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From disruptor to dinosaur: are you already on the way out?

Retailers interested in buying new tech because it’s disruptive may not always ask the right questions before signing the contract. Procurement will of course make life hard for the vendor at some point in the cycle, but most of their demands are boxes to tick.

The big questions may go unasked; will this tech vendor be around in five years’ time? Do they have the management team, the resources, the development roadmap and the domain expertise to deliver what we need? Does their culture mean that we are going to find it hard to get on and therefore get things done?

All obvious questions I would suggest, but the excitement of the journey that both parties are setting out on can tend to push them aside, often until it is too late, and a simple force of will on both sides may just not be enough to deliver a good result. For a start-up trying to act like a disruptor with their first few clients, this matters terribly, because how many vendors are out there right now travelling hopefully on their one big client, wondering why they aren’t quite getting to the next one?

Let’s face it, big funding can help a start-up travel a long way, so they may never need to put the right building blocks in place that will give retailers the confidence that they can deliver. Weak management teams, arrogance born of desperately trying to come across as cool, a development roadmap of such complexity that you know it’s never going to get built; and, over-generous spending on people, branding, processes and marketing in a strategy-free vacuum – all adds up to self-delusion on such a scale that it becomes almost impossible to change direction.

Now, anyone who believes in competition based on laissez-faire will say, there’s nothing new in this assessment of what can bring companies down, but my main concern is that something is different today. The gap between hype and reality, between what companies say they can do and what they can actually do, has widened considerably. Blame me the marketing guy if you want, but my industry is often the one that has to clean up the mess.

Now operating true 1-2-1 marketing, we need to be convinced that the story we are spinning on behalf of our customers is one that they can actually pull off. That means that I need to do more due diligence and pre-qualification before taking the job on, but who will tell the client that their business contains the seeds of its own destruction? The VC? The analysts? The non-execs? It’s a conspiracy of silence and one that I don’t want to be a part of. I care about tech and the contribution it makes to retail success. Let’s all get excited about the art of the possible of course, but let’s not let that excitement screw up the strategy, the plan and the delivery.


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