Social Wars: A New Hope

It's still early days in the transition to Enterprise 2.0 capitalism. To understand how it's playing out, consider where the action is: the IT sales cycle. <em>First of a three-part series.</em>

Venkatesh Rao, Contributor

September 6, 2011

4 Min Read

Phase 2: Legitimize the wild behavior. Don't pitch the million-dollar contract. Get just one work group to upgrade to the premium, pay-by-the-sip version. Help the adopting group create a precedent by obtaining an approval with the purchasing and IT organizations. Fly under the radar of the purchase-order thresholds that might trigger more comprehensive reviews.

Phase 3: Set up the dominoes. Exploit the precedent by helping other organizations within the enterprise adopt the local, by-the-sip solution. Wait for the grassroots activity to get to the point where corporate IT decides it needs to have a policy.

Phase 4: Pave the cow paths. Help the IT organization study the scattered, localized patterns of adoption. Encourage it to make the leap to the big idea: that corporate-wide adoption might be a huge win; that the exception management model should become the default policy.

Phase 5: Usher in a fait accompli. Short-circuit the paper trail, analyst reports, and case studies from competitors and peers. Use the company's own data from the first four phases to make the case, not for a sale, but an enterprise-wide pilot.

At this stage, the vendor salespeople still aren't asking for the millions of dollars. They're asking instead for a sign-off on a pilot to study the effects and value of an enterprise-wide deployment. If there has been grassroots adoption of alternative products in different parts of the company, this is face-off time, to determine if an enterprise-wide standard is necessary, and who gets to run the enterprise-wide standardization pilot.

Phase 6: Go in for the kill. The vendor is in. It has got what it really needs to close the big sale: deep knowledge of the client's systems and processes that can help it write the case study for that client. The decision for the C-suite now is not whether the multiyear license and support bundle are worth it, but whether the alternative--setting up a typical paper-trail committee--is worth it.

Risk Better Managed

To the extent that this actually works as scripted, the huge benefit of the new model of selling is that risk is managed far better. The vendor makes the sale after the deployment kinks have been worked out and the adoption and diffusion patterns are clear.

Since the vendor up-sells through the phases only if previous phases are successful, there's little risk of an IT ghost-town effect, where a big centrally deployed solution ends up not being used at all (or at best, serving as the useless core around which jury-rigged workarounds grow).

The new model is data-driven, domain-adapted decision-making at its best. Investment scales gradually as risks are squeezed out. You pave cow paths around successful best practices rather than risk adoption failures.

This model makes financial sense for both vendor and customer. Neither is investing beyond the level justified by the risks.

As a bonus, there's much less room for ethically dubious practices. It's much harder for vendors to win the sale by inviting key gatekeepers to golfing vacations in the name of having them on as panelists at an industry symposium.

This process is obviously far superior to the Enterprise 1.0 process. It should be a no-brainer. The traditional model should just collapse under its own weight once this alternative process proliferates, right? I mean, who could argue with a data-driven, risk-managed, highly ethical process that scales investments a penny at a time instead of a million dollars at a time, as data comes in?

More important, why would anyone want to argue against such a process and prop up an obsolete incumbent process? We'll see next time, in Social Wars: The Enterprise Strikes Back.

Venkatesh Rao is a writer and independent researcher at and the author of Tempo. He can be contacted via LinkedIn.

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.

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