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Will the enterprise market spend significant IT budget on Windows Vista in 2007?



The Zen of High Tech Marketing

By Michael K. Tanner, Managing Director, The Chasm Group

Consider the following three scenes:

Scene 1: a conversation between the CEO of a small private company and its VP of Engineering. The CEO asks the VP about why a particular major account has been having support issues with the company’s products. In response, the VP launches into a detailed account of the customer situation, the specific technical problems, why the issue isn’t as bad as it seems how the team could allow such an issue to be released and what the technology options are for going forward. By all accounts, the response is thorough, accurate, informed and fact-based. The CEO then says to the VP of Engineering, “Jack, I’m impressed. The problem is that I’m not really sure what you said.” At that moment, the VP of sales chimes in: “and I don’t even remember the question!”

Scene 2: Consider John. He is one of the brightest most competent executives that you could ever run into. You might even describe him as “scary-smart.” His mental processing power is so acute that he can out-negotiate just about anyone, and can master the details better than anyone. Fortunately, he has great charisma, because when he leaves meetings the white-board is generally filled with un-intelligible words and half-complete diagrams. After he leaves someone on his staff says excitedly, “wow, what a great idea! John is unbelievable–… but what exactly did he say?”

Scene 3: You have just visited a company to review its business plan. You’ve spent the better part of a day listening to the executive team describe their products, technology and direction. You’ve seen a presentation and a product overview, resplendent with architectural diagrams, market pie charts, trends, long term vision statements, et. al. only to discover at the end of the day that the product does not yet exist! The voice-over always referred to products in the present tense, so up until then, you naturally believed they were available right now. Of course, PowerPoint being the software architecture design tool of choice, you were not overly surprised.

The three scenes above each came from my own personal memory banks. Each of these vignettes point to two of the most important characteristics that executives in the technology sector can have:

1. The number one skill required for success in the technology business is the ability to think and communicate in abstractions while retaining the knowledge of the details in your head – at the same time.

2. Facts and logical argument are the ante-up to perform in any business and you need them to play the game effectively. But passion trumps facts. Facts can be learned. Passion is something different.

Thinking in Patterns or Abstractions
If you think about it, one of the major requirements for succeeding is to have a keen ability to deal with not just the details, but with abstractions of details. This skill is keenly important in the high tech business both because the complexity great, and the details change almost daily. Even the most complex set of technologies and issues can be held, stored, managed and understood by the majority of us ‘detail-impaired” humans when abstracted. But those same issues are either unmanageable or unintelligible when described completely because there are just too many permutations to understand.

It’s a natural phenomenon for us to lose the ability to abstract as we become more knowledgeable. We live in a world where just understanding the products we sell requires so much concentration and attention to detail that in some ways, we can actually become more impaired as we get smarter because we lose the ability to abstract up to a level that can be digested by others. I know that as a consultant I have had to learn how to reach the point of information maturity fairly quickly by abstracting situations into patterns. But I’ve also discovered that as I learn a client’s technology, products and history, my ability to communicate and function can actually go down, not up, if not thoughtfully culled. As the old saying goes, when you get too immersed in trees it just gets really hard to see the forest.

As teams get deeply involved with the details they have to guard against the natural tendency to loose their ability to abstract to a level where decisions can be made quickly. The problem is not being “too smart.” Far too many decisions are made in a rush to judgment with out facts. But the other side of the coin is lacking the ability to abstract.

Sales and marketing managers have to be particularly mindful with this. Just go to a trade-show booth and ask a salesperson what their company does. You’ll often get a 2 minute dialog about product capabilities, bandwidth, programming languages and the like. But you will rarely get a direct one or two sentence abstraction that can be quickly understood. I often find myself impressed at trade-show booths, but like characters in my little vignettes, I didn’t really understand what was said. Sometimes I’ve even forgotten the question.


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