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It’s amazing to see the hype around hot categories today like cloud computing, social media and clean technology. Everywhere you turn, online or offline, pundits are talking about them, media are writing about them, and companies are selling all kinds of solutions for them. While these categories are indeed significant, the noise around them is deafening.

If you’re intrigued with these concepts, you’ve likely noted that every trend comes with a frenzy of opinions and solutions, and everyone has his or her own take on what to do – or, more accurately, what to buy.

In the case of cloud computing, here’s what you see. Big dogs like IBM, HP, and VMware position themselves at the center of the enterprise with end-to-end proprietary solutions. Google and Amazon have served up off-the-shelf answers for every business type. IT stalwarts like Citrix, Red Hat and Microsoft have solutions that partner well with others. And challengers like Platform Computing have another set of answers.

Who is right? I’ve been immersed in cloud computing for the last nine months and I say it’s next to impossible to know amidst the clutter.

The phenomenon of hype and hawk is nothing new. The babble around big new categories has been going on for a long time. The technology industry is famous for it.

In the enterprise software category, ERP produced the first blurry blitz. SCM (supply chain management) followed next, then CRM and PLM (product lifecycle management). I rode that last wave at PTC.

Then there was Infrastructure and Middleware, Open Source (those heady days at Red Hat), Business Intelligence, and SaaS (software as a service).

In these instances and in many more like them, the common denominator is simply a mad rush by vendors to hype their particular solution.

Now put yourselves in the shoes of your customer decision-maker. Imagine you’re an IT executive, a cross-functional project leader or a senior-level business executive. How do you make sense of the madness? How do you figure out the truth from the hype? How do you determine the way to create and capture value? Whom do you trust?

Even the smartest customers have difficulty figuring it out. Most turn first to analysts who give them perspective on the playing field, but that only takes them so far. They really need someone else, someone who understands their particular pain, who can talk their language, and who can provide both strategic and tactical confidence.

So, what can you do if you’re one of those companies with something to offer?

The answer is clear: OWN THE PROBLEM. Become a thought leader. Stop talking about your stuff and start talking to the critical issues at play. Do this and you will not only stop contributing to the noise, you will stand apart from the noisemakers.

We did just that at PTC when PLM was heating up. We talked to decision-makers who confided that they were indeed confused. We saw, and they confirmed, there was no definitive answer on how to win in the product development world. Sure, there were lots of views on what should be done in, say, engineering or manufacturing or procurement, but a clearly articulated enterprise-wide approach did not exist. The consulting firms didn’t have it. The analysts didn’t have it. The business and engineering schools didn’t have it. Even the bookstores didn’t have it.

PTC consciously chose to shed its old ways of ‘demo and close’ to become the thought leader of a category that desperately needed someone to make sense of it all. We bet we could leverage a thought leadership position in PLM to turn the company around. It worked.

We created The Way to Product First, A Roadmap for Creating and Capturing Value. It was based on in-depth customer interviews and market insights. It was quite literally a fold-out map that showed where the value opportunities were with routes on how to realize them – from executing strategies to business initiatives to business processes to core competencies to infrastructure and technology needs. It was written in the customer’s own language. And, importantly, it did not feature a single PTC product or solution.

We retrained our sales force in value-based selling. We held intimate executive seminars and hands-on workshops for customers and partners. We published the Making Sense series of booklets beginning with PLM Schizophrenia, Making Sense of the Madness. We even partnered with MIT to conduct a joint executive education program that featured The Roadmap.

The thought leadership initiative was a strategic imperative – and a critical turning point – for this engineering and sales-centric company. It began in 2002 when PTC desperately needed to transform. It hit the mark for customers who were desperate for something just like it.

I am told by James Heppelmann, President of PTC today and a partner in the original effort, that The Roadmap continues to this day in version six. Its name has been modified to The PTC Value Roadmap, but it has gotten smarter and smarter with each successive year of learning. Congratulations to PTC for adopting this smart approach, investing behind it, and sticking with it.

For those of you facing a similar situation in a hot, blurry category, the lesson is clear. Don’t be part of the noise. Own the problem. Share your ideas. It’s the basis for differentiation and sustainable leadership.


  1. Tom Butta says:

    Thought leadership can take many forms. In PTC's case it was rooted in The Roadmap. I've also seen it take the form of research findings, market insights, or well-organized customer feedback. The point is to look for new, interesting information that relates to a critical issue then package it up in compelling, easy-to-digest communications.

  2. Jay Muelhoefer says:

    Great post. The Roadmap transformed PTC's go-to-market strategy from features to strategic value. Better sales teams used it successfully to become thought leaders for customers and help connect the dots from strategic initiatives down through process and capabilities. An interesting side note is that an attempt was made to transform the Roadmap into an electronic tool with multiple industry variations. The change was not well received. The process of drawing on the big foldout created a closer customer discussion and allowed a more compelling visual understanding of the organizational connections.

  3. Tom Butta says:

    I heard about that, Jay. There is definitely something engaging about the physical nature of the roadmap itself. It not only allows for individual inspection of its content, but also the sharing of its intriguing paths and byways. Very cool. Thanks very much for your comments.

  4. Jim Mancuso says:

    Clients want to be led pure and simple. They can’t do all the research and can’t figure it all out. Investors buy mutual funds for the same reason. They don’t have the time to do expert evaluation and all the research that goes along with it. Form the vendor perspective, understand the need, create the vision, develop a solution and course correct and sell along the way. But most importantly is to decide what you believe is best for your clients, target to whom it is best for and for God’s sake stick with it!

  5. Tom Butta says:

    Thanks Jim. You make a lot of good points, but the strongest might be your last. Stay committed and stick with the higher-value program. "Picking up the bright shiny penny" won't drive transformation. PTC is a testament to that. Sticking to a thought leadership strategy enabled the once-struggling company to lead the category and distance itself from its competitors.

  6. Tom Butta says:

    I'm happy to report that PTC just announced that Jim Heppelmann, current President and COO, has been named to become CEO on October 1st. Congratulations Jim. It's a well-deserved and much-earned promotion. Congratulations also to PTC for a great job in managing the transition plan during the transformation of PTC. I'm lucky and grateful to have worked alongside Jim and PTC's current CEO and Executive Chairman, Dick Harrison. Really good stuff.


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