Creating business focus needs to be more like golf, less like skiing.

I grew up skiing in great skiing states like Colorado, Maine, and Wyoming. When I was in my mid-20’s I realized a funny thing about skiing -- that just about everyone who has ever made it down a black diamond ski slope fancies themselves to be a good skier. I’ve been skiing with all different types of skiers, and they all think they’re experts.   

Contrast that to the game (or sport) of golf. In golf, unlike skiing, there are clear standards, rules, and a score. At the end of my golf game, when I end up with a 110 and three triple-bogeys, I can’t claim I’m an expert golfer. There are people all around me who can prove to me, in their scores, that they are far better than I am. But rather than get me discouraged, their scores serve as a model for me, and they motivate me to get better.

In many ways I see the development of the whole “business technology” landscape, among the technology vendor community, like skiing. In a recent survey of strategy professionals in the technology community, 91% said that they are interested in “better aligning the marketing of products and services with the needs of business customers”. That’s a very high number – it beat out some very hot areas like innovation and emerging technologies -- and it shows there is clear interest in moving beyond simple tech-focused value propositions for our industry. This is a hot market trend.

Yet fewer companies are really executing on a strategy. At Forrester, we take briefings from companies all the time that claim to be aligning their portfolios with business needs. In many cases it’s become a catch-phrase – one that makes technology professionals sound like they’re in tune with the trend. So, like skiing, everyone thinks they’re good at it, and they have no reason to believe otherwise.

But from my perspective as an analyst, some companies are clearly executing far better than others. The best companies understand that taking a business focused approach to technology marketing is about more than messages - they're developing a track record that shows their business value. A company like IBM has, for years, been pushing its thought leadership in very business-focused themes, while also communicating how their technology products and services enable business value. Their recent moves – such as the creation of a business-analytics services organization, or the proposed acquisition of SPSS -- shows their serious they are about building out their business alignment as part of a long term strategy (as opposed to just a marketing message). Like a golfer pointing to a scorecard at then end of a round, they can prove that when they say "we're focusing on business results", they mean it.

I’d love to see more technology strategists who are interested in business-focused marketing treat it less like skiing and more like golf. If you’re making yourself more relevant to business customers, prove it with case studies, ROI tools, thought leadership -- great marketing tools.  But more important, ensure your business focus is part of a robust strategy that is driven by long-term focus and supported by senior-management. You might not need to buy a business analytics firm, but you should be able to define what it means for your organization to be focused on the business customer (hint: regardless of the economic conditions, its not all about providing cost-savings).

If you're interested in this subject, check out some of Forrester's Tech Industry research for strategy professionals on business technology.   

Chris