story via research or blog posts.  I may need to followup with you to get clarification or to review material for research.  If you are submitting on behalf of another firm, I will need contact information for a representative of the firm that can answer questions about the story.  Please copy them on your message to me so that they are aware that I may be contacting them.

Story Format

In order to be considered, your story must follow the following format.   Those of you that are regular readers won’t be surprised by the format at all.

  1. Open strong
    • Lead with the Outcome (the more quantified the better) that makes me want to learn more about this
  2. Describe the “Current State”
    • the situation before you took an advocacy approach and the impact/pain you were feeling as a result)
  3. Describe the “After State”
    • The Advocacy Marketing program you executed with some level of detail on how you executed the program
    • If you are using a technology solution or services to help with this, feel free to mention them.
  4. Close the loop –
    • Reinforce and expand on the outcomes that you opened with, providing some additional detail and related benefits

I look forward to reading your stories and sharing them broadly.  (And for those of you doing providing Advocacy Marketing Products and Services, this might be a great time to show the power of your advocates.)

 

 

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Category: Go to Market     Tags: , ,

Interruptions Are Accelerating – Unfortunately

by Hank Barnes  |  December 2, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

This morning, I was using some “think time” to come up with ideas for this week’s blog post.  Then, my home phone rang (I work from a home office).  It was someone trying to sell me health insurance (sorry, Gartner has me covered).

BU004918

Then, I went out looking at some of the articles I have saved to review while I was traveling the past few weeks.  The majority of the time, my ability to view the article was delayed as a pop-up ad covered the content.  Then a few emails came in asking me to buy a list or subscribe to a research service.

We interrupt this post to share with you an advertisement that is highly likely to be irrelevant to you and whose main value, if you call it that, is to distract you from getting stuff done.

These interruptions are getting out of hand.  For me personally, it is causing me to reactive extremely negatively.   Sometimes, I stay on the phone to talk to an agent just to let them know how annoying their company is.   For ads, I increasingly search for the “X” (close) button as quickly as possible.   I am either totally ignoring the ad or developing a very, very strong distaste for the brand.   Additionally, I’m starting to remember, and avoid when possible, the Web sites that promote this behaviour (as part of their advertising packages).

As a marketer, I understand the need to advertise, but can we find ways to do it that don’t interrupt and annoy our audiences?  Is a 1% response rate on a “low cost” calling campaign worth the “anger rate” that is likely to be much higher?   Do we really need to interrupt people to get their attention v. earning it?  Can we use context information to find times when an interruption is actually welcome?   Are there other ways to use context to create ads that are relevant and connected to the activities being performed?

If you care about customer experience, then figuring this out is crucial.  We are already dealing with so many distractions that it is hard to develop deep engagement.  Making it worse with interruptions that annoy will create a backlash.    Please just make it stop.

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Category: Go to Market     Tags: , , ,

Winning in the Moment

by Hank Barnes  |  November 25, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

I just returned from my, and Gartner’s, final Symposium of the year.  Having visited with well over 100 technology providers over the last 6+weeks in Orlando, Barcelona, and Gold Coast; it is easy for me to say that the technology industry has a good future.   Whether solving old problems in new ways or creating new business opportunities through innovation, it is clear that the future is bright for firms that focus on customers, address their critical needs or opportunities, and exceed their expectations.

A big theme at the Symposium series this year was Business Moments.  Gartner introduced our ideas around Business Moments –transient opportunities that are exploited dynamically- last year, with increased focus and examples this year.   Be cautious about your interpretation of “exploited”—this does not mean “take advantage of for the good of you and the detriment of someone else.” By exploited, we really mean an opportunity to use digital technologies to better serve our customers.   There is a collection of research (and examples) on Business Moments on gartner.com (clients only).

This year, we linked Business Moments closely to the Digital Humanist Manifesto (see my earlier blog on this topic) as Business Moments are truly human moments.  If we “exploit” them for our own good, then customers may revolt.  We have to get the balance right.

But what does this mean for technology providers.   It means a whole lot. Business Moments are a broad ranging opportunity.

The most interesting thing is that while a Business Moment is transient, the way we handle it often takes time.  It some ways, it is like a fast moving car (like the picture below taken from the window of my hotel room in Sydney).  The car is only in one spot for an instant—but it still has to get to a destination.  Business Moments capture the instant, but require additional activities to get to the destination.

