No one got fired for buying IBM?

In the 80s, IBM dominated tech from the desktop to the datacenter.

Buyers often picked IBM because they were safe choice, not the right choice. It didn’t matter. Buying IBM became the accepted best practice for CIOs. It was an emotional decision, not a rational one. People generally don’t like taking risks, and IBM was the easy, safe choice. Of course this mentality led to high costs and failed IT projects, but at least no one got fired making a decision to buy IBM. Or did they? More on that later.

The same best practice phenomenon is happening today in sales and marketing. Most tech companies run the same sales and marketing playbook, including the Sirius Decisions lead waterfall, the sales specialization + BDR model taught by Aaron Ross in Predictable Revenue, inbound marketing from HubSpot, and so on.

Study these best practices. Learn from them. Be inspired by them. Implement some of them. But don’t blindly follow them just because you think everyone else is, because that makes them just average practices.

For example, the current BDR tactic du-jour gone wrong — the meme-laden breakup email. I know breakup emails sometimes work; they certainly got my attention when I first started getting them. But they are no longer fun or funny when I get tens of them a week.

Don’t follow the playbook. Be the playbook.

Truly great companies almost always pave their own way. They take best practices and make them even better practices.

The difference between copying a playbook and being inspired by one is understanding. If you really understand the problem you’re trying to solve, and there’s someone else doing it better than you, then by all means copy their idea but do it better. Make it yours. Good artists borrow, great artists steal.

For example, Salesforce re-invented growth for the SaaS era, as explained in great detail (111 plays!) by Marc Benioff in Behind the Cloud. Box later took the Salesforce playbook and adapted it to their land+expand freemium model. Companies like Slack and InVision succeed with a relentless focus on building beautiful, usable products, matched to a sales and marketing model that’s about eliminating friction in the buying process, not creating it.

But if you are implementing a best practice just because it’s the new thing that all of the hot startups and thought leaders are writing about, then take a step back and study the problem more or you’ll probably end up with something much closer to average than best.

In the end, people actually did end up getting fired over buying IBM. The 90s saw the accelerated rise of companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Intel, and eventually open source. Companies who held on to the IBM status quo for too long were exposed to competitors who could do things better/cheaper/faster with superior technology. The safe choice suddenly became the risky choice. The best practice became the average practice.

Published by Tom Wentworth

CMO at RapidMiner | Previously Acquia | I like data science, open source, and the Smashing Pumpkins

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