The Technology Trap

Technology is everywhere – and for 20 years it’s been a rich seam of innovation and profitable business. But Mike says more tech isn’t always the answer – and selling amid the noise of a tech-driven world is harder than ever!

Technology is wonderful. Without it, where would the enterprise economy be? Three rousing cheers for technology!

Well, let’s make it two, quite rousing cheers. Technology can be a trap, into which many fine business ideas tumble headlong, never to emerge.

The problem is focus. Technology-based businesses spend too much time on the technology and not enough time looking at the marketplace. A mentality develops – ‘Just wait till we’ve fixed the x problem’ – which puts the rest of the business into paralysis.

For once, it’s not just us saying this. Deloittes and Cambridge’s Great Eastern Investment Forum produced a survey that shows (among other things) that twenty percent of companies in the area ‘completely disregard building market awareness until the product is ready to be launched’. That’s an awful lot of effort spent making things nobody might want.

Beermat enthusiasts will know our conviction that every business needs finance and sales input from day one. Even with the most hi-tech application, the sales ‘cornerstone’ should start talking to potential customers at once, finding out exactly what those customers’ most pressing issues are. The chances are that these needs will not be quite what the developers of the technology imagined. A debate must follow, in which the sales voice must be as loud as the technological one.

So that’s happened, and the developers are now working on a customer-driven agenda rather than one formed by the inherent challenges of the technology. This is good – though maybe slightly duller for the developers. But there are still hurdles.

The customer, remember, has a problem right now. Anything you can do to help will be valued. Even if the software crashes from time to time, it may still provide such a useful service that the customer is grateful for it. So provide them with imperfect product – not (and this is the key) in the spirit of fobbing them off, but in the clearly stated understanding that you are working on improvements. Version 2.6 is on its way, and as special status early customers, they’ll be the first to receive it. Maybe they’ll even help you fund its development…

The technology cornerstones may dislike this, and so might the entrepreneur. Many entrepreneurs are passionate custodians of ‘brand value’. While they are up to a point right to be so, beyond this point they are wrong: waiting for perfection can cause fatal delay – and incidentally shows a lack of understanding as to what brands really are (happy customers, not perfect products).

Perfectionist paralysis seems to be a particular problem for academic spin-offs. We have seen many presentations by such teams which have been largely along the lines of ‘Isn’t this technology amazing!’ plus a couple of slides near the end suggesting some PLCs that might be interested or featuring those vague, vast market figures beloved of dotcoms. This isn’t enough, and it’s really heartbreaking, as the technology is amazing, but nobody’s going to buy it in its current, user-unfriendly form.

We believe this is also a problem within large companies, where R and D teams are sitting on great IP, but somehow it doesn’t get turned into profit. There is a solution!

Great technology spin-offs need a proper team around them, not of more technologists but of sales and finance cornerstones. Great inventors / researchers / academics should learn the noble arts of networking (to meet these cornerstones) and team-working (to ensure fruitful co-operation once they have met). Maybe a little respect all round is needed too: business types stop considering academics as nerds, if techies stop regarding salespeople as spivs and accountants as anal retentives…

The outlook for such teams is stellar. The marriage of great technology with deep customer awareness and sound financial management is one made in heaven. Why are there not more such marriages on earth?


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