photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Last Wednesday, I attended an all day seminar hosted by IDC, a technology oriented analyst firm. The seminar was focused on topics that those of us who work for high technology firms care about; i.e. what's the next big thing that our firms should capitalize on in order to continue to thrive. I attended sessions on Software as a Service (not so new), Software Appliances (still pretty new), Social Networking (kind of new), Innovation (not new at all), and a session on "The New Customer".

It's this last topic that I find fascinating - mostly because the attributes of "the new customer" seem pretty darned similar to the attributes of the majority of the customers I've served in 26 years of working for high technology companies. Specifically, customers purchasing high dollar technology solutions want to know that once the implementation is done, the solution they bought actually achieves the outcome they were shopping for. Sometimes that's true business transformation, often it's cost savings, but in all cases there is a project sponsor on the hook to find the right solution and make sure it works for the business. During and after the sales process, that project sponsor wants to talk to people who understand their business and the technology. They don't want their relationship "managed", they want the straight scoop they need to ensure they choose the right tools and partner to get the job done. People who've taken the risk to introduce a vendor's solution into their organization want that vendor to be standing by their side as a partner who shares in solving the hard problems that inevitably accompany change.

The closing speaker at this conference was Tom Kelley, General Manager of IDEO, and author of "The Ten Faces of Innovation". While there are ten faces in his framework, he focused on "The Anthropologist" as the most important. His point was that organizations can't truly service a customer's needs, and definitely won't discover new markets around unmet needs, unless they do the field work to observe the problems firsthand. He was a great speaker, and definitely a hit with an audience of high techies who love to be associated with the next big thing, but are often frustrated that their firms aren't willing to take more chances when it comes to innovation.

In a related blog post last week, Bob Sutton talks about risk taking as key to innovation. Ironically, in many organizations risk taking isn't as encouraged as it should be to drive innovation, yet the implicit risk associated with a failure to focus on ongoing customer success is rampant. What's been your experience with the technology vendors who are important to your success at work?

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