Sunday, October 07, 2012

Selling Technology in the B2B World

Adam Hartung has been having some fun smacking around Meg Whitman's plans for rebuilding HP. If she can do it, as she claims she can, it will be no small feat. The company sells technology hardware to both businesses and consumers. Selling to companies can be hard enough, but when you're trying to figure out how to motivate scores of consumers, you have a real job ahead of you.

Hartung has a lot of reasons for thinking Whitman will fail and he's happy to outline them in his Fortune article. I'm not convinced she will fail, having seen more than one turnaround in my day. What I am sure of is that she'll find getting consumers back on the HP bandwagon a lot more challenging than selling to businesses. I realize not everyone thinks this. I'll tell you why I do.

Consumers buy things for many reasons, some of which they don't even understand. People buy on impulse, just one of these reasons, and sometimes don't even seem to realize they're doing it. ClickZ recently posted 20 different reasons that consumers buy -- and then pointed out that their list was incomplete. Of course it is. There are as many reasons for a person to buy things as there are people. Having lots of reasons for a consumer to buy may seem like an advantage on the surface, having too many reasons to buy something makes it very challenging on a marketing department, unless you have an unlimited marketing budget.

If viral videos have taught us anything, it's that unless your product is as cute as a baby animal, as wild as Gangnam Style or is endorsed by a supermodel, it's very challenging to get a critical mass of consumers all on the same page. Each reason that makes one consumer want what you have is reason enough for someone else to spurn it. Things are simpler in the B2B world.

Since 2007 or so, when we started helping financial services technology firms sell to banks, we've only identified about 4 reasons that business buyers buy anything. I talk about that in a short video that will be hitting our website soon. If you can't wait, drop me an e-mail and I'll tell you the only four reasons most companies ever make a purchase.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Sun Tzu Opportunity from the CFPB

One of my favorite books is Sun Tzu's The Art of War. In this ancient treatise on armed conflict, thought to have been written about 500 BC, the general outlines the strategy for effective warfare. In simple language he outlines what a good general must do under various conditions and in the face of various circumstances. His conclusion is that a great general should be able to win a war without the loss of a single life, without even a single battlefield engagement.

In one of my favorite passages, the author explains that a general who knows himself but not his enemy will will half of the time. A general that knows his enemy but not himself will likewise win half of the time. A general that knows neither is doomed to fail but one who knows both himself and his adversary cannot be beaten.

This suggests that we would be wise to take advantage of any opportunity to learn of our adversary's plans. While many of our industry's brightest leaders insist that they are working alongside the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, others consider the new federal regulatory to be more adversarial in nature. If that is the case, then news the Bureau released last week should come as a welcome surprise.

"We have an expansive, vital mission: to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans," the Bureau said last Tuesday on its blog. "But, how do we do that with limited resources? We’ll accomplish our mission by setting goals, establishing strategies, and measuring performance. Our strategic plan outlines this information and describes how we will focus our resources on the areas where we can have the biggest impact."

In its post, the CFPB invites anyone to review a draft of its 5-year plan and then comment publicly. At first glance, the plan is a high-level representation of the agency's major goals with little detail on how it will go about reaching its goals. Still, by offering information in advance, the Bureau is opening itself up to questions, which could allow the industry to influence how it goes about reaching its goals or, at the very least, call attention to issues that deserve further discussion.

Give the CFPB's new plan a read. I'd love to hear what you think about it in the comments below. The CFPB will be taking your comments until October 25, 2012.