Monday, January 30, 2012

A Tale of Two Worlds

Often, when I tune into my Twitter feed, I often get the impression that the world has already moved into a place where all human collaboration is done on mobile devices using social software, all software is delivered as a service, all data is Big Data and lives in the cloud. Often, I meet customers who fit into this category and I get very excited about how they push the barriers.

But then I look again and listen to customers who are different. I meet customers who still ban public social media such as Twitter and Facebook from their organization. Their only approved mobile device is an ancient model of BlackBerry with no built-in camera, and the idea of their data ever entering a cloud send shivers down their spines. While perhaps less exciting, these are often some of the largest customers I meet.

Do I suffer from a multiple personality disorder? Do I live in two parallel worlds that rarely connect?

Well, when we look at the big industry analyst firms in our space, it appears that they too have aligned themselves along these lines of demarcation. They have analysts who cover subjects such as compliance, records management, archiving, security, and e-discovery. Those analysts cannot be found on Twitter, they don’t write many blogs, and their email signature includes long disclaimers. Then, the same firms have analysts who cover collaboration, social software, web experience management, and digital asset management. These analysts are much more visible on social media and they are a little less paranoid about the fact that everything they say is a record and subject to legal discovery rules.

Yes, there are different worlds that co-exist. Sometimes, we marketers like to get ahead of ourselves. We start believing that everybody is on the leading edge. And some customers clearly are. There are many industries with low barriers to entry, comparable products, and high price pressures where it is the technology that allows companies to differentiate. Just think of the competitive pressures in manufacturing, retail or consumer packaged goods.

At the same time, there are heavily regulated industries that have developed a strong record-keeping discipline over the last few decades. Think pharmaceuticals, oil&gas, utilities, and increasingly financial services (Dodd-Frank anyone?). These customers are clearly much more conservative but that doesn’t make them any less demanding or any less attractive for a vendor. Their business requirements are simply different.

Successful vendors can operate on the entire spectrum of solutions - from those catering to the most conservative business needs all the way to those who will explore the very latest technology to get an inch of competitive advantage for the next couple of quarters. The most successful vendors can cater not only to the glamour of the one extreme or the dependability on the other end of the spectrum. They understand the business demands of the organization and can cater to all of them and to any combination in between.

Yes, there are multiple worlds out there which makes our business very exciting!


  1. I have to agree - not all customers are on the leading edge as defined by techies, and some cannot be. Or even, as you point out, their needs are at least as sophisticated, but different. This is a point many start-ups miss.

  2. Would be interesting to compare the age bracket of the executives for the companies that DO and DON'T use the technologies ? Or if it is based on the business type ?