Cyber Lessons from Black Friday

Black Friday offers an important lesson for cyber (i.e., enterprise software) solution marketers. 

Bombarded by Black Friday

Cyber lessons from Black FridayOver the last few weeks, we’ve been bombarded with a never-ending stream of Black Friday TV commercials. These included a litany of TV commercials for BMWs and other cars on sale for Black Friday. Maybe it’s all due to a surge in self-gifting, although experts were predicting a drop for 2014.

In a world where everything from clothes to cars was on sale on or around Black Friday, retailers were competing against just about every other retailer for the $381 that the typical shopper spent this past weekend, according to the National Retail Federation.  That included direct competitors offering similar goods, indirect competitors who offered different goods that solved the same problem (say, giving a nice gift) and what I’ll call Share of Budget competitors who solved different problems but competed for the same budget.

These Share of Budget competitors may be the most vexing because they just don’t look at all like you. What exactly does a BMW dealership have in common in with Macy’s after all? Not much, except for the desire to empty a shopper’s wallet that’s open for holiday spending.  Competition

The Cyber Solution Connection

Turns out, the same applies in enterprise software and solutions (aka cyber).  Here’s an example: around ten years ago, we were selling our solution to a Fortune 50 company. The business users loved it. The technical evaluators loved it. The top business executives loved it. Should have been a slam dunk, right? Wrong.  We never did get that order – and it was because of SOB (er, Share of Budget) competition, which only became apparent once our project hit the CIO’s desk.

We were the vendor of choice – for our project. But the CIO had to choose which of several different and largely unrelated projects to fund. He could not fund all of them. And in large part, his analysis centered around a comparison of each project’s ROIs.

The CIO Optimizes Investments

In many ways, the CIO was really acting like an investment fund manager who was deciding how to maximize the return on his investment – his budget (which is what any good CIO does). Project #1 would yield X while project #2 would yield X+1. Our solution was central to project #1 and someone else’s solution was central to project #2. And we never saw it coming because project #2 served a completely different business function and solved a very different problem from ours.  Project #2 won.

Sooner or later, your company will be in this situation too.  So what can you do?  Here are a few rules to follow:

  • Prepare for change. The sales process is a ladder, with different competitors at each rung. Just because you’ve passed the direct and indirect competitors on the climb up does not mean you’re done.
  • Build a better ROI. Prepare the most compelling ROI that you can. It’s not good enough to beat your usual, direct competitors – you may need to win against solutions that are very different from yours and yet still compete for the same share of budget.
  • Get ready for the CIO. Build a bullet-proof business case that resonates with everyone – from the business to the CIO.  
  • Look ahead. Use whatever intelligence you can gather to understand and proactively respond to the competitors and potential objections that lie around every corner.

Follow these rules and turn the diverse competition of Black Friday into a very merry Monday win for your solution. Happy shopping, er, selling!

Further Reading

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Filed under Solution Marketing Strategy, Solutions, Value

Solution Marketing @ The Boston Startup School

By Steve Robins

Solution Marketing for Startups

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to teach a one-day solution marketing class at the Boston Startup School, located in the Harvard Innovation Lab.

Learn to Do

If you have the opportunity to teach, learn, network or otherwise participate with Boston Startup School, jump on it!  Run by startup incubator TechStars, the new program helps “young professionals to learn the skills needed to have an immediate and positive impact on the startup they join.”  Wondering what’s on their minds?  Check out the new blog by the sales and marketing classes,, which states that…

 You don’t have to start a company to be an entrepreneur.  Entrepreneurship is a mindset.  It’s a healthy discontent with the status quo that brings together teams dedicated to making the world a better place.  Entrepreneurs include all members of a startup team, from the CEO to the summer intern.

…and I couldn’t agree more.

The Course

Following is a quick overview of the solution marketing class.  We started the day with an exercise that flipped the traditional introduction on its head. Instead of introducing myself, I asked the class to introduce me to them. After all, the next time any of them are in interviews, they’ll want to fully research the folks they’re meeting. With LinkedIn profiles, Twitter feeds, and blogs, we hiring managers and network connections leave a lot of breadcrumbs that help job applicants get inside our heads – heck, it’s like an open book test. Next, I had them share their backgrounds and tell my I’d want to hire them.

But Is It A Solution?

After that, I gave them an overview of solutions and their importance.  The very engaged and bright students put their new skills to work evaluating the solutionology (using a solution scorecard that’s part of a larger solution marketing scorecard) of several companies and offerings, ranging from ChuckE.Cheese’s to SAP to LinkedIn to tablet devices such as the Amazon Kindle Fire, HP TouchPad and the just-introduced Microsoft Surface. Click the links to see their evaluations.