Fastmovingcars

 

Business Moments will trigger a wide range of activities–things like notifying people, updating systems, kicking off processes, and more.   It sounds an awful lot like business process management (BPM), and it certainly poses opportunities for the BPM crowd.    It is also a great opportunity for the consulting and services community–as organizations seeking to capitalize on business moments will need helping putting together the systems to get it done.  But there are many other opportunities hidden in those moments. Its up to providers to uncover them and help digital businesses.  Human factors will be critical as ethnography (detailed observation of behavior)and the related customer experience design will be a critical skill to identify the most important business moments–and the key activities to follow.

Be looking for more on this topic, and how providers can help digital businesses in 2015.

 

 

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Confusion on the Trade Show Floor

by Hank Barnes  |  November 18, 2014  |  3 Comments

This week I am at Gartner’s APAC Symposium in Australia.

sympgc

Last week I was in Barcelona at the EMEA event   It was a great, high energy event with a packed schedule.   I did not have much time to spare (like Orlando), but was able to do a very quick stroll through the ITxpo show floor.   And like Orlando (and I suspect like I will see in Australia at the Symposium here in Gold Coast), my quick observations were consistent.

Most exhibitors have a major messaging issue (probably to no surprise to anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis).

Here is a selection of the key messages that I saw on booths (Company Names Omitted Intentionally):

  • “The Art of Connecting”
  • “User Choice: Your device/Your apps/Your content/The experience you love”
  • “Smarter Customer Interactions Start Here”
  • “Connecting and Protecting the Networked World”
  • “Mobilizing Your World”
  • “Securely Connecting All:Your People, Applications, and Devices”
  • “Architecting the Enterprise”
  • “Delivering Workplace Transformation”
  • “Engaging People”
  • “Flow from One Step to the Next”
  • “Redefining EMM”

Do any of those messages say anything to you that make you want to visit their booth?  If you are like me, probably not.

To be fair, these messages came from a mix of big brands and some smaller players.  The bigger the brand, the less compelling and differentiating your message needs to be–since buyers will seek you out because of the brand knowledge alone.  Unless, of course, you are introducing new products and services that you are not known for–then you have to fight for recognition in those areas with everyone else.

From our research, buyers visiting trade shows are often looking for solutions to known problems–wanting to compare various alternative providers side by side.  If you are already on their list (either through other marketing activities or through the way you describe your company in the show guide), then your booth messaging may not be as important.  But if they don’t already know you, or are exploring new ideas based on things they learned at the conference, then your messaging (and your overall trade show strategy) becomes critical.

The messaging above won’t cut it.  It is too generic, too broad, and too much like everyone else around you.   I did see a couple of bright spots.  One booth had a couple customer quotes, with the customer describing the value that they have acheived by working with the provider.  Another had a list of quantified outcomes that their clients had achieved through the use of their technology.  But those were hard to find (and admittedly, I may have missed some other good examples in the limited time I had).

Messaging for trade show booths is not easy.  I know that.  You have limited space to communicate quickly to folks walking the halls.  But what can you do.  Here are three suggestions:

 

1. Save the Taglines - Taglines are great once people know who you are.  Great tag lines help people remember you once they have some context.  But they usually don’t work as the starting point of understanding.

2. Provide Context - Be clear on the category that you products and services fall into.  This helps people find things that they are looking for.

3. Focus on Value - Use Customer quotes or facts from existing clients to illustrate the business outcomes you help clients achieve.

And most importantly, get an independent third party to review what you plan to use on your booth.   If you are a Gartner client, you could do this with me or my colleague Todd Berkowitz who spend a lot of time working with clients on improving their positioning and storytelling.   Or, for that matter, you could ask any of the analysts that you work with on a regular basis to provide feedback.

If you are not a Gartner client, find someone you trust, preferably someone who does not have extensive knowledge of your company , to take a look.  Ask them if they can tell what you do and why you do it from the messages.  Ask them if the messages would make them more or less likely to come into your booth for a conversation.   The feedback will be invaluable.

Great messages alone don’t make for a great trade show experience.  But they sure can help.

 

 

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Category: Go to Market     Tags: , , ,

Getting the Balance Right – Your Business and Your Customers

by Hank Barnes  |  November 11, 2014  |  Comments Off

My post last week on Strategy, Selling and Segmentation generated some interesting internal dialogue.  To a large degree, it was, in the words of Tiffani Bova, helping us remember “the things we think we think.”   That is, it reminded many of us of some things that we take for granted in our thought processes and decision making.

