Godless Barbarians at the Gates of IT

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Ryan Skinner

28. 02. 2012 | 9 min read

Godless Barbarians at the Gates of IT

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Cloud, consumerization and startups are the push, but who’s pulling? An examination of a new and growing market.

The enterprise IT market is leaving enterprise marketers behind.

That is to say, we’ve never seen a faster adoption rate of new software and devices among business users ever before. And they’re outpacing our understanding of the enterprise market.

Dropbox did not exist before 2008. Today it has over 50 million users; of those, more than 1 million are paying users, mostly professionals.1 Cloud collaboration service Huddle claims over 100,000 organization clients.2 Skype has facebook-like user numbers.3 Get Satisfaction – 3 million.4 I could go on: Google Apps, Basecamp, Yammer, UserVoice, SurveyMonkey, etcetera, etcetera.

And it’s not limited to apps far from the company jewels. Karmasphere allows anyone to apply BI tools to Amazon-hosted big data sets, paid-by-the-hour. BI by the hour?

The conclusion: There is a large juggernaut of enterprise tools that never see the IT department, but go straight to the user. Anyone can buy and use practically any kind of software (or device) on a single cloud-based license, and see results.

Let’s repeat that liberating (or terrifying) idea: Anyone. Can buy use. Any kind of software. And see results.

Two things are going on. One is technology and the consumerization of IT. That’s well documented. The other’s the emerging market of solo IT buyers. That’s the bit every IT marketer needs to get to grips with today.

This is about a massive new market with unique characteristics – a new ‘persona’ that has never been seen by B2B marketers: They are the Godless Barbarians. They do everything differently – think, buy, use tools and communicate. And some hugely successful companies are carving out new go-to-market strategies to harness their power. Others will follow.

Anyone working in enterprise tech needs to think about these Godless Barbarians. Because empires are crumbling…

This is a story in five parts:

  1. I.               The technology story behind this new phenomenon
  2. II.              The emergence of Godless Barbarians
  3. III.            The nature of Godless Barbarians
  4. IV.           The traits of companies marketing to Godless Barbarians
  5. V.             How these companies market to them

I. The technology story behind this new phenomenon

Since 2006, we technology marketers promised revolution in the enterprise as we hawked big infrastructure plays: “Virtualization! Hyperfast Internet! Real-time deployments! Big data! API this! API that! Mobile! Tablets! The future’s happening.”

Then it happened. Or it feels like it’s happening. Let’s just take it as a given that the means for delivering technology to businesses changed radically.

Somewhere on the steppes of innovation, however, these big infrastructure developments met two other forces – consumer technology moving at breakneck pace and an unheard-of level of software entrepreneurship.5

Where these three forces congregated, buzzwords, hyperbole and breathless anticipation mounted like a heap of shit from an encamped army. To paraphrase Kevin Kelly, what does all this technology want?6

The likes of InformationWeek, ZDNet and CIO.com refer to the consumerization of IT – that’s how the IT department sees it. Contraband in the form of consumer devices and apps that were once smuggled in to the office are now flooding in.7

So much commentary on devices, infrastructure, makers, vendors, ideas, capital and supply. It all feels so…one-sided. Everyone focuses on the vendors making consumerization happen, and the IT organizations racing to stanch it. What about the people pulling this change in the enterprise through?

Who is at the other end of consumerization?

II. The emergence of the Godless Barbarians

Much fuss has been made over the CEO bringing his iPad to work, and how he forces IT to live with it. Less fuss has been made over the middle managers who smuggle in an iPad, and a rogue app or two. The CEOs are signposts. The rank and file professionals, the groundswell.

And they don’t stop at iPads. They’re using Mailchimp. Basecamp. Yousendit. WordPress. Smallworlders. Workday. Wildfire. Because they work. And because you can buy them off the shelf, and start using them tomorrow.

These users can be characterized by two qualities: Determination and Pragmatism.

These are the Godless Barbarians. Or that’s what they look like from within the fortresses of the corporate IT empire – an invisible horde who ignore IT’s doctrine, who are difficult to track and who threaten to topple all that is near and dear.

These Godless Barbarians are the growing market of users who represent the demand side of the cloud, consumerization and lean start-up equation.

It’s easy to start down the road of the Godless Barbarian:

Usability of new software is skyrocketing. It was designed for consumers, or on the same principles.

For many point solutions, web applications are far better than traditional enterprise software. Sending big files in an enterprise and you’re liable to end up in firewall or spam limbo. Use yousendit, on the other hand, and forgetit.

