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Enterprise Failure: Selling to the Consumer

FAILCOBOL expert and 3000 veteran Bruce Hobbs shared a story with me this week about selling straight to a product's users. That's the way HP 3000s moved into tens of thousands of companies during the 1980s. Back in those simpler sales days IT directors -- we called 'em DP managers in the day -- did the selecting and purchasing of corporate computer assets.

The sale happened in the office of the head computer honcho. This person was the consumer, if you will, of the product being offered. More than anything, they wanted something that would work and be a joy to use. (Joy being a relative term, considering it was the 1980s and ENQ/ACK was still a big part of what we called datacomm. Not networking, which was an even deeper black art.)

The story Mr. Hobbs shared was from the world of Apple, where a blogger took note of Why Nobody Can Copy Apple. In summary, Apple wants to sell directly to the user of its computing solutions. The mobile arm of this vendor now has a large footprint in corporations because of this. People are Bringing their Own Devices to the office. It's enough of a phenomenon to trigger a recent webinar on the topic from MB Foster.

However, current enterprise computing sales -- the kind that displaced the 3000 -- take place in an office outside of DP Departments (as we used to call them in the '80s). Corporate Purchasing began to buy systems, or the perhaps the selection happened in the Office of CFO. These officers were accountable to the cost of what they purchased, more so than how reliable or flexible or value-driven systems behaved. This is what put Intel PCs and Windows onto so many desks, long after the users curtailed all manner of love for these affordable choices.

This is the kind of technology selection that's gotten developers and IT administrators removed from decisions. Now IT must present its applications as a portfolio of assets, just to win a place at the boardroom table. No vendor cares less about enterprise-driven sales than Apple. And yet somehow the company has made itself a permanent resident in the plans of corporate IT. BYOD proves that consumer sales work.

    You don't talk for long about Apple's culture without invoking Steve Jobs these days. It's a lot like the Bill and Dave stories that once cradled any Hewlett-Packard business computing discussions. Jobs had this to say about selling directly to the user of any computing device.

What I love about the consumer market, that I always hated about the enterprise market, is that we come up with a product, we try to tell everybody about it, and every person votes for themselves. They go ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and if enough of them say ‘yes,’ we get to come to work tomorrow. That’s how it works. It’s really simple.

With the enterprise market, it’s not so simple. The people that use the products don’t decide for themselves, and the people that make those decisions sometimes are confused.

We all have sad memories of 3000-using companies who were hounded away from MPE by confused corporate purchasing departments. In the realm of the most price-driven organization, government, coming in just 8 percent lower in a bidding contest will earn a sale of something less worthy.

So the 3000 can sometimes earn its owner -- the technologist who still tends to it -- unfair emnity. "Our HP 3000 lives on here, to the immense annoyance of  all those who do not understand and love it," said one DP Manager who talked to us on background. "I am personally hated because of my association with it, and viewed hereabouts as a dumb cluck with a degree in useless knowledge."

But corporations don't make products great. Consumers do that, especially when they recognize what they need and delight in getting it. Even when it's different, like Apple or the HP 3000. It doesn't take long to get to the passion then, those moments where the consumer uses the word love on an inanimate object.