Caveat vendor: the customer can say no

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Organizational budgets and goals are set in the C-suite, defining the resources and limiting the options available to IT executives. Then it’s up to them to find solutions that maximize employees’ chances of meeting those goals while minimizing the pain and staying within the budget.

IT executives have to balance the arts of managing up and implementing down. The best outcome occurs when everyone’s needs, wants and dreams are fulfilled. It’s a tough job that requires a diverse set of skills.

But it’s not the same set of skills that brings success on the consumer side of the Internet service, pay television and telecommunications business. There, every customer sits in his or her own C-suite. Consumers set their own goals, work within their own budgets and determine which solutions suit them best.

That’s why I maintain a healthy degree of skepticism whenever I see FTTH initiatives that are led by executives with blue chip credentials in the IT world but lack a commensurate level of consumer market experience. They are well equipped to engineer effective solutions and evangelize the benefits, but they’re accustomed to having the option of making top down decisions. You don’t close sales on a desktop by desktop basis in corporations or institutions.

The difference between customers and employees is that customers are sovereign. Both can say “no”, but it doesn’t mean the same thing. In corporations and institutions, that’s when decisions are made and the debate ends. In the consumer market, that’s the point when selling begins.

About Steve Blum

Steve Blum is president of Tellus Venture Associates, a management, planning and business development consultancy for municipal and community broadband initiatives. He is a 30-year industry veteran and an expert in developing new broadband infrastructure and services, including wireless, fiber optic and satellite systems. His career includes playing key roles in the launch and growth of DirecTv in the U.S., as well as other satellite broadcasting platforms around the world. For the past ten years, he has helped build municipal wireless and fiber optic broadband systems. His client list includes many California cities, such as San Leandro, Palo Alto, Oakland, Los Angeles, Lompoc and Folsom. He’s a member of the executive team for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and has worked with other regional consortia in California. Steve is the author of seven books on the Internet and satellite broadcasting and is a frequent contributor to professional journals and industry events. He holds an A.B. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in East Asia Studies from the University of Washington, and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas. He is a triathlete and multiple Ironman finisher, and is currently ranked in the top 100 of the Challenge Triathlon world rankings, out of more than 30,000 athletes.