Web searches for tool vendors has given me a shortlist of over 100 ITSM related vendors (See here and here for a few examples). However my goal is to present tool vendors in a meaningful and useful format for prospective buyers. The aim is to allow oranges to be truly compared with oranges.
As a starting point I have included software vendors who exhibited at the recent UK itSMF conference. I will add and enrich this grid over time adding more and more vendors as I comprehend them.
Vendors have been assigned to one of nine pens based on two characteristics; the primary market they serve and the company type. I don’t believe prospective ITSM buyers make decisions based on these criteria, but it allows a prospective buyer with an interest in one vendor to immediately see comparable vendors in that space. For example if I had shown some interest in Axios, I could quickly see companies of a similar ilk.
This is the primary market focus (i.e. not sole focus).
Generally speaking most software vendors will happily sell their software to anyone who wants to part with their cash, but they will typically have a market sweet spot that they focus on. I would be dubious of any company that claims to serve the entire market for every purpose, they are either desperate or naive.
The words ‘SME’, ‘Mid-Market’ and ‘Enterprise’ refer to product characteristics rather than specific numbers of users or company size. After all, each term will have a different meaning depending on where you live on the planet. A large enterprise in Helsinki is an SME in Houston. So for example, you might say that a characteristic of tools aimed at SME companies are typically aimed at high volume with DIY implementation.
Conglomerates – Large international brands with divisions that include ITSM tools.
Suites – IT Management tool sets which include ITSM tools
Specialists – vendors whose sole focus is ITSM.
Finally, I have deliberately avoided the word ‘Cloud’. Over the next few years I see this as being a delivery option rather than key competitive differentiator.
There are other product categories that are outside of scope of this grid which I would like to cover. They include utilities or enablers that are associated with ITSM (e.g. Intel exhibited at itSMF), customer service, general support ticketing tools and systems management tools with ITSM functionality. I also believe there is growing overlap with Social CRM tools.
Have these vendors been allocated accurately? what other characteristics would you track? Please share your feedback by leaving a comment. Thanks, Martin
I was lucky enough to attend the first day of the ITSMF conference in London yesterday. Having spent most of the day in the exhibitor lounge I can’t really comment on the speakers and content, but the whole event was very well organized and it seemed to have a great atmosphere, great networking and great people.
I have previously attended this event as a vendor so it was interesting to see the other side of the fence. Getting people to your stand is an age old problem but the disconnect between vendor booths and delegates seems to be getting worse, especially for tool vendors. This is not a criticism of the ITSMF conference per se, but conferences generally.
Exhibitor Booth – A Twenty-Year Old Concept?
The rest of vendor marketing seems to have moved along with the times with the introduction of email, web seminars and to a degree, social media. But with the exception of electronic swipers and polluting hashtag streams – has the conference vendor booth concept really progressed in twenty years?
The ITSMF team did a good job of delivering a compelling agenda with varied content and speakers. But most of the exhibitor lounge seemed to be disconnected from the delegates like awkward boys and girls at a teenage disco. We’re in the same room, we have shared interests but I’m not sure where to start…
In dating terms the current exhibitor booth model is like a nightclub – your luck in finding a suitable date is strongly dependent on serendipity; who is there at the time and who you happen to bump into. Whereas exhibitor booths should be closer to speed dating – aligning customers with problems with pain with solutions.
I don’t claim to have an answer for this issue, but one idea that springs to mind is breaking the traditional vendor hall into themes as chosen by delegates prior to the conference. So for example some key themes might be consumerization of IT, doing more with less / accountability and maturing your operation.
Exhibitors could populate ‘zones’ dedicated to certain subjects and delegates with an interest in that topic could immerse themselves in what the industry has to say, and offer. For exhibitors – If you don’t feel confident speaking about the key concerns of the industry – what are you doing at the conference?
I believe the disconnect can be boiled down to permission. The marketing guru Seth Godin refers to permission based marketing; the tectonic shift between outbound and inbound marketing. I strongly recommend Seth’s book for anyone trying to grapple with modern marketing, it is very readable and accessible (The much hyped clue-train manifesto remains half-read on my bookcase gathering dust next to ‘A brief history of time’).
Outbound marketing refers to ‘if you throw enough at the wall something will stick’; cold calls, leaflets, advertising. Inbound marketing refers to getting found by prospects and ‘earning their way in’ by providing value.
Let’s start a conversation based on something I know you are interested in, have a brief discussion, then we can both walk away from the show knowing we have something of interest to talk about in the future. I have your permission, a topic of conversation and a common interest. I don’t think swiping my badge in exchange for jelly beans whilst you tell me about your latest release constitutes value.
An intangible part of the conference process is networking, catching up with old colleague in the industry and having a bit of fun. Daft toys , in nothing else, are a bit of fun and good ice breaker. However if I were a marketing manager looking to justify my attendance at such a show it has to be based on hard economics.
These conference are important. Many people in the industry get great value from them. Exhibitor booths are an important part of the financial model of a conference – either the exhibitors need to up their game or the model has to change.
Vendors and suppliers need to be managed. Some will require more management than others. How do you go about differentiating between them and managing their delivery to you?