Many IT organizations are moving from active resistance to any software that comes from off the reservation, to a managed acquiescence.8 Note that some of the strongest classical enterprise categories today are enterprise security and app management. IT’s role is changing from command-and-control to corral-and-cope.

New tools appear at every turn. Increasingly, the savvier VCs and angel investors have begun to salivate for software that can fit in the workplace.9 Developers are making adaptability and compliance part of their offerings, to work safely and independently in any environment.

If you don’t use the best software, or your slow-moving IT group won’t let you, you know your competition is using them. There’s nothing worse than someone eating your lunch for want of the best tools.

Lastly, thanks to greater social networking, we hear about more software, faster. The discreet markets Geoffrey Moore described in Crossing the Chasm, consisting of those who can serve as references to each others’ buy-in, are no longer monolithic and delineated; they are vast, loosely interconnected webs.

III. The nature of Godless Barbarians

So do these Godless Barbarians make up a new market? A breaking-off from the enterprise market of the past?

They’re neither consumer nor typical business buyer. They’re likely to be warier than a typical newbie trying out facebook or the like. But they’re not likely to go through as rigorous a process as your classic B2B buyer journey. They’re driven less by fear than utility.

They take a different approach to usability than traditional enterprise buyers. They’ll expect to start extracting value from the product with zero or minimal training or implementation effort. And colleagues should be able to do the same. If not, they’ll dump it.

They’re a mixture of entrepreneurs, in-house entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized businesses and A players in larger corporations. Increasingly, however, these proportions may be shifting as more and more software buying goes on within big companies.

Typically, godless barbarians will say things like “we have a corporate application for that, but it doesn’t work as well as _____. So we use _____.” Or “Hell yeah, I use ________. Our in-house software sucks.” Or “it’s the only app out there that can do that, so of course I use it.

These men and women share some common traits:

  • Impatient – refusing to operate at the corporate pace of four to five versions behind current software.
  • Competitive – feel the heat of peers and competitors from inside and outside their business who take the liberty to use better tools, sanctioned or not.
  • Frustrated – acutely aware that their means of working is poorly served by the company’s slow-moving support structure.
  • Sceptical – suspicious of any corporate diktat regarding the sanctity of the enterprise space, or its security.
  • Confident – believe that they are software and IT-literate enough to manage their tools and their security, or demand the support for it.
  • Liberated – prefer that the enterprise let them grab the tools they want and build teams and partnerships freely, but they’ll do so anyway.

Perhaps the ultimate litmus test of a new market is whether some marketers are able to pinpoint the market and succeed by it. That does seem to be the case, as we’re starting to see.

IV. The traits of companies marketing to Godless Barbarians

Jive Software is one company that’s hoping to facilitate this kind of market, and create a kind of enterprise-wide consumerism. Wrote Christoper Morace, Business Development Lead for Jive Software, on Quora:

The long tail possibility of delivering functionality via a consumer-like marketplace that still gives the enterprise control over security, data flow, and what enters but provides new consumption and licensing models has the potential to massively accelerate the delivery of functionality while increasing the lock-in of the platform.  It also provides a safe/secure way to bring cloud delivered functionality into the enterprise.

He’s called for a revolution: “It’s time to write a new manifesto. This is the Consumerprise Era, where consumer simplicity meets enterprise power.” He’ll be exploring this in depth at SXSW this year.

The Jive Softwares, the Dropboxes, the Yammers and the Skypes may be able to expedite their marketing within the enterprise by gaining IT’s blessing. But there will be thousands of other SaaS products able to either use one of these bigger companies as a conduit, or forgo IT’s blessing altogether.

Intuitive UI is just the start. It’s like a membership fee; if you haven’t paid up, you’re out. Traditional enterprise apps often…haven’t. Thus the enterprise software “buyers are not the users” trope that has inspired a generation of hackers and entrepreneurs.10

The earliest winners among godless barbarians have been the enterprise equivalent of Napster or Facebook in that they have built-in virality: comms apps like Skype, file-sharing like Yousendit or quick and dirty visualization tools like gomockingbird.

V. How these companies market to them

The market’s getting broader and more and more apps are making a successful go of it through a variety of strategies combining social media (including content marketing, reviews, forums and the big social channels) and online PR.

As Morace of Jive Software goes on to say in the same Quora response, companies that have preceded their marketing to Godless Barbarians by winning IT’s blessing will move faster. “Anyone can build a point solution; today you need to be truly disruptive.”

But disruption’s quickly becoming de rigeur. Newcomers among those marketing to Godless Barbarians are evolving quickly in terms of how they market themselves – some may even be showing a nascent playfulness akin to big consumer brands. Another big tactic is thinking email as a viral promotional tool, and offering incentives to people who invite others.

