Thermometer Money: Changing a Business Partner Paradigm
March 10, 2008 Doug Mewmaw
Living in Chicago, the cold hard winter weather tends to take its toll on my family. Recently my family was really sick with all of us experiencing a high temperature. During this recent bout with the flu, I started to chuckle as I was in line at our local Walgreen’s buying a thermometer. Why was I laughing? Because this would be the fifth thermometer I have purchased in the last five years! For some reason, my family can’t seem to have the discipline to put the thermometer back in the medicine cabinet. As someone that is responsible for the family budget, it drives me absolutely crazy that my kids do not understand the impact of their actions.
Only when I explained that the “thermometer money” was equivalent to about six pizzas did my family of hungry teenagers start to get it. I’m happy to say the thermometer is now routinely in the medicine cabinet. It’s funny how a different perspective made all the difference in the world.
I share this story because of a conversation I had recently with a prominent System i hardware and software business partner, or BP for short.
Note: While I do work for Midrange Performance Group, a company that does performance management for IBM platforms, I was on the customer side of the bargaining table for more than 20 years before working for the vendor community. In other words, I’m always going to be a customer at heart. While I will mention MPG’s Performance Navigator product, keep in mind that I used the product successfully in the trenches for many years prior to joining MPG. For the sake of this article, you can substitute your own desired performance management tool.
OK, now back to the conversation I had recently with a BP, who was showing me some real-life customer performance data. During this process, I couldn’t help but notice the customer had a few core performance components that were not within best practice guidelines. As an ex-tech support manager, I always notice performance issues immediately simply because of all the years I was under constant scrutiny to have my own systems running efficiently and within best practices guidelines. Looking at the historical data, it was apparent this customer did not have a system that was running efficiently.
Because I’m a customer at heart, there is something in me that always looks out for the customer. As a result, I used this as an opportunity to simply ask the BP if the customer owned MPG’s Performance Navigator. Keep in mind; I’m not a sales guy so I don’t get commission for selling Performance Navigator. My only goal is to ensure system administrators understand there are tools out there to help them more efficiently do performance management. The BP’s response was shocking and mind-boggling to me. I’m paraphrasing, but the BP basically said: “Doug, we love your product, but we don’t want the customer to know your tool too well. If they do, we won’t be able to do their capacity planning projects. We simply don’t want to lose our competitive advantage.”
It was at that point where I dropped the phone. As an ex-customer, I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. When I hung up the phone and had a few moments to replay that conversation in my head, I had a startling revelation. I realized how naïve I had been when I was a customer. While I thought the BP was always in my corner to help me, I now understood that there is a troubling BP/customer relationship paradigm that was prevalent in the AS/400, iSeries, System i market. I realize I am painting with a broad brush, it was apparent that many of the System i BP’s number one priority was not always the customer’s well being.
In the above example, the BP would bring you to the pool, but if you jumped in the deep end unknowingly, you were on your own. That’s wrong.
A New Perspective
The attitude that the BP showed above, and which I now believe is probably more prevalent than I had imagined, is flawed.
Go to COMMON and see how many people are in performance sessions. Go to a technical conference and do the same. Walk through the expo and see the many exhibitors that are there. It’s amazing how many cool products there are in the IT industry. When I managed 15 AS/400s, I wanted something to help give me the peace of mind that my systems were indeed running within best practice guidelines. Many years ago when I went to COMMON, I found MPG’s Performance Navigator. The tool not only instantly made a difference in my company’s performance service levels, but it ultimately changed my career path. Looking back at those years when I was searching for help, I often wondered why my BP didn’t introduce me to performance management tools. I often say this to BPs when they attend one of my performance classes: “My business partner would have been likened unto a god had they introduced me to a tool that helped me do my job better.”
After that recent conversation, I now understand why the BP did not show me performance tools. I think that BPs are a bit paranoid, however. They truly think that if they give a customer a performance and capacity planning tool, their capacity planning expertise and solutions will not be needed ever again. Memo to business partners: The above paradigm is so false. If you give a customer the tools to manage their everyday performance, you will not only be a hero, your credibility will skyrocket. Here is what will occur:
In a time where margins are razor thin and the economy is uncertain, I realize the pressure that many of the BPs must feel to boost sales and profits at their companies. BPs need revenue and they don’t want to do anything to jeopardize a revenue stream. They want to help their customers, but due to internal pressures and market pressures, they can only do that up to a certain point . . . .
Being on BP side of the fence for almost four years gives me a unique perspective where I can truly see both sides of the fence. I can clearly see that being so entrenched on one side of the fence hinders the ability to see the big picture. The BP/customer relationship paradigm where the customer’s best interest is not at heart must be broken.
Helping customers take their skillsets to the next level not only creates an environment where the BP shines, it creates a trusting “team” culture where my many future projects can be done successfully and with confidence. Traveling all over the world and working with IT staffs, I hear all the stories about the good BPs as well as the bad ones. You would be amazed how many customers talk about the horror stories with their “ex” BP. In every instance of the ex-BPs, I get the feeling that there was an obvious disconnect between the BP and the customer. I don’t want to blame any particular side, but I wonder why the above phenomenon exists. In regards to the competitive advantage argument, there is one question that would always drive me to help the customer every possible way I could: Do I want to be the BP that provided a solution, or do I want to be an ex-BP after being told another BP came in and provided the solution?
At that point, as Dr. Phil might say, “How’d that competitive edge thing work out for you?”
Finally, I remember a time when customer service was truly a number one priority in our country. As an ex-customer, I admit the above BP conversation bothered me to the core. I wonder how many other American companies are also going through the motions and doing the bare minimum for the customer. In a time when we are all screaming bloody murder about various IT jobs being outsourced, maybe it’s time for a lot of companies to look at themselves in the proverbial mirror.
Maybe it’s time to make the customer the number one priority again. This is the real road to sustainable revenues and profits–something that is a lot larger than thermometer money based on bad practices.