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.

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