Vendors can and should be segmented within a supplier relationship framework, as it is important to recognise that the method of engagement and measurement of performance is different dependant upon their relative importance to your business processes.
For example a disposal program may be considered a commodity service, but actually the value to your reputation, environmental and legal liabilities is considerable and should require considered management of their service.
To segment your vendors the first aspect is to consider two variables; how aligned is the vendor to your business model and how difficult / costly would it be to extract exit the relationship that you have with that vendor? The framework is represented in the image.
There are four potential areas where your supplier can sit; tactical, emerging, strategic and legacy. It is perfectly feasible that your supplier will flow through each of these in turn, indeed some parts of their delivery to you as an organisation will exist within the separate sectors. The important aspect overall though is to recognise that the model should be applied to the relationship rather than the delivery of aspects of the service.
A tactical vendor has low alignment to your business, they provide transactional commodity to you and it should be easy to switch to an alternative supplier. Similarly they probably represent a low spend relationship or provide in a market that is saturated with competitors.
The effort expended in managing these relationships should focus on the efficiencies of the particular supplier both in the speed / processes utilised in servicing your business requirements and also how competitive are they in their market place. If they were delivering a poor service or uncompetitive pricing it would be very simple to lift and shift to an alternative supplier.
The aim of the tactical relationship should be to understand how to drive towards an emerging supplier relationship, or even if this is appropriate.
An emerging vendor is one who aims to service a need in a market where competition is low. They should be looking to drive innovative solutions into your business, giving your organisation competitive advantage through early adoption in an unsaturated market environment. Their aim should be to become more strategically involved with you.
Management of these relationships should be through collaboration to identify innovation that they can bring to you. There should be a commitment to a long-term relationship and naturally within this framework competitive pricing / benchmarking of the vendor’s offerings is one of the key methods of defining who is truly remaining in the emerging space. It is possible for an emerging vendor to lapse into a tactical position if there is not a continued focus on how to leverage the relationship knowledge to drive continued growth. Indeed as their competitors catch up, their product may well become a commodity.
A tactical supplier who wishes to become emerging should be attempting to understand how their external partnerships can be brought to enhance the capability and positioning of your organisation.
A strategic vendor is one with whom there is excellent alignment to your business requirements and with whom you have a deeply embedded set of services (e.g. asset lifecycle, enterprise software) and often they are identified by the size of your company’s spend with them.
They will have a deep understanding of your business requirements, so it is incredibly important that they are managed effectively and that you understand all their touch points. Perception is important in measuring these vendors, but metrics on performance should also be reported upon, as should their staff turnover on your account. The lower the staff turnover, the likelihood is there is a greater commitment to your organisation’s needs.
An emerging vendor should be looking to become more valuable and enhance their delivery to you such that it is a difficult choice to terminate the relationship. Conversely a strategic vendor who begins to lose touch with your requirements and begins to lose commitment to your service delivery will begin to fall towards a legacy vendor.
A legacy vendor is, as described above, one where the services provided support potentially critical aspects of the business (maybe a critical, legacy software system), but the drive and commitment to continue developing the relationship and business model is waning (their attentions may lie elsewhere). With such a vendor it is costly to move away from them, but if the opportunity were to present itself then it is likely the exit strategy would be implemented. As such it is important to ensure that the vendor is still focussed on servicing your needs as a customer.
Each vendor should be considered and segmented according to the values of each of the four segments and then managed in accordance with that segment’s consideration. For those readers who manage supplier relationships, it is best to focus on one or two of the strategic vendors and expand from there.
In a nutshell, it was vendor beauty parade for interested buyers.
Six ITSM vendors presented an overview of their company to a room full of SDI members. SDI members had the opportunity to engage with the vendors directly and network with their peers.
I think this is a great format. It was crystal clear that if you were attending the event you wanted to hear from the vendors and what they had to say. Vendors support many events but it is rare for the spotlight to be purely focussed on what they bring to the table.
The compere and guide for the day was Ken Goff, who was very keen to stress the importance of building a list of requirements before even thinking about looking for new technology and provided some brilliant insights into the vendor selection process (more to follow over the coming weeks).
“Every product is perfect at what it is designed to do, and rubbish at what is not designed to do” Ken Goff
When the audience were asked what they wanted most from vendors – two answers stood out for me;
Be honest about your shortcomings and scope.
Deliver on your promises
The first point is particularly interesting. As a former software sales rep I am all too familiar with the pressure to say ‘Yes’ to every question asked. It takes courage and wisdom for a vendor to say ‘You know what, that’s not really our area of expertise’.
Talking of sales reps… it seemed a little unfair for ICCM to send two sales reps along to network with the audience. Strictly speaking I guess anyone who is an SDI member can attend, but it seems a little unsporting when the other vendors had taken the time to build booths and prepare presentations.
My only criticism of an otherwise very useful and informative day is that it would have been nice to hear more from a customer perspective, some vendors mentioned what their customers were doing but there was scope for a lot more. i.e. “Here is someone that was in the position as you are now, this is what they did, these are the hurdles they faced and this is how we helped them”.