At the same time, it also was a reminder that, as a business, we need to strike a balance between doing what is best for our business and doing what customers want.   Yes, customers are more empowered than ever, but that you as a business should cater to their every whim.   There are still some business fundamentals.  When I hear things like “The Internet means every business is a Global Business”, I cringe.  Just because you CAN sell to anybody (or that anybody can buy from you), does not mean you should.

As Frank Cespedes book (referenced in the last post) reminds us, there is an opportunity cost for anything we do—it is not just the cost of doing it that has to be considered but also the things we can’t do because we spent our resources on that thing.     If we sell to an international customer, what is the cost of support?  What changes do we need in other business processes?   All of a sudden that “easy” sale can turn pretty costly.  You always have to assess the overall impact on your business.

That being said, with, as my colleague Jake Sorofman wrote, Customer Experience emerging as the new battlefield, organizations must learn how to balance customer experience and business value.   With that in mind, I remembered a blog post I wrote while I was at Adobe (that old post can still be found here on the CustomerThink web site).  In it, I talked about an approach to assessing CX efforts in the context of business value.  Graphically, the approach looked like this:

cxvsbiz

The idea being that you should assess projects from both the value to the customer and the business ROI.  Projects that are low on either dimension typically don’t make sense to do in the customer experience era.  Generating a lot of business ROI at the expense of CX is not a viable long term strategy.  Similarly, focusing on customer value without helping the business does not make sense.

The best projects are ones that deliver high customer and business value.   But what about the next ones?  This approach advocates evaluating the next level of projects with a slant toward greater customer value.  Why?  Because most of our businesses need to OVERCORRECT to learn to be customer centric.   An old friend, Sue Aldrich–an analyst with The Patricia Seybold Group, illustrated this with a great analogy.

Fold a piece of paper in half.  Now try to flatten it.

To do it, you OVERCORRECT, folding it the other way.

That is what businesses need to do to learn to be customer-centric.

Ultimately, it is a balancing act, but make sure you are getting that balance right.   Everything you do should produce value for your business and for customers.  The customer may always be right, but what they are right about may not be best for your business.  If that is the case, you should not feel it is something you must do.    It won’t always make for easy decisions, but if you develop balanced strategies it will be easier to deliver balanced execution.

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Category: Go to Market     Tags: , , ,

Strategy, Selling, and Segmentation

by Hank Barnes  |  November 4, 2014  |  2 Comments

I am reading a fantastic book right now.  It is called Aligning Strategy and Sales by Frank Cespedes, published by Harvard Business Review Press.  For those that have been following our Future of IT Sales special report, the book is a must read.  It supports our key over-riding premise—sales approaches must be linked to the overall business strategy, aligning with market selection and product planning in a balanced approach.

While I’ve not finished the book yet, there is one insight that I wanted to share.  It focuses on segmentation, a topic that I often discuss with clients as we work on positioning.   The question of who is your ideal customer is an important one.    Unfortunately, it is an answer than many don’t want to provide.   Instead, we will choose broad targets, trying to caste a wide swatch in hopes of widening the prospect pool.  Cespedes explores this in more detail and offers reasons that this is usually extremely problematic.  It most often rears its ugly head with growth is slowing.  Businesses then need to decide where to turn.

When we work with clients on positioning, we always ask them to focus on three areas:

  • Who is their target customer, based on fit?  What attributes make a company a great prospect for your product or service?
  • What are the critical business needs?  What business pains are so powerful that they know they have to do something?
  • What are their related desires? What things do they want to make the buying, implementation, or adoption process easier?

These three elements can help to refine both your target market selection (for marketing purposes) and also your sales qualification effort.

But after reading Cespedes’ book, I realize it is not enough.   There is one other key element–an additional filter–that needs to be applied:

  • What targets make the most strategic sense for our business?

Segmentation

This question can be answered by evaluating historical sales results (ideally) or applying a different lens to your analysis.  Questions like:

  • How hard/easy is it to sell to these targets?
  • Is our sales cycle likely to be longer or shorter?
  • How likely are these targets to remain a long term customer (particularly important for subscription services)?
  • Which of these targets offer the most upsell opportunities?

