Beware of B2B

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Want to build honest products? I reckon stay away from B2B

Last week I went to the Gartner ITXPO. It’s aimed at CTOs and CIOs of multinationals and parastatals. Now, I’m not a fan of suits at the best of times, but I’ll never turned down an opportunity to meet some important people – so, needless to say, I worked the room. If you’ve ever watched Silicon Valley, this was a hall of ”Keith, from North-East Regional” selling on-site storage boxes. It was everything that I despise about the tech industry. SAP were there with a solution for which you had to pay them to figure out how it works. Samsung were there – soundly confirming that they’re the new BlackBerry. Some lady even cornered me to tell me that I needed to be PCI s2.3 subsection zXvoetsek compliant and that a POPI regulator had been appointed (and she looked mighty smug about it too). As she rambled on about subsections and bylaws, my hands rapidly accumulated high-gloss flyers – not to mention the treasure trove of branded notebooks, pens, and the obligatory USB drive. At least some stands enticed visits with free fudge and ice cream. The most popular was a stand with a commotion of people around a television, playing Gran Turismo on a PlayStation (nobody knew what they were selling though).

I looked around at these middle-aged men and women, sitting on the couches and bar stools. My ears started ringing and as I was struck by a sense of vertigo. While this was probably due to the combination of the multiple coffees I drank just to look busy, as well as ice creams and fudge because, well, they are ice-cream and fudge, I prefer to attribute it to the fact that this simply was the antithesis of what I believe is and hope for my industry. If I had run the printed collateral from those stands through the bullshit calculator, it would need to upgrade it’s #cloudcomputing servers. The room was filled with people with massive budgets, and infrastructure software salesmen that say things like “This guy, he makes the meanest cappuccino this side of the city” about the caterer dude with white paper hat. But, there was not a single responsive web page in site.

Check the sign. That shit is real.
Is your business ready for #digital #buzzword #transformation?


I can confidently estimate that some of the biggest ICT spend deals in the country were made at that conference, or at that type of conference, or on a super luxurious train or at some fancy restaurant. What I do know for sure though, is that those deals were made between people that were never involved in building the products they represent, and people that will never be involved in executing the implementation or operationalisation of those products. All the decision makers in that room seemed to need was to be able to say to his boss “I went with {{Reputable Brand Y}}. They are highest on the Gartner Magic Squares for innovation.” and to his mates “They have the best yacht in France and the thickest stack of 1 euro bills”. Point is, there was very little product evaluation going on in that room, and there didn’t need to be. No one was going to switch product, even if it was more user friendly. There was no crowd around the stand with the most beautiful user interface. It’s the scantily clad promo girls that draw that crowd in that kind of room. An it would be that software or server or service that I’d end up having to implement back in the real world, if I worked at one of those corporate institutions. Even if I found a better product, with faster implementation, with better security, and with a pool of accessible resources to maintain the technology, I wouldn’t be able to instigate the switch. Purely because I wasn’t on that train or in that room.

In contrast, imagine a teenager lying in bed on a cold winter’s day, browsing for apps in the app store on her phone. She already has a mail app that works. And a bunch of photo sharing apps. The app store shows her that 189 of their friends have a new app called Snapchat. One of them is her crush and the other is her older sister. She reads her sister’s review. “Way cooler than Instagram. :Heart-emoji:. She downloads the app, and falls off the instagram monthly active radar. To her, the cost of switching is close to zero. She moves between apps based on the sole criteria of where her friends are and what ‘feels cool’ to her. To her, the *only* thing that matters, is whether she likes the idea of the app enough to try it and that it delivers enough value for her to continue using it. To the app developers (and their salespeople if they had them), the only thing that matters is that their users love their product. They have to be honest, real, attentive, careful and innovative. They have to listen to their users and move quickly to satisfy them, otherwise they will die the quick and quiet death of irrelevance.

As a product owner, I can think of nothing worse than putting my heart and soul into a digital product whose fate lies in the sweaty hands of a software salesman and a government fat cat at a strip club. For me, if you’re building a B2(big)B product, here is where you’ll end up – in a room full of people that couldn’t care less about product quality, because of their blind dedication to self-interest in the form of their own position and an ambiguously defined budget. If on the other hand, you’d prefer to live in a world where the success of your products is not a function of who you know or what your conferencing budget is, let’s go build consumer-facing stuff together. But be prepared, consumers are a fickle lot.





Posted on October 27 2016 by Stephen van der Heijden
Stephen is the founder of UNO Digital. He loves digital products, digital people, and people in the digital world.


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