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

Confusion on the Trade Show Floor

by Hank Barnes  |  November 18, 2014  |  1 Comment

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


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  |  Submit a Comment

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:


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?


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  |  Submit a Comment

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.


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

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.


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?


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

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.


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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Category: Go to Market     Tags: , , , , , ,

Connecting about the Connected Model in Orlando

by Hank Barnes  |  October 4, 2014  |  Comments Off

I’m heading to Orlando for Gartner’s Symposium next week, so publishing this a few days earlier than normal.  The show is sold-out and will have a huge focus on how to capitalize on the digital business opportunity.   While focused on CIOs and other technology leaders, there will be a larger number of providers, my audience, there whether as sponsors, attendees  looking to learn, or prospective clients interested in the Gartner experience.

I’ve been working with a number of colleagues to design a program for this last group that explores our research that is focus on helping providers grow faster and make smarter business decisions.   The program, which is also sold-out, includes four to-the-point sessions covering a range of topics that we hear regularly form clients about:

  • Positioning and Differentiation – I’ll be leading this one exploring ways providers can improve their messaging to stand out from the crowd.
  • Gartner Forecasts – John Lovelock will go deeper than the numbers to share insights that providers can learn from our forecast research to tune their market strategies.
  • Internet of Things – A big topic for the whole event, for our audience, Al Velosa will explore the provider opportunity to help companies capitalize in this area.
  • Future of Sales – Finally, Tiffani Bova will explore how sales models need to adapt to align with the way customers want to buy

As you can see, its a pretty broad range of topics, but all focused on the same thing—growing your business.   At the heart of this lies our belief that the foundation for success going forward lies in embracing the connected model–making sales, marketing, and product strategy equal partners in driving the business—with all decisions looking at all three of these perspectives before being made.



We focus on the connected model, because we often see providers adapting product strategies due to technology trends, but thinking about sales approaches later, then wondering why results are bad.   For example, as software moved to a service model in the cloud, it required significant shifts in business strategy.  Many orgs that had, and have, on premise software introduced cloud applications, but had the same sales force, with largely the same compensation plan selling both products.  Guess which ones they focused on—those that made them more money–the traditional on premise opportunities.

You have to make all decisions with an eye toward all three areas — what does our product need to be?  what markets will we target (and why and how)? How will we sell in a way that customers want to buy (and our sellers want to sell)?   Stated differently, a simplistic, formula for success includes:

  • Compelling Need or Opportunity – Do you address a significant pain area or growth opportunity that buyers will spend money on
  • Solid product – That addresses the pain/opportunity effectively (may include services to enable the value to be captures)
  • Real market – That is large enough to enable growth, but small enough to enable focus
  • Energized Sales – Whether direct, indirect, or on-line, your sales channels need to be excited and motivated to help customers buy
  • Great story – All of this may be irrevelant if your messaging does not engage buyers emotionally. Stories are the way to do that.
  • Realistic Plan – Don’t be general, identify how many customers you need to buy, now often, at what price to drive growth.  And given that, how many people do you need selling and how much marketing do you need to do to drive demand.

I saw an article recently that stated that the number one reason startups fail, according to their founders, is no market.   I question that to some extent, since every startup I have known exists to solve a pain (or opportunity) that the founder recognized.  I suspect that the real reason is gaps in the formula above.   Perhaps the need they identified was not that compelling, or they did not have a story (very common) that helped buyers see why this was a must have v. a nice to have.   Or, they did not have the bottom up plan for growth.

Netting it out, growing a technology business is hard.  At Symposium, our program will help attendees explore many of the elements to developing and implementing a successful growth strategy.  I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there.


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The Journey to B2B Technology Purchases – B2B Team Buying Thickens the Plot

by Hank Barnes  |  September 30, 2014  |  Comments Off

As a big believer in the importance of customer experience, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we, as technology marketers and sellers, can make it easier for our customers to make their purchase decisions.   One technique that gets a lot of support, and that I agree with in principle, is mapping the buying journey.

Journey mapping has been applied extensively in consumer purchases, particularly for “considered” decisions.  I’ve also seen examples in a B2B environment, but most of those leave me uncertain of the value.   My big concern is that most journey maps focus on the needs of one buyer persona.  But our research shows that B2B technology purchase decisions are made by teams.   Fulfilling the journey of a single buyer may not get the job done.

Think about it.  When you are working in a B2B environment, you will almost always be dealing with a buying team.  The size of that team tends to grow as organizations get larger, but regardless of size there are a number of dimensions to the buying decision, often with different people having the lead responsibility in each area.   Understanding that team, their roles and decision areas is critical.

Serious Business Buying Team

For example, many teams will include people that “own” and need to be convinced of different things.

  • The Business Buyer – Do you solve their business problem?
  • The Financial Buyer – Do the overall costs make sense given the potential return?
  • The Technical Buyer – Is the technology is sound?
  • The Risk Buyer – Are the potential risks worth the reward?
  • The “User” Buyer – Will I, and others like me, actually use the product?

