Opinion: When it comes to IT's customers, one size does not fit all

You're the CIO at Sinking Fast Boat Works. Who are your customers, and what do they want from IT? If the answer is something like, "Our IT customers are the employees of Sinking Fast Boat Works, and they want PCs to do their work," then you need to take some marketing lessons .

The one-size-fits-all approach to marketing does not work for IT. Information technology is a high-end product, so take a look at what the purveyors of other high-end products and services do. You'll find that they do market research and then target specific segments of the mass market. Customer segmentation is the name of the game, and it works for IT as well as it does for manufacturers and airlines.

First, you need to take a look at those "customers of Sinking Fast Boat Works." That broad group includes salespeople who need to be able to do computing and communicate easily while on the road. It also has accountants, designers and business analysts, people from far-flung corners of the enterprise who have in common the need to crunch numbers and create detailed plans. There are also clerks who enter orders, monitor manufacturing progress and oversee supplies and raw materials all day. Clearly, one size will not fit the needs of all these people. Those salespeople are going to need light, easy-to-carry laptops that can communicate with the home office. Accountants and analysts will need spreadsheet software and perhaps even multidimensional analytical software, as well as computers that have the considerable memory and speed required to run such applications. Designers will need resource-intensive computer-aided design software and hardware that can run a CAD application. The order-entry clerks can use thin-client machines with fast Ethernet connections to allow them to communicate with the order-processing servers.

So, IT's customers are not just the employees of Sinking Fast Boat Works. They are the members of four distinct customer segments. It would be best if, like the big marketers of the for-profit world, you gave these groups names that allowed you to divorce them from any job titles or departments. You might therefore divide your employees this way: Road Warriors (who travel and need to stay connected to the home office; 15% of IT's customer base), Overseers (who oversee the operations of the company and company staff; 20% of IT's customers), Agents (data entry and support staff who connect with the customers, suppliers, manufacturing, etc.; 45%), and Specialists (technical and design staff who need to do research, create products and collaborate with others; 20%).

Customer segmentation can help you beyond identifying various groups' basic needs. Every year, Sinking Fast's IT staff interviews its customers to determine how satisfied they are with its services. For the past few years, internal customer satisfaction has hovered around 70%. Now, though, you can segment that rating. By doing so, you see that 90% of the Agents are satisfied with IT's services, but only 30% of IT's Road Warriors are. So, you know now that you won't boost your rating by doing anything more for Agents, but you stand to gain much by paying more attention to what Sinking Fast's Road Warriors want.

And now that you know a little something about marketing , you might want to talk to the CEO about the company's name.

George Tillmann is a former CIO, management consultant and the author of The Business-Oriented CIO (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). He can be reached at georgetillmann@optonline.net .


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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