Frictionless Clouds

Sometimes technology is wholly too complex, a fact that HP has latched onto.

In all product marketing, one pays attention to the ‘whole product‘, which is the sum of all the expected outcomes from using a product (this is a combination of features, benefits, services, price points, etc.)  Whole products are different for each market, each segment and each buyer genotype. Taken as a whole, a whole technology product can be very complex, and the complexity grows as the number of targeted segments grows.

Technology isn’t for wimps.

Thus, there is often a trade-off between a whole product and the product suited for new users (who can be considered a subsegment).  Often part of a whole product is offered as another whole product, but to a market or segment that is less sophisticated than buyers in the larger group.  Another common trick is to grease the skids for implementing a whole product or provide a stripped down whole product in order to create an “ease of use/implementation” feature.

HP seems to be doing both.

Implementing cloud computing is non-trivial.  Even battle hardened geeks, armed with cases of diet Coke and enough manuals to depopulate a rain forest are intimidated.  Yet the economics of cloud computing are nearly inarguable, and thus our nerd friends geek-up and grind through implementations seemingly designed by Inquisition engineers.  In smaller companies with limited technologists resources, implementation might never happen without the aide of outside service.

This is where HP’s CloudStart appears.  In brief, it is designed to ease implementation and operation of clouds by simplifying the process.  It is a cluster of hardware, software, consulting services (heavy on that last bit) and their Cloud Service Automation tools that allegedly allow an enterprise to build a private cloud (with four ported work loads) within 30 days.  In the history of IT, a 30-day implementation of any infrastructure is unheard of, especially for something as fundamental as servers.

HP’s offering is not entirely unique.  Many companies — most notoriously IBM — have offered quick-start programs for major IT implementation.  In each the goal is the same:  to simplify the process for the buyer while locking them into a one-vendor path for implementation.  Let us ignore the latter mentioned lock-in (it is a given, like your congress critter lying to you) and instead focus on applying grease to the implementation skids.  Doing the latter in parallel with outbound marketing reinforces a single golden rule for marketers everywhere:  reduce friction.

Aside from buying water, most purchase decisions are reasonably complex.  Technology more so.  The time required to make a complex decision, and the likelihood the decision will ever be made, is inversely proportional to how simple you make it for the buyers.  Every instance where a buyer encounters confusion or doubt is a place where the sales cycle elongates and your VP of Sales’ blood pressure rises geometrically.  One of marketing’s missions is to reduce complexity in buying decisions and keep your sales exec from encountering stroke, heart failure or a drinking problem (that last one is a jest … all sales people have a drinking problem).

This is why Best Buy allows you to compare good products with crappy ones online: it quickly eliminates a point of purchase delay.

With any product, guiding the buyer to a decision is a primary marketing responsibility (one web design analysis firm refers to the lack of such marketing effort as “allowing unsupervised buyer thinking”).  The parallel with HP’s CloudStart initiative is to reduce the customer thinking required to make implementation (and thus purchase) decisions for cloud computing.  Guiding geeks to glory, if you will. SalesForce.com did this amazingly well with sales people and CRM, making their discovery, learning, trial and acquisition a snap, despite their perpetually intoxicated states.

The marketing lesson herein is to stop spewing text and data on web page after web page, and start leading buyers by the nose through the paths of discovery, education trial and adoption.  Rent a passel of prospects and watch them as they walk through your materials, and wherever they stop or have a question, fix the problem that caused it, even if it is in the product itself.  Focus on eliminating friction, diversion or rejection.  And if you sell a complex product, build a selling tools that guide buyers through the same process at lower levels.

And buy your IT geeks another case of diet Coke.  Seriously, they’re putting on weight being locked and chained in the server room like that.


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