And potentially others.  These are not personas, so you shouldn’t map in this way, but they do reflect all  the people  and decisions that need to align to win business.

If you think about, B2B Buying is a lot like The Wizard of Oz or other similar quest oriented stories.  You have one lead character (the champion) who is the focus of the quest—without that person, there is not story.    But she is joined by others on the journey.  They want different things.  While supporting the main character, they will also follow some different paths.  Some may join for a brief period and then leave (anyone every have to deal with the “IT Standards Team” who show up for a meeting late in the process to “bless the alignment of your solution with their standards” and then disappear?).

As this mix of people journey forward, a roadblock for one often stymies the others.    The same tactics don’t work for all.   Some journeys have to complete before others progress.

I still remember an opportunity from years ago where I was part of a selling team that was about to close a major deal with a large company.  We’d convinced the business buyer.  We’d wowed the technical teams.  The users were excited.  The deal was ready to close.  Then, out of the blue came the, “You guys are not on our approved vendor list.  We have to make that happen, and it can take 3 to 6 months, before we can buy.”  Momentum destroyed.     We never won that business.

As a technology marketer and seller, it is crucial to understand all the players on buying teams and what decisions they are responsible for.  You need to understand their buying process in detail. (If we had asked the right questions about what it takes to buy, we might have been able to address the approved vendor issue earlier in the process and helped our champion accelerate the process).  There will be commonalities across customers, but some unique attributes for each one (everyone’s quest is a bit different).  You should ask them what their buying process is.   Then make sure you are addressing all of the sub-decisions that have to be made, by different people, to get to the final decision.

At a minimum, thinking about things from your buyer perspective should change the way you think.  We just received the results from our regular marketing influences survey (which you can expect to see more research and blogs about in the coming months) and one of the interesting results was that just 1/3  of buying process activities  involve the buying teams interacting with providers (either live interactions or reviewing materials you provide).   The remainder of time is spent on internal processes and interacting with peers and influencers.

If you consider that most buying decisions involve the consideration of  at least 2 or 3 potential providers for most of the effort, you are probably involved less than 10% of the time in your prospects buying process.    It is clearly not about you; it is about them.  Recognizing this, and expanding your focus to how you can influence, assist, and simplify the other efforts for buyers hold a key to creating a great buying process and accelerating decisions.

Is this something that can be captured in a single journey map?  Or a collection of them that inter-relate?  I’m not sure.  One good idea is to map the journey of the persona of your internal champion.  That persona is the most invested in seeing the purchase move to completion.  As part of their journey, they’ll want to understand and assist other’s in completing their work.   You may find you then need to map the journeys of other key players, but the “champion map” becomes your lead.

Have you taken this approach?  Or a different one? I’d love to hear about successful approaches for B2B Journey Mapping(please share via comments to get the discussion started).

Similarly, if you have a good list of all the sub-decisions that your customers make along the way, please share them here.  A better understanding will help both buyers and sellers not waste a lot of time and expense on selling efforts and the corresponding buying efforts that get derailed along the way.  Is there another way to track these sub-decisions that would complement journey maps and allow us to improve both the buying and selling experience?


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

Competition, Advocacy, and Gaelic Sports

by Hank Barnes  |  September 23, 2014  |  Comments Off

I just got back from a long trip to Europe that ended with 12 days of work but started with a fantastic 14 day vacation in Scotland and, mostly, Ireland.  I am ready to go back now.   Friends keep asking what our favorite thing was, but both my wife and I answer that there are too many things to pick just one.

But a definite pair of highlights for me where going to the All-Ireland Gaelic Football semi-final match (won by Donegal over Dublin.  Donegal was beaten in the final by Kerry on Sunday) with Connie (my wife) followed by me buying a ticket outside the game for the Hurling final after Connie had to head back to the States.  That match ended in a tie (between Kilkenny and Tipperary)–which means they replay the whole match, that will be on Saturday, the 27th.  Both were amazing (and I try not to use that word lightly) experiences.

Gaelic Football and Hurling are not well known in the States (and probably other parts of the world) but they are huge in Ireland.  We have Irish friends that play for a club team in Charlotte.  That is how we got into it.  Football combines elements of soccer, american football, basketball, volleyball, and rugby.   Now imagine a similar combination, but with a small either ball and a stick–you have hurling.  Both are fast action sports.  As an ice hockey fan, I can appreciate that.  The general rules are pretty easy to pick up (although fouls are a little tricky).  Watch a game or two and you are likely to be hooked.GAAFootball

As you can see from the picture above, we were very close for the football match (I bought the tickets months ago at the suggestion of my friends at Connolly’s).  For the Hurling final, I was in the second to last row in the stadium, but it was still great.   Both matches had over 80,000 people.  One thing to note with that is that this is not a professional sport.  These are elite teams that represent their counties, but the players all have “day jobs.”  But the passion rivaled, and exceeded, what I have seen for many professional sports.