And many more.

Yes, you want to be customer focused–but you also want to do that in the context of a solid business strategy.  One case study in the book talks about a payroll services company that switched their focus from highly “transient” small businesses (like restaurants) –who had been one of their biggest segments–to small consulting companies after determining that these businesses had more stability and opportunity for longer term relationships.

They then changed their sales approach–putting a heavy emphasis on partnering with CPAs (key influencers for these consulting firms).  They also continued to accept the other business (from restaurants, etc), but did so through a lower cost, inside sales approach.  Their close rate on those deals decreased, but so had their costs.  Conversely, they had large productivity increases on their sales to consulting firms, increasing revenue, close rates, and profitability.  They also adapted their product offerings to appeal to these segments.

This illustrates a much more connected approach to business–aligning sales approaches with marketing targets and product planning–an approach that paid big dividends.

The next time you are evaluating your targets,  be very cognizant of both the attributes that make buyers a good target–for themselves and for you.  Narrow your focus and adopt a sales approach based on two things—how you can make it easier for the customer to buy the way they want to  AND how you can drive the most success and profit by choosing targets and approaches that make the most strategic sense for your business.

The combination is critical.

 

 

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Trust Erosion through Bad Messaging

by Hank Barnes  |  October 28, 2014  |  Comments Off

By this point, it is fairly well known that trust in the organizations we do business with is not high.  The Edelman Trust Barometer tracks this on an annual basis.  Because of this lack of trust, technology buyers rely very heavily on the advice of independent third parties (influencers, analysts, peers, etc) as they making buying decisions.  The higher the perceived level of independence, the more the advice is trusted.

For technology providers, this presents a challenge.  Not only do they need to build awareness and interest with buyers, but they also need to cultivate influencers.  Furthermore, as they create messages, they need to remember that most of these will be viewed with a healthy (actually potentially unhealthy) level of skepticism.    This is an important lens to view your messages through.  “How will the skeptical buyer view this message?”

Before the rise of the Internet and Social Networking, sellers had much more control of information distribution.  You could make claims (like the standard claim that is in most press releases – “XYZ company, the leading provider of “whatever technology”) that could not easily be validated or invalidated.   As a result, marketing messaging was largely associated with “spin doctoring”–making everything sound great.

This does not work anymore.  Buyers can very quickly determine if your messages are valid, by doing their own research or reaching out to others via social connections.

ladder_hole_escape

Messaging, and marketing,  has to change to be more authentic.   Remember, you are already starting in a “trust hole.”  The wrong messages will only result in you digging it even deeper.   Here are a few of my favorite types of trust erosion messages:

  • Broad Targets – “Great for companies of any size, anywhere” – From a skeptical buyer view, the reaction is “that’s impossible.”
  • Inflated Claims – “We are the market leader” – with no substantiation, buyers wonder “why have I never heard of you” or quickly do some research to determine if it is true.
  • Definitive Generalizations – “The most capabilities on the market” – a broad statement that buyers quimmediately question.
  • Long Lists – “Here are our 15 differentiators” – buyers will pick apart with a variety of comparisons

See the pattern.   The broad claims and hyperbole, that may have worked in the past, don’t work anymore.  They do more harm than good.

How do you move away from this?

  • Instead of broad claims, be focused and authentic.
  • Be clear about your comparisons, not general.
  • Acknowledge “best fit” situations.
  • Consider including messaging for “situations where we are not the best option.”
  • Use stories that describe before and after scenarios.

Always review your messages through the lens of the distrustful buyer.   The more you help buyers clarify in their own mind how to evaluate and compare you, the better.   You’ll still have a trust gap, but you’ll be decreasing it rather than increasing it.

 

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Wasting Time – The Bane of Buying and Selling

by Hank Barnes  |  October 21, 2014  |  2 Comments

Nothing bugs me more than wasting time.    I don’t like being on time for meetings and waiting several minutes for others to join.   I don’t like reading about a product that seems interesting, only to find nothing of real value as I read on.    And I don’t like getting calls and emails from people offering me things I don’t want or need (and in many cases it would be obvious, if the caller/emailer did even a tiny, tiny bit of research on me, that I would not want or need it in my current role).

