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Do Leopards Change their Spots?

A few weeks ago, I gave a keynote speech to the global marketing team at Cisco Systems. In my talk, I made a provocative observation. I noted that Cisco has acquired several B2C (business-to-consumer) companies including Linksys and Pure Digital (makers of the elegant Flip camcorder). Further, Cisco has other interesting products like Internet phones that are relevant for consumers. Finally, John Chambers has identified the home market as the “next big frontier” for Cisco. But my contention was that Cisco still doesn’t “get” the consumer market. If they did, they would offer a simple universal home connectivity and storage solution that would store my media, route my video and voice traffic, run my telephones and videoconferencing in the home. And it would be available from Best Buy and installed “out of the box”. That’s not likely to happen soon. It will probably take a genetic mutation for Cisco to truly embrace the consumer market. For that matter, Apple is never going to become a big player in business markets either. They have “consumer DNA”, not “B2B DNA”.

As Geoffrey Moore has observed, there are two types of technology companies – companies that make “complex systems” and companies that make “high volume” products. IBM, Cisco, SAP and Oracle are in the first category while Apple, Sony, Intuit and Nokia are in the latter category. And never the twain shall meet. Efforts to transform B2B companies into B2C companies are almost never successful. Yes, there are some exceptions – HP and Microsoft possibly come to mind. But in general, you are either fish or fowl.