I could go on and on describing the matches, but what really caused me to write about it here was the experience, and how that relates to go-to-market approaches, particularly from two perspectives- competition and advocacy.

Having heard stories (and seen videos) of what can go on in soccer matches in Europe, we were a little concerned.  But once again our friends assured us there would be no issues.  In the stadium (Croke Park in Dublin), fans of both teams sat next to each other cheering their team on, without denigrating the opposition.   It was intense passion, but without the ugliness you often see here.   There were absolutely no issues of fans fighting, verbally or otherwise, with each other—and these were two of the biggest matches of the year.  And the competition was intense.

Technology marketers (and the companies) could learn a lot from the experience.   Rather than “get ugly and dirty”, the approach of intense defending of your strengths and building supporters, without sniping at the competitors, really can help grow your market.  In some ways, the competition for Gaelic sports is other sports.  Delivering a great experience helps sustain the market and grow the fan base.   You’d rather take your family to one of these matches than other sports where things get ugly.

The other aspect of this is advocacy, a favorite topic of mine, everywhere we went, when we told people we were going to the match, they shared ideas of how great it would be and things to do to make the experience better.  Afterwards, the town was buzzing.  A similar effect occurred at the hurling final–but even greater in some ways.  We spent the day before the match in Kilkenny and everyone told me that I had to go see the match and ways to do it to get a ticket without getting ripped off (I ended up buying mine from a guy whose friend was sick at face value several hours before the match).  The GAA (which governs the sport) does a nice job building up this advocacy approach.  Did it hook me?  You bet.  I even ended up ordering several team jerseys after I got back.

Netting it out, three things to remember from this story:

1. Competition can be fierce, but does not have to be ugly.  A more civil approach grows your sport, and market.

2. Advocacy helps turn interested parties (like my wife and I) into stronger supporters and raving fans.

3.  If you are into sports at all, and get a change to see Gaelic Football or Hurling, take advantage of it.  You won’t regret it.


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Category: Go to Market     Tags: , , ,

Is Interrupt-Driven Chat Really Helping Your Technology Business?

by Hank Barnes  |  September 16, 2014  |  Comments Off

I openly confess that I hate chat windows on Web sites that pop-up, without me asking for them, to interrupt my browsing experience.  They distract me from what I am viewing and reading, and ask me some inane question  like “Can I help you with something?”    A few weeks ago, this seemed to be happening on almost every site I visited, so I decided to do some research to see if others felt like I did.

Now, I’ve seen the studies that look at it from the provider perspective, talking about how many leads and deals come from people that use chat,  but I always wondered about the other side of then coin.  What about the people, like me, who hate those interruptions.   Could the effort to offer help, before it is wanted, be turning off potential customers?  Is the early interruption chat like the overzealous sales representative who accosts (and yes, to me it accosts) you the minute you walk in a store and hovers around you the entire time you are just looking around?   Is it doing more harm than good.

Here is what our “mini” survey revealed.   We asked 51 technology buyers there opinion of chat services on technology provider Web sites.  they were allowed to select multiple answers.

Chat Research Table

Tellingly, nearly half of them feel similar to me.  Interrupting the browsing experience is not viewed positively.  For casual browsers, that may turn into interested buyers, you may be turning them away (as I will leave stores quickly with overzealous sales people) before you have gained their interest and trust.

That being said, the survey also shows that buyers clearly value chat, when used appropriately.  As they into the site and their buying process, engaging through chat can help them get answers to questions they can’t find on their own.  With that approach, make sure the people servicing the chat requests are knowledgeable enough to answer questions that the Web site does not reveal.  For technology companies, this may mean using system engineers or similarly skilled people for many requests.

With customer experience becoming more and more critical, I’d like to see more technology companies heed this advise.  Yes, chat can increase conversions, but don’t think about it from that perspective only.  It is that perspective that has resulted in more and more sites using interrupt-driven chat, often seconds after someone has reached the home page, thinking “those who engage are more likely to convert.”  That may be true, but you may be pushing away 50% of your potential audience, in the worst case, or starting the engagement from a position of frustration in the best case.

Rather than interrupt, just make chat more prominent, so that visitors know it is there if they want it.  Make it clear the type of resources that are available to answer questions.   For example, customers of Needle, who use brand advocates, not employees, to answer customer questions, should make it clear that you can “chat with someone who uses this product” v. “chat with a sales rep” (as I discussed in this post).    If you staff it with true product experts, tell people that—but make sure they truly are expert.  Finally, if you really feel you must interrupt people to offer the option to chat, don’t do it on the home page.  Use it on pages deeper into the site, where more detailed information on the product, or success stories or implementation approaches are covered.

Too often, we look at things through the eyes of our internal metrics and KPIs.  In a customer centric world, those views have to be balanced, and even tilted, toward understanding the customer perspective and adapting approaches to appeal to them, while still doing what is good business.

What do you think?





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