The gap between words and action in cognitive business

One of the biggest challenges with the cognitive era and for enterprises to adopt this shift is in my opinion, two things. The first is the gap between the tech and the business. The second one is that most companies selling this tech have a salesforce that is used to sell other things and have not had time to adapt to selling cloud-based cognitive solutions.

One of the biggest challenges with the cognitive era and for enterprises to adopt this shift is in my opinion, two things. The first is the gap between the tech and the business, which leads to the constant question “How do we start?”. The second one is that most companies selling this tech have a salesforce that is used to sell other things and have not had time to adapt to selling cloud-based cognitive solutions to their customers.

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The gap between tech and business

Traditionally companies selling software to the enterprises have a preset business proposition. An example is SAP for financial or Salesforce CRM for sales. If we go a bit more tech it can be a database to store things in or it can be an application server to have our apps running. With AI and cognitive computing, it is something else. We hear all these execs talk and talk about how great cognitive businesses, products and processes will be, but how do we convert these high-level talks to become concrete solutions that will evolve our business? I read a post on the Watson blog the other day and it contained a video of several execs from IBMs Watson unit that talked about how great cognitive business and cognitive computing are (IBM is an example, it could be Google, Facebook or Microsoft, but since I often post pro-IBM posts they can be the example in this post). Try to make something out of the video that you and I can convert into real-life adoption. Really hard, isn’t it?

Additional fun from the video:

  1. The title of the video is “How IT and Watson are partnering in the Cognitive Era”. Ok, what does that even mean? The video does not give a single indication on how IT and Watson even partner, on what level or in what way?
  2. A quote from the video “Adopting cognitive solutions is not as difficult as it sounds!” I agree, but the “how” or “why” is completely absent.
  3. What the heck is Watson anyway? Is it a product, a suite, a platform, APIs, a human, a computer,? If it is supposed to be easy, like the video insinuates, it might be a good idea to make that crystal clear what Watson really is. If you have read some of my posts you hopefully know the answer though.

Number 3 in the list is a big challenge I would say. It needs to be very clear what Watson is for companies to grasp the potential of what they can do with cognitive solutions like Watson (I think it is the same with Googles products within this space). In Watsons case it gives each salesperson the right to interpret this to their benefit. This happens every day at IBM when sales uses the Watson terminology to push clients towards “their” Watson product (if in Analytics, you sell Watson Analytics, if in Cloud you sell Bluemix and the Watson APIs etc). From a short-term pipeline point of view it might be good, but for the customers I doubt it is good.

We need to bridge the gap between high-level executives like those in the video and the APIs, this so it becomes easier for companies to actually adopt and become more cognitive. If this does not happen I am afraid many companies will miss huge opportunities and the cognitive software providers will miss out on great revenues from their great software.

What happens today is that you get either the high-level exec buzzword-ish mumbo jumbo or the deep deep tech talks about how the tech actually work, usually only with one single API (or pre-packaged solution like Watson Virtual Assistant). That will not build great cognitive businesses.

A new salesman / women is required

Selling cognitive solutions requires a new type of salesperson. The classic software sales rep has a portfolio of boxes that is dressed up for each company it is presented to and wrapped in a nice business case, usually a business case that is applicable to many customers, not only one. The new type of salesperson needs to look at things differently, it is mainly about creating the value proposition together with the customer. Cognitive is not a product it is an enabler to make your business better and faster. It is up to us as sales and business developers to actually understand and apply these new technologies to our clients and customers. Why is this a problem? Simple, customers do not get the best solutions presented to them by their salesreps. They get pre-fabricated food, when they could get the two-star Guide Michelin dinner. They would probably pay less as well and get a solution that over-delivered on their expectations.

Why sell pre-fabricated frozen pizza when you can sell a personal dinner at a 2 star Guide Michelin restaurant?

Companies that sell cognitive computing APIs like Watson need to shift to a new salesforce. Another great thing is that this new salesforce will also think cloud-first and not old on-prem software. They will understand how these cognitive APIs exist in the cloud in a secure and compliance ready way. Most of your old salesreps will have a really hard time converting their old way of selling to selling APIs in the cloud (at least in the right way). I would say that the only way to trigger a shift of the old reps is to change how they are compensated and completely shift to cloud based incentives, otherwise they will stick to their old stuff (I sell what I know works).

This post is almost without a specific topic, just one thing I felt needed out of my system. Salesreps, get your act together and start to sell real value to your clients, they will appreciate it. Put in the extra work to build a case for your clients that match their needs and their business, they will value it and it will hopefully be a fruitful relationship for everyone involved.

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Photo credit: Origami T-Rex by Jo Nakashima

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