Time is precious, we all value ours, but sometimes, when we are marketing or selling, we don’t look at it from our customer’s perspective.  We are okay with wasting their time and interrupting their daily work.   When the shoe’s on the other foot, we (or at least I) act very negatively.

time_crunch_clock_clamp

As with think with a humanist perspective, the time has come to be more respectful about time.    Evaluate all that you do from a marketing and sales perspective with an eye toward “could I be wasting my customer’s time.”    Here are some of the biggest time wasters I see:

  • Enticing a prospect with some basic, but useful content, then forcing them to register (very early in the buying process)
  • Sending your sales team 30-50 page product guides that tell them everything about the product, but little about who can benefit from it and why.
  • Saying your product is a fit for businesses “of all sizes”, when it’s really idea for small or mid-market companies (wasting the time of prospects from large companies).
  • Having your first face to face meeting with a prospect and spending the first 20 minutes telling them things about your company they already know from their research.
  • Writing case studies where it take 3 or 4 pages to get to the most important part–the business results your customer achieved.
  • Forcing customers to tell you all kinds of things you should already know before you provide support.
  • Putting videos on your site without any context setting–forcing them to watch some of it to see if it has any value.

And the list could go on and on and on.

Imagine if every interaction, marketing activity, and all your materials wasted no time–building off each other to help guide a buyer toward a purchase decision efficiently?  Could that set you apart from your competitors?  I think so.

Time is a two way street—your prospects should not waste your time.  Now some of this may be a bit inevitable.  If a buying organization has to get 3 quotes, you know that 2 of them are largely a waste of time.   You’ll have to assess if you have a legitimate shot at swaying the decision or if your approach to this “losing” response positions you better to win other business in the future.  If it doesn’t, maybe you don’t respond—and provide valid “time saving” reasons why.    Further, Ask you prospects what they need from you so that you don’t waste their time-and they don’t waste yours.

As more and more people deal with information overload, becoming a “time savior” could make a big difference in the lives of your prospects, your customers, and your peers.  What do you think?  How much time do you waste each day?  And how much time do others force you to waste?

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The Call for Humanism in Technology

by Hank Barnes  |  October 14, 2014  |  Comments Off

I just got back from Gartner’s U.S. Symposium in Orlando.  It was a great week, meeting with lots of technology providers of all ages and sizes.   As always, I was impressed with the passion and creativity of many emerging providers.

The theme of this year’s conference was Digital Business, and one theme really jumped out at me—a call for humanism.  As the Internet of Things continues to mature, businesses will have the opportunity to automate more and more.   In the world of IoT, this will drive two strong perspectives.

One is clear–the machinist.  The machinist seeks to automate everything.  In the eye of the machinist, getting people involved only serves to slow things down and introduce the opportunity for errors.  Frankly, the machinist view is not new—its existed in many IT organizations for years with views like “if users would just leave us alone, we could get our work done.”

The other perspective is that of the humanist.   The digital humanist provides the balance that keeps us away from a world dominated by machines to one that is focused on truly helping people and recognizing that control is not always a good thing–unpredictability is reality.  In fact, this is so important that Gartner introduced the idea of the Digital Humanist Manifesto.   This manifesto is critical and presents many opportunities for providers.

digitalhumanistmanifesto

As technology providers, we must help businesses adopt the principles of the Digital Humanist Manifesto.    To do that, we all must put an even bigger focus on experience – both user experience (interacting with systems) and customer experience (interacting with the business).   This requires us to enhance our skills and resources in user-centric design–not just of systems but of our business processes.   We have to  build expertise in privacy at two levels–the technical level of information protection and the emotional level of understanding when it is inappropriate to use information for automated action.  Finally, we need to help organizations understand that the perfect process does not exist, don’t design for perfection–design for exception and build in capabilities to respond and react appropriately.

These skills (user-centric design, privacy management, and  fluid process) need to be embodied in our systems and present opportunities for service providers to stand out and guide their customers toward a better future.   Many of these things have been discussed for years, but now it is even more important as we run the risk of stepping across the divide toward too much automation–a step that could cause people to take a big step back from the possibilities due to the negative impact it has on their lives.  Balance it with the human perspective and people will gravitate to the good it does for them.

The Digital Humanist Manifesto is a critical concept that resonates with me like few ideas have as we think about the Internet of Things and Digital Business.  Take it seriously and help your customers do the same.   Balance the machinist view of the world with the humanist. Err toward humanism. Embrace the blend.

 

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