There’s more to this godless barbarian marketing formula, but I’ll leave that to subsequent posts.

VI. Conclusion

Target not the classic B2B buyer/emperor; target the godless barbarian. Or at least prepare yourself for rivals who are marketing to this groundswell of buyers.

If you don’t have a single license play, maybe it’s time to build one. At least prepare to combat all the competitors who will (or already have).

Some questions any tech CEO or CMO should be asking himself about now:

  • Are you relying on the protectionism of IT departments to preserve your business model?
  • Do you allow Godless Barbarians to pick up and use your software? Do your competitors? Are you prepared for upstarts who will?
  • Are you making a product that looks and feels sexy enough for someone to smuggle into their job?
  • Does your technology work on the kinds of devices that do get smuggled in (like an iPad)?
  • Are you marketing your technology towards a Godless Barbarian-like persona (such as the one sketched out above)?
  • Will you survive a consumer-driven paradigm in the enterprise market?

The enterprise space is seeing a fundamentally new go-to-market strategy – one that feeds off of a new understanding of business buyers.

It thinks of business buyers as practical individuals, taps into that practicality with a solution that fits a need like a key in a lock, and builds in a virality that spreads among a class of people that navigate by one star (utility): these are the godless barbarians.

Upcoming Godless Barbarian posts include:

1. Deeper into the psychographic of the Godless Barbarian

2. The Godless Barbarian Manifesto

3. The changing paradigm of enterprise software supply

4. Interviews of companies marketing to Godless Barbarians


1. http://www.quora.com/How-many-users-does-Dropbox-have?q=how+many+users+does+dropbox+have


2.  http://www.huddle.com/

3. http://www.quora.com/How-many-registered-users-does-Skype-have?q=how+many+users+does+skype+have

4.  http://www.quora.com/Get-Satisfaction/How-many-users-does-Get-Satisfaction-have?q=how+many+users+does+get+satisfaction+have

5.  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903480904576512250915629460.html

6.  http://www.kk.org/books/what-technology-wants.php

7.  http://blog.chron.com/techblog/2012/01/tablets-invade-big-business-as-employees-bring-their-ipads-to-work/

8.  http://blogs.forrester.com/frank_gillett/12-01-26-apple_infiltrates_the_enterprise_15_of_global_info_workers_use_apple_products_for_work_0

9.  http://techcrunch.com/2011/11/11/thiel-small-businesses/

10.  http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=72115

Published in:

  • b2b software

  • b2b technology

  • consumerization

  • consumerization of IT

  • enterprise consumerization

  • enterprise software

  • enterprise technology

  • Software

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  1. Roger Warner

    March 6th, 2012

    Great post Ryan. Hello prosumer : ) I think it’s also a case of heuristics. People try stuff for themselves now because it’s cheaper (free), better designed, and very, very easy. And if they like what they try then they just get on and use it…. and adoption spreads from there. The product and the marketing just needs to be ‘good enough’ to pass the first use test.

    That said, there’s as much innovation in product design/UI and pricing and distribution models as the technology itself. Dropbox is a classic. It’s like a nice virus. We use it, but I (MD) didn’t authorise it… Now I’m looking atr and enterprise licence because we love it so much…

    A very different marketing challenge, as you say.

  2. Doug Kessler

    March 6th, 2012

    “We have met the Godless Barbarians and they is us.”

    I know I’m much more likely to just look for an app that will meet a need rather than go through the old channels of research and consensus-building.

    It’s a massive change for the old ‘command and control’ IT department and definitely has implications for just about every enterprise software vendor (even the massive ERP-style ones that may feel safe).

  3. Ryan Lunka

    March 6th, 2012

    Great post. My only qualm is that the term “Godless Barbarian” has kind of a negative connotation, though I admit, I get it. I’m relatively young in my career, so I look forward to this “barbarianism” to provide some really cool opportunities over the next few years.

    Looking forward to follow ups.

  4. Ryan Skinner

    March 7th, 2012

    Thanks, guys.

    Godless Barbarians may still be a view from “inside of IT”. The real deal would probably not call himself or herself a godless barbarian.

    But it’s a whole new and exploding market; a few years ago, the only guys who kitted themselves out with all their own software worked from home in Birkenstocks and didn’t shave. They were hobbyists and obsessive DIY’ers. Now more and more people are doing it.

    So what are the triggers for this activity? What does it demand of companies in terms of marketing? That’s where I hope to go with the idea… Hope you’ll follow along.

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