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

Is Interrupt-Driven Chat Really Helping Your Technology Business?

by Hank Barnes  |  September 16, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

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?





Submit a Comment »

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

Gartner IT Market Clocks – A Great Resource for Provider Strategy

by Hank Barnes  |  September 9, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

Most provider organizations are very familiar with Gartner Magic Quadrants and Hype Cycles (which I explored from a provider perspective in a recent post and Webinar and have just had research published, that was co-authored with Betsy Burton,  exploring ways provides can leverage Hype Cycles–subscription required).  But there is another somewhat less well known research series that may be even more important- Gartner IT Market Clocks.


Gartner IT Market Clocks explore the entire life cycle of  technology assets–from introduction to replacement and obsolescence.   They are designed primarily for buyers, to help them plan investment, and divestment, strategies for their technology portfolio.   Market clocks also explore relative commodization of asset groups, helping buyers evaluate their ability to influence price reductions.

As with Hype Cycles, IT Market Clocks can also be used by providers, something that I explore in another piece of just published research (co-authored with Monica Basso and Tiffani Bova, again a Gartner subscripiton is required).     The research provides advice for providers as their products and services move around the clock.

One of the most important area of recommendations, and what makes Market Clocks, so valuable, is around how to deal with assets that are in or approaching the replacement stage.    We are at a point in market evolution where many technology markets are seeing a significant portion of  new revenue and growth coming from system replacement.   Market clocks show you where the replacement opportunities are today, and which ones will be coming soon.

They illustrate both opportunities for you to move customers away from competitors products and for you, as the incumbent, to execute strategies to preserve that customer and move them to your own replacement products.

This year’s market clocks are starting to publish.  Do yourself a favor and explore those that are relevant to your business and refine your strategies accordingly.

Submit a Comment »

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

Know Your Role – And The Roles Around You

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

The latest set of research for Gartner’s Future of IT Sales Special Report is now available to subscribers.  Be sure to check it out.

One of the foundational elements of the report was the need for more consistent execution of what we call the Connected model–an approach where product, marketing, and sales strategies and tactics are designed in an integrated fashion.  We found that, too often, providers create product innovations are decide to target markets, without planning how that impacts their sales approaches.   How do you know when this has happened?  It’s pretty easy.  When other groups say things like “We need to sell to the business, but our sales reps can’t do it” or “This new SaaS product is so cool and affordable, why won’t sales sell it,” you know that you have connection issues.


We’ve been having related discussions about other technologies.  It seems that, in the word of CRM for example, many organizations struggle to transform all  areas, but have more success when they focus just on sales or service.  One area at a time.

Why does this happen?

There are clearly a number of reasons, but I’ll posit one here.  It is about roles.

When we get hired by a company, it is based on a job description–the role that you have to play.  In most organizations, you then spend quite a bit of timing getting to know your role.

This is fine, but if that is as far as you take it, it is problematic.   It creates problems of turf protection and reinforces silo style behavior.   And the evidence of this abounds.   Just go searching for articles about who should own Customer Experience.   You’ll see claims of marketing, service, and in some case sales.  But it is usually defined in that manner.  But Customer Experience is based on all the interactions you have with the company–across marketing, sales, and service.   Marketing-led CX is too focused on prospects.  Service-led CX is too focus on exisitng customers.  A balance is required.

To reduce siloed thinking, our approach to role understanding needs to change.   Not only should new employees be trained about their role, but understanding of the roles they serve, and collaborate with, is critical.    Including not just the responsibilities of these roles, but how they are measured and what defines success for them.  You can include customers in this mix for user facing roles.

With that understanding, a platform for empathetic collaboration becomes easier to execute.   And it is one more skill to build across your organization.   Get people to think about things from the perspective of those they serve and collaborate with.  This can help reduce siloed thinking and create an environment where silos are truly broken down in the name of the ultimate customer.

I find it somewhat humorous, and sad, that we are still talking about how different technologies break down organizational silos, but they still exist as strong as ever.  Even packaged application suites tend to do little to break down silos, instead reinforcing them with what turns out to be an integrated environment with “suite” supporting multiple silos.

This idea of breaking down silos was one of the promises of BPM, but it has lagged behind packaged apps.   And the problem may be more organizational and the focus on role understanding.

The Connected Model won’t work without a connected approach to roles.   Define the role and define all the roles it touches.  Then train employees on that whole connected environment.  Sure, put more emphasis on the role the employee will be in, but make sure they understand their role connections.

What do you think?  Would a connected approach to roles help break down silo behavior?


Submit a Comment »

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

A Path to Success – Giving a Little Extra

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.


Source: www.9inchmarketing.com

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.


Submit a Comment »

Category: Go to Market     Tags: , ,

Disrupting B2B Markets Does Not Happen Overnight

by Hank Barnes  |  August 19, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

Market disruption.

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.

Submit a Comment »

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

The Most Important Part of Hype Cycles for Providers to Understand

by Hank Barnes  |  August 12, 2014  |  Comments Off

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.



Comments Off

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

Your Two Biggest Competitors in B2B Tech Markets

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?


1 Comment »

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

The First Corporate Selfies?

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

Alix Spain Selfie

(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.


Comments Off

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

Great Positioning Requires Giving Something Up – Or Does It?

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.

sacrificed chess pieces

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?

1 Comment »

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

Navigating the Hype to Mainstream Success

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)

Comments Off

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