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The Performance Principle

Russell Rothstein

Are Customers the Enemy?

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I was struck by the title of a recent blog post "Customer as Enemy" by Gartner Research Director Aneel Lakhani. It's a short post so I have included it here below:

I saw this question come through on my Facebook feed. The context is large, public technology companies:  Why, so often, are customers seen as the enemy?

Because they're the thing in between the company and the revenue. Because the real customer is shareholders and the buying-customer is part of the supply chain. Because product managers think customers exist to buy their products. Because better competition is seen as a decision failure on the customer's part instead of a portfolio / marketing / competitive failure on the company's part. Because large entrenched public companies are often myopically, maladaptively egocentric.

Pretty strong words. It's a no holds barred analysis, but primarily from the perspective of the vendor (and analyst) community. We here at IT Central Station put our primary focus on the community of buyers and users of enterprise technology. So when I read Lakhani's post, I asked myself: why, so often, are vendors seen as the enemy by the customers?

Of course, every vendor-customer relationship is unique, but if we look at the issue from a holistic, market-based perspective, it seems to me that the key issue is asymmetric information. Vendors know pretty much everything about their products and their customers, and the good sales teams learn a heck of a lot about their prospects during the selling process (including their budget and expected ROI). On the other hand, the technology buyer has much less information at his/her disposal -- typically doesn't know the product inside and out (even after a trial or POC), and doesn't have full visibility into the breadth of customer experiences with the product (since customer reference calls are usually limited to the cherry-picked premier customers). This lack of information can lead to suspicion, loss of trust, and eventual buyer remorse.

At IT Central Station, we're here to empower technology buyers and give them the information they need and want before making an important technology buying decision. We enable them to not only read IT product reviews from other real users, but also to connect and contact those users via private messaging (and if they so choose, then to continue the conversation by phone or face to face). By doing so, we address the information asymmetry in the market for technology products and level the playing field.

--Russell Rothstein, Founder and CEO, IT Central Station

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Russell Rothstein blogs about cloud computing, performance management, business service management and related topics, examining how new technologies and business models impact the dynamic IT service management market.

Russell Rothstein

Russell Rothstein has spent his 20+ year career in the enterprise technology industry at the crossroads between technology and business. He has spoken at industry events including Interop, CloudConnect, CMG, Red Herring, and TeleManagement World. Russell is currently Founder and CEO of IT Central Station, a B2B social networking site that provides user reviews and ratings of enterprise software, hardware and services. Previously, Russell was Vice President of Product Marketing at OpTier, a vendor of application performance management (APM) solutions. Before joining OpTier, Russell was AVP Product Marketing at OPNET Technologies (Nasdaq: OPNT) where he helped lead the company’s focus into APM. He was co-founder and CEO of Zettapoint, a venture-backed enterprise software startup that was acquired by EMC, and ran marketing for Open Sesame, a Web 1.0 startup that was acquired by Bowne/RR Donnelley (NYSE:BNE). Russell began his career at Oracle, deploying Oracle Applications for Fortune 1000 companies. Russell received a BA in Computer Science from Harvard University, an MS in Technology and Policy from MIT and an MS in Management from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Follow Russell on twitter at @RussRothsteinIT .

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