I just returned from Lotusphere, where I was once again able to compare and contrast the thinking of IBM labs personnel, product teams, and customers in close proximity.  IBM is setting their collaboration agenda around business verticals and processes where real business value can be delivered.  In discussion with Rick McGee, VP Market Segment Management, I heard more about IBM’s collaboration agenda and their focus on selling their solutions to three key constituents at customer:

IT buyers  This is a traditional strength for IBM and as Rick put it, IBM sales is more than happy to get in a knife fight with competitors like Microsoft, because they believe they can win a technical competition based on the meritsof the product set

Business Unit Executives   Account teams with deep customer experience will build exemplars of business value creation. – like Kaiser Permanente reducing the rate of missed appointments through better communication between doctors’ offices and patients during the scheduling process –  IBM plans to develop role and industry specific measures that will drive interest and adoption.

 – Business leaders, aka CxO’s  IBM will leverage the existing relationships that groups like IBM Global Services has with executives to recruit sponsors and deliver a message that an IBM based corporate initiative will deliver flexible collaboration.

Developing customer centric solutions and marketing messages is a concept that we at Forrester have talked about before.  I have advised many vendors in the Unified Communications and Collaboration market to be prepared to sell to all the different roles that are increasingly involved in UC&C purchase decisions at companies.  Many of the Forrester clients I have talked with in 2009 who were considering UC&C purchases, reported needing to have hard ROI calculations in order to get CFO approval – but some IBM customers reported proceeding without hard ROI numbers. 

At the analyst lunch on Tuesday,  Sogeti stated that they could not create a hard ROI analysis for social media in the company, but believed in it and invested in Sametime tools to help them locate and manage knowledge anyway.  Panasonic is undertaking a program to create One Panasonic with cost optimization (and reduction) and a ‘green initiative’ as parts of the initiative, but the greater value they are pursuing with  their recent announcement to adopt LotusLive is a single collaboration architecture for the company to leverage in accelerating innovation around the globe.  

In my discussion with Bruce Morse, VP Unified Communications Software, we talked a lot about the products, technical specs, and partners — but we also talked about the right message to deliver to customers to highlight the value that IBM delivers to IT professionals and business unit owners.  I believe that ROI is a type of table stakes in order for collaboration buyers to get their projects prioritized within their companies, but a deeper understanding of a collaboration solution’s contribution to industry and firm specific success imperatives, will be a differentiator that shortens sales cycles and revs up adoption.