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Digital workplace vendors work best with revolutionary organisations
Fri, 3rd Feb 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

I have been noticing that the lines are becoming more clear between companies that work as they always have (“current ways of work”) and companies that embrace “new ways of work.

As a software vendor it's important to know which side of this line you are on. As a software buyer or user, determining which work paradigm you are in and which a vendor is pushing will help you determine fit right away.

Current ways of work doesn't mean stuck in the past – it means working the way most people today work, and very successful people at that.

It is anchored in a long history of IT dictated tooling meant for solo work, a well defined subset of the organisational knowledge and information in digital form, file-based containers, email for communication, fairly rigid organisational structures, compiling and presenting information for human analysis, algorithms codified by programmers, and PCs in office buildings with a keyboard, mouse, and landline next to them.

New ways of work are digital, meaning a much larger and more fluid amount of the organization's knowledge and information kept and used in digital form than before. For example: social relationships, digitised paper forms, audio and video information, peer-to-peer communications, and data from “things”.

The tooling is more consumerised and user-driven. And the tools have adjusted to collaborative work, more granular information bits that can be reassembled, a large array of communication channels, device diversity, machine-driven analysis, machine learning, and ever-changing teams and workgroups, both formal and virtual.

Vendors that offer solutions for new ways of work have a wide open space for innovation, can create products that are an order of magnitude better than existing solutions, and offer more appealing purchasing models.

But … (you knew there was a “but” coming) … companies ready to buy and succeed at using such software are still rare. They are growing in number every year, but still are not common.

What does this mean to the software vendor or service provider with a brilliant solution that requires new ways of work?

Sales lead times tend to stretch out due to time taken up educating the buyer. And even finding out who the buyer is since, with more end-user driven and consumerised purchasing, it may not be same same buyer that it was for current ways of work. And titles and org charts haven't adjusted to these new roles.

Conversion rates are lower because hot prospects turn out to be small groups of evangelists that ultimately don't have buying authority for the whole enterprise. Executives demanding proof in the form of business cases may require levels of certainty that are not possible with new and comparatively untested ways of working.

Satisfaction and retention rates are lower because too many companies hope technology can change their culture. Of course it doesn't work that way – culture always wins.

There are a few things you can do to mitigate these risks

Train sales to quickly triage a company to determine its ability and readiness to absorb new ways of work. And look past the passion of the prospect to validate their decision-making authority. For marketing messaging, make the connection to new ways of work clear up front.

Focus on companies willing to embrace new ways of work. That may limit the audience, but there is enough opportunity that long before it is saturated the market will mature and grow.

Startups, particularly spin-offs, provide a good well of prospects that aren't attached to current ways of work and have buying power.

Plan how to help with cultural transformation as well as technology implementation. You don't have to develop this capability yourself – partnering with a business transformation or ethnographic service provider and building the price into the initial package can be highly effective and increase lifetime customer value and satisfaction.

I should mention there is another option: focusing on current ways of work. That is still a very large market. In this case you are speaking a language the prospect already knows and are pitching incremental improvement more than transformational improvement. To many organisations this is a better fit for their current profile.

The key is to not avoid the fact that “new ways of work” is the elephant in the room for conversations about digital workplace technologies. Better to recognise it and proceed with eyes open than risk getting trampled.