After that, we dove into solution marketing and a Netflix case study that showed how their marketing stumbles may have cost the company $200 million in lost revenue each and every quarter, even if it increased profits.  All in all it was a great day – thanks to the engaged marketing students at Boston Startup School!

Additional Reading & Student Case Studies

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Keynote at ProductCamp Boston: The Invisible Customer

By Steve Robins

Join me On June 9 at Microsoft Cambridge for ProductCamp Boston 2012!

ProductCamp BostonI’ve always been passionate about ProductCamp – I’ve been speaking at ProductCamp Boston since it began in 2009 and am have been leading the marketing team since 2011.  So I’m very honored to be delivering the keynote presentation this year.

The theme for ProductCamp Boston 2012 is Customers First!  And it’s a fitting theme since customers are so central to the success of our products and solutions, companies, and even our careers.

But as important as they are, sometimes customers can seem to be, well, invisible!  Do you ever wonder why no one seems to really understand your customers? How often do you and your colleagues speak with customers? Do you focus only on customer feature requests instead of solving their challenges? Do you find customers confusing?

This year’s ProductCamp Boston keynote presentation will help you to answer these questions and others.  Entitled, The Invisible Customerthe keynote will show attendees how to cure Invisible Customer Syndrome. You’ll learn how to identify, understand and better serve current and prospective customer users, buyers and influencers. Get visibility into what’s really driving your customers. And gain a fresh perspective on how to create new, customer-driven opportunities that produce additional revenue streams.

Sound interesting?  Great – I encourage you to register for ProductCamp today to reserve your space and learn more about ProductCamp.  And click here to learn more about the keynote.

I hope to see YOU at ProductCamp Boston at the Microsoft New England Research & Development (N.E.R.D.) Center in Cambridge on Saturday, June 9!  And don’t forget to follow PCamp on Twitter @PCampBoston and #PCampBoston.

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Where’s the Customer at Sony?

It’s time to think outside the box.  Or the division.  Or the hardware.  Or the…

In order to offer complete solutions, companies need to come together around a shared vision of the customer, their challenges, and ways that the company can help.  Companies like Sony and AOL Time Warner have been hindered by competing divisions often focused on divisional goals at the expense of the company.  By contrast, Apple unified around a common vision of the customer, and a view of a complete solution spanning hardware, software and content.

Last week, The New York Times reported that Sony expected to lose some $6.4 billion this year.  Why?  According to the NYT,

One by one, every sphere where the company competed — from hardware to software to communications to content — was turned topsy-turvy by disruptive new technology and unforeseen rivals. And these changes only highlighted the conflicts and divisions within Sony.

Sony - SolutionMarketingBlog.comWhat’s more, The Times reported that as the company’s luster has tarnished, so too has its ability to charge a premium for its products.  And these woes extend beyond Sony.  According to The Times, Japanese companies seem to have run out of technology innovations.

Consider this: even before Apple had the iPod or had struck iTunes content deals with record labels, Sony owned the complete ecosystem.  But they haven’t been able to harness that power because they failed to bring together an integrated offering early on, and because they clung to closed standards without market traction.  As Walter Isaacson wrote in the his biography, Steve Jobs,

“But Sony couldn’t do better [than Apple].  It had pioneered portable music with the Walkman, it had a great record company, and it had a long history of making beautiful consumer devices.  It had all of the assets to compete with Jobs’s strategy of integration of hardware, software, devices, and content sales.  Why did it fail?  Partly because it was a company like AOL Time Warner that was organized into divisions (that word itself was ominous) with their own bottom lines; the goal of achieving synergy in such companies by prodding the divisions to work together was usually elusive.”  (pg 407-408).

Sadly, Sony is not alone in the world.  In many companies, hardware, software or content rule the day while other solution components get left behind.  Sure, those divisional silos might generate short-term revenue and profits.  But there’s a bigger, strategic problem here that’s critical to the long-term health of the company.  When a company lets its divisions grow into independent silos that fight each other for the same customer, thereby creating disjointed customer experiences, products and/or services, one thing is clear: the company as a whole has lost its focus on the customer – and that’s what’s happened at Sony.

Consider a different scenario.  When you start with the customer (and prospect/user/buyer) and understand their top challenges and their needs, interesting things start to happen.  First you develop a deep appreciation for the customer.  Who are they? What are their hopes and desires (yes, this applies as much to enterprise solutions as it does to consumer solutions)?  What keeps them up at night?  What problems remain unsolved?  And then – and here’s where it really gets fun – you begin to consider how your company can use its particular expertise to solve those problems.  How can you best combine your company’s and your partners’ existing and new assets and competencies to create compelling new solutions to customer problems.  Putting the customer first does not magically unify silos or bring a company together.  But it can give a company a common purpose.  It’s a start because it shifts the focus to the folks who really matter and who really keep your lights on: your customers.  And when you have a clear focus around them, your other strategies can fall into place.

