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Customers typology: The Captive

picture source: Wikipedia

The word Captive in this context, is not about someone caught by enemy's forces.  It is about a customer, whose conception about the Consultant's topic are dictated by an expert or someone pretending to be an expert. 

In a previous post you can find an example. The post titled: Vendor Survival Guide: Supermarket, Grocery and Kiosk

An example depicted in that post was Data Sorting Software product selection process. The Captive Customer selected a product of Servers and Operating Systems vendor (The vendor is an analogy to a Supermarket). I recommended, a superior product of a small company. Sorting Software was the only product the company developed and marketed (Kiosk).

The "Supermarket" does not care, if you buy chewing gum, as long as you buy meat, fish, bread and milk (Servers, Storage, Operating Systems etc.).
The kiosk's existence depends on chewing gum (Sorting Software). The "kiosk" will try harder, by selling better and cheaper Software.

The supermarket has to sell chewing gum, in order to be a one stop shop. However, its profits on chewing gum are negligible. Therefore it does not care much about selling chewing gum.

Supermarket, kiosk and the Captive Customer
A rational buyer, who is buying only chewing gum, should prefer buying it at the Kiosk and not at the Supermarket.

Similarly, a rational buyer should prefer buying cheaper and superior Sorting software product, from a vendor focused on this product.  To my surprise,  the customer rejected my recommendation and chose an inferior and more expensive product, developed by a vendor selling a variety of software and hardware products. 
It should be noted that the same customer's decisions were often rational decisions.

Why does the customer decided irrationally?
The Customer was a Captive Customer. The Vendor's  Representatives told him that their product is a lot better than the dedicated vendor's product. It was a good enough reason for choosing the inferior product.

Remember, the vendor's employees do not care much about selling Sorting Utility program. Therefore, they did not try to convince him to chose their product.

Main Characteristics of the Captive Customer
The Captive Customer's opinion is that someone else (not the customer) is the oracle. He will do whatever the oracle will say.
The oracle could be a Software and/or Hardware vendor such as: Oracle Corporation, Microsoft, IBM, Apple, HP, SAP, Google etc.  

He could be a Software House, an Information  Technology Research company or even a mythological former manager, who worked for the Customer's organization twenty years ago.
How can the Consultant influence a Captive Customer?
changing a Captive Customer's viewpoint is a difficult and complicated process. Success is not guaranteed. You should utilize different method's and different approaches to change viewpoints of different Captive customers.

The following bullets describe potential approaches and ideas based on my vast experience:

  • Avoid of confrontation with the Captor
Explain to the Captive Customer what and why you prefer the solution you recommend. Do not criticize the Captor and do not describe his motives and benefits, in case the customer accepts his recommendations (Usually Captors are selling Software and/or Hardware and/or additional Services).

  • Refrain from explaining previous mistakes based on the Captor's recommendations
The Captive Customer could have Patricia Hearst's Syndrome. She identified with her kidnappers' ideas. He may be identified with his Captor's views. If he developed Patty Hearst's Syndrome, confrontation with the Captor could operate like a boomerang.

  • Present Research, Viewpoints, Case Studies of others supporting your viewpoint 
The data should be with clear cut views and the source should be a person or a company or academic authority, which the customer respects.

For example, many Captive IT Customers respect, research firms such as Gartner, Forrester Research and IDC. In that case, present answers to specific queries issued by you or the customer, relating to the current issue.
You can also present Research Notes, verbal Analyst's opinions etc.

Others could respect a former co-worker or former manager agreeing with your views or even evangelizing these viewpoints. Let them know what she or he thinks (directly by talking to him or her). 

According to my experience, sometime Not Invented Here(NIH) supporting evidence in other language may help you more than local evidence in your own language. 

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Avi Rosenthal

Ari has over 30 years of experience in IT across a wide variety of technology platforms, including application development, technology selection, application and infrastructure strategies, system design, middleware and transaction management technologies and security.

Positions held include CTO for one of the largest software houses in Israel as well as the CTO position for one of the largest ministries of the Israeli government.

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