How IBM Beat Up HP in Las Vegas

IBM and Hewlett-Packard recently held events in Las Vegas. IBM went first and demonstrated how its customers will use Watson to change the world. HP responded by bringing executives on stage to talk about new products. HP can't let its competition keep winning.

By Rob Enderle
Fri, June 14, 2013

CIOIBM's Edge event hit Hewlett-Packard in Las Vegas with a one-two punch before the executives at HP Discover even got started. These were more than the traditional shots pitting IBM solutions against HP products, and HP likely won't know how hard Big Blue hit it until its reps talk to IT folks who attended both events.

EMC and Dell joined IBM in hosting events prior to HP. Each presented a similar story, one driven by marketing, showcasing financial customer benefits and largely playing down products, particularly hardware. But IBM's timing and approach appeared particularly well-planned, much like a campaigning politician who anticipates a mistake an opponent had repeatedly made. This is pertinent—HP CEO Meg Whitman has a political background—but such skills were not evident in Las Vegas.

It Pays to Go First in a Debate

In any debate, there are advantages to going both first and second. Go first and you can set a high bar. Go second and you enjoy the advantage of foresight; if you're talented and focused enough, you can tear your opponent apart. Technology companies rarely execute quickly enough to reap the benefits of going second. Steve Jobs was able to respond to a Microsoft statement in near real-time, but he was the exception to the rule.

It's generally better to go first, then, because you can set the tone and make whomever goes second look stupid. This happened in Las Vegas. IBM said that pitching products was stupid, suggesting that companies are interested in solutions that meet their needs, and then HP announced a ton of new products.

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In addition, IBM engaged industry analysts, while HP didn't invite many, giving the impression that HP doesn't think analysts are important and forcing them to get secondhand news. Had HP invited the analysts and monitored IBM Edge, it could have better responded to what IBM did and positioned its offerings in a similar fashion. Instead, IBM trumped HP through its use of customer testimonials.

IBM's Tactical, Strategic One-Two Punch

Rather than have CEO Ginny Rometty outline IBM's progress and bring product managers on stage to pitch products, IBM divided the first two days of keynotes into tactical and strategic discussion.

The tactical conversation included a number of customers who spoke about how IBM helped them, more than any other vendor, exceed their expectations. Often these folks were CEOs. In each case, IBM, the third party and the customer sourced numbers supported IBM's claims that Big Blue could save IT managers money. IBM ended the first day highlighting how it uses the same technology to improve its own bottom line, with cost savings measured in billions of dollars. Eating your own dog food is particularly powerful, as it shows how the company values its own offerings. This hasn't always been the case at IBM.

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