Bottom line: instead of focusing on divisional objectives alone, you need make sure that the company as a whole unifies around a common vision of who the key customer is, what they need and how you can help them.

Additional Resources


Filed under Case Studies, Solution, Solutions, The Solution Marketing Blog

Oscar’s Inconvenient Truths

By Steve Robins

Watching Sunday’s Oscar awards, I was struck by… the importance – “and inconvenience” –  of customer feedback in multiple forms:

  • Inconvenient focus groups – The mock focus group screening (gasp!) the Wizard of Oz.  Very funny but it points to the frustration that artists often feel around Hollywood focus groups that disagree with their artistic vision.  And they’re not alone either.  It may be inconvenient but those customers do hold the purse strings, so they’re kind of unavoidable after all.
  • Inconvenient innovations – Billy Crystal’s jabs at bankrupt Kodak, whose name (at least for now) graces the Oscar theater.  Hooked on film until it was too late, Kodak missed the inconvenient truth that film was less important than capturing and sharing images in the easiest manner possible.  The very company that invented digital photography found that truth inconvenient and now faces a very different and more painful inconvenience – bankruptcy.
  • Inconvenient movie-consumption – The Oscar ceremony focused again and again on the movie theater experience with many references back to the good old days.  Those good old days will indeed live on – but only in people’s memories.  Although more people attend movie theaters than theme parks (duh), theater admissions are declining as people consume movies at home on TV, DVDs and iPads.  Instead of reminiscing about the good old days, the industry would be better served to focus on the bright future of entertainment everywhere – on mobile, tablets, at home etc.

Customer feedback may seem inconvenient.  But not listening to customer feedback delivers the ultimate inconvenience.


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Beyond Products: Solution Marketing

By Steve Robins

February 16 Presentation to the BPMA


TBPMAhanks to everyone who attended Thursday’s presentation at the Boston Product Management Association, Beyond Products: Solution Marketing.  You helped to make it one of the best discussions I’ve ever led on solution marketing.

You can find the Beyond Products: Solution Marketing presentation slides as well as the Solution Marketing Framework, along with other solution marketing content on Slideshare.

I hope you’ll continue the discussion in a variety of ways:

  • Before you do anything else, make sure to join the Solution Marketing Pros group on LinkedIn where you can share your successes and get help with your challenges from other solution marketers.  The group includes folks from leading companies around the world including…

    Acronis, Adobe, ADP, Akamai, Amazon, Ariba, Aspen Technology, Autonomy (HP), Box, Cisco, CSC, Dell, Eloqua, EMC, Endeca, Epicor, FirstBest, Gartner, HCL, Hitachi, Honeywell, H-P, IBM, Informatica, Iron Mountain, KANA Software, Kronos, Level 3 Communications, Lionbridge, McAfee, Microsoft, Misys, Motorola, NetApp, Nortel, Nuance, Oracle, Orange, Pegasystems, Pitney Bowes, Progress Software, Red Hat,, SAP, Sapient, Seagate Technology, Siemens, SONY, SunGard, Symantec, Tata, TELUS,  TIBCO, Time Warner Cable, Tripwire, Verizon, Vertex, Wipro

  • Follow my Twitter stream for the latest solution marketing news.
  • Check out additional articles on The Solution Marketing Blog – and be sure to comment!
  • Come back for next month’s solution pricing presentation by Jim Geisman
  • Contact me if you have additional questions, s.robins [at] SolutionMKT [dot] com

Special thanks to the great folks at BPMA for organizing this event.


Filed under Case Studies, Presentations, SEVA - Elements of Solution Marketing, Solution Marketing, Solution Marketing Framework, Solution Marketing Strategy, The Solution Marketing Blog

The Value of Value

By Steve Robins

Value is Key to Solution Marketing

You might think that the most important aspect of marketing a solution would be what goes into it.  What goes into a solution are just a bunch of pieces, products, or components.  But value is about the benefit and cost of those components to the user or buyer.

Value is equal to the difference between perceived benefit and total cost

More specifically, value is equal to the difference between (1) the benefit as perceived by the user and (2) the total cost of the solution.  By perception I mean that the user or buyer must appreciate and want the resulting benefit.  In fact, if they don’t perceive it as a benefit to them, it’s not a benefit but is instead just a useless feature.

Value is interesting in many ways, some of which are counterintuitive and not so obvious.  Following are a few important examples – both obvious and not so obvious. Continue reading


Filed under Case Studies, Solution Marketing, Solution Marketing Strategy, The Solution Marketing Blog, Value, Value