Dean’s post about the impending failure of Enterprise 2.0 got me thinking a lot about the strange nature of selling enterprise software, and of selling things in general.
Okay, so imagine you walk down to the local store and buy a lollipop, which you then proceed to happily lick all the way home. In this instance, you’re the purchaser and the consumer. You have a direct relationship with the company that makes the candy. You buy it, so you are funding their existence, and you eat it, so you are also the direct judge of the effectiveness or quality of their product.
This direct relationship is exactly what happens when people buy products for themselves. Per sale, the company has one customer, and that leads to the product being developed and grown with a linear relationship — feedback from customers is meaningful, and important. It’s this model which led to “The customer is always right” — after all, you’re not going to argue with your customers. If your latest Snozzberry flavored candy isn’t selling well, it’s safe to assume it’s because consumers are not fond of it. Hits and misses become immediately apparent. An increase in purchases can be attributed directly to an increase in satisfaction.
Sadly, the world isn’t often this simple. There are many situations when the consumer and the purchaser are different people. Let’s consider the scenario where your twelve-year-old daughter is trying to convince you that she really needs those designer sneakers.
In this instance, the consumer and the purchaser are different. You won’t be wearing the sneakers, so your criteria for purchase is likely to be much different from your daughter’s. As the purchaser, you’ll be looking at price, and value for money. You might be looking for things like good quality stitching, materials or the country of origin. Your daughter, on the other hand, doesn’t care about any of those things. She only cares that they are awesome and that her friends will be soooo jealous.
The sneaker company has a dilemma — to optimize the product for purchase by parents, or for its appeal to teenagers? An increase in sales may not actually indicate satisfied customers (as any kid who was forced to wear sensible school shoes can attest). Per sale, the sneaker company has two customers to keep happy here. And the criteria for success are different.
If push comes to shove, and the shoe company has to decide between a feature that delights a teenager or a requirement that satisfies her parents, we know which ones will appear in the final product. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
If the central tenet of Web 2.0 is, in Tim O’Reilly’s words, that “users add value,” a Web 2.0 company wants as many users as they can possibly attract. To build the largest audience for their Web 2.0 tools, these hot new companies developed a razor-sharp focus on the user experience. Every other imperative — including profitability — was secondary.
The wave of innovation that followed was all about design. Simple, attractive, usable and useful sites sprang up everywhere. Emergent, free-form sites that generated communities and empowered individual users.
All of this was possible because the customer was the user. Individuals could vote with their feet — or their wallet — for the solutions that worked for them.
When Web 2.0 software gets translated to the corporate environment, where the customer is not the user, you have to be extremely careful that the features that get cut aren’t the ones that employees were clamoring for in the first place. Did you sacrifice an intuitive user interface because it didn’t match the look and feel of your company’s intranet? Did you substitute free-flowing, spontaneous conversation for a lengthy edit-and-approve cycle? Whoops. You just forced your 2.0 employees back into a 1.0 solution.
It’s no wonder that most users in the enterprise are wearing uncomfortable, tight-fitting sensible shoes.