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Customers Typology: The Social

In previous posts I described Customers Types such as: The Customer Who Knows Everything, The Self-Deprecating, The Captive, The Paralyzed AnalyzerThe Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
In this post I am going to describe The Social Customer.

The Social Customer is not necessarily a heavy user of Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin. He is deeply involved in the Professional Community. 
He knows exactly what his colleagues are doing. 
His decisions are based on popularity: He will do exactly what the majority of his Professional Community members do.

His decision is based on localization of the saying: "One Billion Chinese People Can't be Wrong".

For example, if he will have to select a Software Product, he will select the one which the biggest number of organizations decided to buy and implement.

What are the advantages of Social Customer Approach?

1. Sometimes not only billion Chinese are not wrong. Million Israelis or ten millions Americans can also make the right decision.

The fact that many people chose a Product or a pattern or a methodology does not exclude the possibility that it is a good product or a good approach. Usually, this type of decision is a reasonable decision. 

2. Vendors and Suppliers tend to support frequently used Products or Services
For example, a large number of Software Product users could justify better Vendor's support.

3. Large Users Community
You can learn from other users, who implemented the Product or Service before you.
You can also learn from others who faced the same issues or problems you are facing right now.
You may need to ask them or you may be lucky and one of them has published his insights.

4. Skills Availability 
Some years ago I advices an enterprise to migrate from Ingress database to Oracle database.
Skills availability was a major reason for my recommendation.

I used informal method for convincing the client.
One of my friends was the owner of IT Recruiting company.
I asked him how many Oracle DBAs and how many Ingress DBAs are included in his database. 
The answer was hundreds of Oracle DBAs and not even single Ingress DBA.

The conclusion is obvious: when you hire so called Ingress DBA, you actually hire an Oracle DBA you should  train to be an Ingress DBA.

5. Information Availability
If a product is frequently used, there is more available information about it (In addition to knowledgeable people you may talk to): Books, Web Pages, Forums, Articles etc.    

The Down Side of Social Customer Approach
The following bullets describe the Down Side of this approach:

1. The Majority can be Wrong
As a Psychology student, about 40 years ago, I learned about Asch Conformity experiment.
Solomon Asch found that most experiment participants answers were similar to confederates answers (the confederates' answers were decided prior to the experiment).

Some confederates' answers were obviously wrong answers. For example, if the confederates said that line A's length in the following illustration is equal to line B's length, most of the experiment participants agreed.     

Image source: Wikipedia

I am able to describe from my personal experience, many Information Technology decisions resembling wrong responses by Asch Conformity experiment participants.  

I will depict a strategic Software Product selection example.
The final accord was a brave CIO admitting his mistake in a presentation to hundreds of conference participants. 

By choosing a wrong product, that at least half of the Large Enterprises in my country had selected and implemented, his company had lost few years and at least hundreds of thousands USDs.

His company was not the only company losing Time and Money. 
The only difference was that he admitted it publicly and the others did not.  

I recommended to all my Enterprise Customers to avoid of using that Software Product for Large Systems or other systems used by more than 100 users.
Those Customers who accepted my advice, did not have to lose Time and Money by choosing the wrong product others selected.

The first warning sign was a discussion with an expert, who pay a work visit to many American sites. His conclusion was: "The Product is installed in most enterprises, but seldom used in production".

I discovered that common Analysts' opinion was that the product is not Scalable.

The final stamp was an IDC report I read.
That report was the only American Analyst's Report I have ever read, stating that Sales people of a company are cheating (by selling the product as a product suitable for large Applications).

IDC states it behalf a Consultant, but presented him as one of the best consultants for this topic. It was not difficult to conclude that IDC's Analyst view is similar to the Consultant's view.

2. Not all Organizations were Created Equal
An Enterprise's characteristics may differ from the typical Enterprise's characteristics, therefore the common approach and a Commonly successfully used Product could be non-optimal or even wrong solution for it, while addressing properly many other Enterprises' needs.

3. Local Biases
Some products are frequently used in one country, but seldom used in other countries. It could be an inadequate selection for Long Term. The Global Vendor may stop Development and may stop Product Support as well.

A typical example is a Software Product that DEC sold to one of my customers many years ago.
DEC Israel was a lot better company than its Mother Company. The result was a biased market towards its products: a high percentage of Enterprises in Israel selected and implemented its products. However,the Global Market Share of many DEC products was low. The Software Product I am writing about was one of the low Global Market Share products. 

As the domain of that product was outside my expertise, I said nothing about that product. However, the Customer asked for my opinion. 

I joined a group of the Customer's employees meeting a Gartner's Analyst. I know that she (the Analyst) was an excellent analyst who had a deep understanding and vast of knowledge in this domain. 

I adopted her opinion to avoid of using the Software Product. However, despite of her recommendation, the Customer decision did not change.

Few months later a Meta Group's Analyst presented. His Analysis was different from the Gartner Analyst's Analysis. Never the less, he also recommended to avoid of using that Software Product.
I recommended to my customer to reconsider his decision and to conform to the Analysts' opinion.

The Customer wasted three years and hundreds of thousands USDs by implementing the product. He was obliged to migrate to another product when DEC stopped supporting the product.

The Consultant and the Social Customer
The Consultant may face two different conditions: The Easy and The difficult.

The Easy
The Social decision was appropriate for the Customer's Enterprise. In that case it will be easy to convince the Customer to select the same Product, Service or Solution.

Sometimes the Consultant would have to convince the Customer to implement the solution differently and not like the majority of his colleagues. 

The Difficult 
When the Social decision i.e. the frequent decision, is not the right decision for the Customer's Enterprise (or it is not the optimal decision for that Enterprise), it will be extremely difficult to convince him to select another solution.

The way to convince him may differ from customer to customer. The best way to convince him is by presenting Case Studies.

The case Studies are divided to three categories:

1. Successful Implementations of the solution recommend by The Consultant

2. Selected the solution his colleagues selected and failed.  

3. His friends and colleagues, who selected the frequently selected solution by his community and failed 

I marked bullet 3 in red because these  Case Studies are usually the most effective.
Unlike the Case Studies of bullet number 2, which could relate to Enterprises in far countries, these failures are Visible and Accessible.

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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