The positioning of the IBM Cloud offering is very different from its peers. IBM doesn’t position it as an alternative, but as a secure premium offering that could be used to address an unmet security, privacy, or compliance need in a multi-cloud deployment. One of the things IBM does better than most is use advocates who have deployed a product to explain in their own words why they chose IBM. There is nothing more compelling in my mind than an advocate that backed up that advocacy with their own money. It often makes me wonder about those that compete in the IT space and claim they can’t get advocates. I wonder if the real problem is their solution doesn’t meet expectations, which would result in negative reviews instead of positive advocacy.
But as I listened to advocate after advocate concluding that IBM’s technology was uniquely secure and fintech-focused, I concluded that IBM represented the big advantage in this space, not the offering. Other cloud vendors sell successfully into areas like finance and government with highly secure requirements after all, indicating there are mitigating workarounds. But what IBM brings to the table is who they are, which is uniquely powerful.
Let’s explore IBM’s unique market advantage this week.
The real problem with AI and the cloud
Listening to the various IBM advocates, I concluded that the real problem to them and their organizations was deploying relatively new technology. They had certainly read about and were conversant with the potential benefits, but they didn’t know the technology, nor did they know how to deploy it in their various shops successfully.
Most vendors and most cloud service providers seem to assume the buyer is the expert. They’ll supply whatever the buyer wants without considering the buyer’s understanding of the technology or how to apply it best.
IBM’s approach, which goes back decades, is that they engage early with the customer, capture and share the best practices between their customers, and group support by industry. Instead of assuming the customer is the expert, they are more likely to enter assuming they aren’t. Rather than selling and running, they engage over time to assure the positive outcome of the effort.
This customer focus isn’t an altruistic approach. IBM has recognized that advocacy is critical to sales, so instead of tactically focusing on revenue and profit, they strategically focus on advocacy as a higher priority. They will likely never be the cheapest or the fastest. Still, they will generally be the best at ensuring you are happy with the result and are therefore willing to share your positive experience with others.
To me, when choosing a vendor in IBM’s class, it is far more critical to work with a vendor that has my back than it is to work with one that comes in with the lowest price and most aggressive deployment strategy and then fails to meet my expectations. I care more that the deployment meets my requirements and am willing to pay more to assure a positive result.
An Old Cloud Story
Back when the cloud was new, I met with a pharmaceutical company that told a story that represented both the promise and the problem with the cloud. Two employees working on a new drug needed some advanced workstations to get the job done, and IT promised them that in 3 to 6 months, they could have what they needed for around $200K. They instead used a cloud service and completed the project in a few weeks for a cost well under $20K. Once management was aware of what they’d done, they got an award for saving money; once security got word of what they had done, the developers were terminated because the critical data they were working on had ended up in Russia with no way to assure it hadn’t been leaked to a competitor.
Getting something fast and cheap comes with risks, and if you don’t know what you are doing, you can exceed your objectives and still end up fired. It would help if you worked with someone that understands how to balance these risks and rewards and has your back, and that appears to be IBM’s unique advantage.
IBM differentiates its IBM Cloud offering through its access to advanced AI tools, its heavy focus on fintech, and historic security priority. However, IBM’s true benefit is more in understanding the need for advocacy which creates a higher priority on the positive outcome of the related project. Their decades of experience have showcased the power of advocacy. Thus, they don’t just want your money; they want you happy enough with the outcome you’ll tell others about your positive experience.
They also understand that customers having a negative experience are far more likely to speak out, so they fully grasp the danger of an insufficient engagement. I think most vendors that struggle with advocacy do not get this critical point. In the end, IBM’s advantage isn’t just their technology and market focus; it is in their drive to assure a positive outcome which is a critical underappreciated advantage.
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