The myth of the greenfield opportunity

Attribution: walknboston/FLICKRIt’s baseball season here in Boston – home of the WORLD CHAMPION RED SOX – and Fenway couldn’t look more beautiful. The lights shine, the uniforms are crisp, and the field is a bright, grassy green.

A green field.

Greenfield – also what we in sales and marketing call a completely fresh opportunity – in contrast to “Brownfield” which is an opportunity in an existing environment.

For example – say a customer is deploying a new CRM application into their environment; that is a greenfield opportunity.  If a customer has a CRM application that needs an upgrade, that is a brownfield opportunity.

Wikipedia: “In many disciplines a greenfield is a project that lacks any constraints imposed by prior work. The analogy is to that of construction on greenfield land where there is no need to work within the constrains of existing buildings or infrastructure.”

But in reality, do greenfield IT infrastructure opportunities really exist?

Probably not.

First off, each person involved in the project brings with them constraints from prior work:

  • “I had a bad experience with Vendor X and I’ll never deploy anything mission-critical on them again”
  • “I took a three-week training course on Product Y so we should use them.”
  • “My brother-in-law works for Vendor Z so we should have them in.”

More importantly, as organizations are being tasked with “doing more with less” it’s very rare that any project is going to be deployed on completely new hardware.  More likely, IT departments are being asked:

  • “Don’t you have a VMware farm you can just add this application to?”
  • “Can’t you support a few more users on the existing infrastructure?”
  • “What can we do with some of that hardware you have lying around?”
  • “We already have an investment in Product A and Product B, can’t we use that for this?”
  • “Should we be looking at the cloud for this?”

And pilots and POCs, formerly the opportunity that IT had to try out new hardware to evaluate their applicability to a new project, are often shafted when it comes to hardware.  “It’s just a POC, you can use anything for that” and “Let’s pilot it on the old hardware, we can figure out what we’re really going to use once we deploy for real.”

In short, rare is the IT organization who is building a new datacenter from scratch, deploying a new application on brand new hardware, or unencumbered with legacy investments.

How should this change our sales and marketing?

First, we should always talk to customers about what they currently have and what their plans are to continue using it.  This is not to say that if we have a disruptive technology that we shouldn’t introduce it to displace an incumbent – of course we should.  But knowing the lay of the land with respect to incumbency is necessary to become an extension of the customer’s team.

Next, we should be introducing solutions that enhance a customer’s existing investment.  (Easy for me to say, I work at Infinio, where our solution enables customers to get more performance from their existing storage systems.)  Again, disruption isn’t bad, it’s what make the world move forward.  But it’s not always a revolution, we’ve turned into pretty intelligent beings based on evolution.

Finally, we need to put some meat behind the “do more with less” marketing slogans.  “Do more with less” can’t mean “Buy into my expensive product/architecture and your applications will run better.”  We need to provide proof points and examples of other customers who have leveraged solutions to actually spend less money or get more out of existing infrastructure.

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