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Technology Vendor Soft Marketing Underbelly

Given the latest news regarding major vendor downgrades within the telecom networking sector -- Alcatel-Lucent is top of mind for most industry analysts -- now is a good time to reflect upon the results of a Forrester Research study from earlier this year.

According to Forrester's assessment, all vendors must now realize that the times of technology push are over -- and there's a compelling need to develop new strategies that help them engage the wider mix of customer stakeholders.

This new standard, which Forrester calls stakeholder centricity, must drive vendor sales, marketing, and partnership strategies. Stakeholder centricity requires the unequivocal realization that IT and Telecom buyers are first and foremost looking for a solution to a business problem.

Granted, highlighting this fundamental focal point is not new or profound, and yet business needs alignment -- or the lack thereof -- is still at the core of many problems this industry has yet to address in a substantive way.

Forrester says that stakeholder centricity requires a change in thinking, as follows:

Vendors must build marketing campaigns and associated messaging to address stakeholders outside of the CIO or CTO realm. There is a huge population of potential buyers of vendor solutions outside of these roles. They have budgets and needs, but they are unreachable via traditional technology-based marketing.

Vendors must realign internal skills to drive a stakeholder-centric culture. Although they might believe that their company is already business oriented, deep pockets of the technology oriented legacy mindset exists within many customer-facing organizations.

Technical understanding was once the common ground between buyers and sellers. Stakeholder centricity requires a better balance between technology- and business-oriented people.

Vendors must complement their go-to-market strategy with stakeholder-centric partnerships. Given the diversity of client stakeholder groups, they will need to understand where they can sell direct and where partners are better positioned to take the lead.

Only if vendors align their partnership ecosystem along a stakeholder-centric structure will they be able to realize their long-term business goals. That said, this inherent problem won't be solved by the typical vendor sales channel musical-chairs reorganization.

Forrester believes that this is a mindset and behavioral change -- that will only be effective if it is made at all levels within a vendor organization. I believe that some of these changes won't be possible with staff training and mentoring alone -- sometimes a major talent transfusion is required.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this storyline. I don't know a single informed person who believes that merely replacing a CEO at a traditional networking equipment company will likely move along their transformation to a business-oriented strategic partner.

Or, put another way, if I were the CEO at a broadband service provider and I looked out into the vendor population for truly capable allies -- to help me restructure my business model for the 21st Century -- then I'm really limited in my available options.

Probing through the usual vendor Powerpoint presentation -- replete with network diagrams -- quickly reveals the soft underbelly of a Jurassic marketing methodology with very apparent vulnerabilities. However, that weakness can also be viewed as a significant opportunity for the surviving species to thrive.

Yes, a marketing-savvy Darwinism has found new meaning in the natural selection of networking technology and systems vendors.

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