Thursday, April 28, 2011

That Took Long Enough

It's tough to imagine that it's been eight years since Novell appointed the single least effective C-level officer in the history of modern business, John Dragoon, as its head of marketing. Today, at last, and perhaps far too late, they are free of him.

It's interesting that the chief marketing officer of a (formerly) great technology company like Novell could go 6 months without updating his blog, after having done so fairly regularly at least in the beginning. This speaks to his utter failure to move the needle even the slightest bit despite having all the time in the world and a canyon full of cash to spend.

Novell's best marketers have always been its customers. That is a sad truth, because its customers have no business being the primary marketing vehicle. It was as if Novell was content with the status quo. Rely on a fickle and often under-equipped channel to deploy and maintain increasingly complicated products (a model that should have disappeared with the emergence of NetWare 4 and NDS, since hardly anyone understood what was happening until they attended expensive training); and allow the people who know and use the products - customers - to sell the advantages over Microsoft.

At the time, Microsoft's data-center (ha!) offering was incredibly weak. No-one who did an objective and thorough evaluation of Novell vs. Microsoft for file & print services would have bothered with Microsoft until roughly 2003, at which point it was becoming clear Microsoft was doing a better job of integrating all their stuff, courting developers, and (ding ding ding) marketing - than Novell. Eight years on, John Dragoon's complete and miserable failure is evident. Novell is almost a distant memory, and even the most loyal key Novell employees and customers have jumped into Microsoft's warm waters. And guess what, it's really nowhere as bad as we had been making it out all of those years. Not now it isn't.

Dragoon is far from alone in taking the blame for Novell's inexplicable failure to dominate the enterprise IT microcomputer landscape. The board of directors has installed one feckless leader after another, and none of them seem to understand the value of what they have. Sure, they're good business people and have a lot of relationships, blah blah blah, none of that matters (or mattered, more appropriately) as we can plainly see.

But John Dragoon had a real chance to make a difference and stem the tide. He had the enthusiasm of a lot of passionate people to build upon, all of whom were begging and pleading for Novell to do a better job selling the story into the board room rather than relying on grass-roots, organic growth to occur in every customer's IT shop. The most we got out of him was some magazine ads that looked foreign to even Novell employees. Nobody had any idea what they were selling. It looked like buzzwords in search of problems. In many, many ways, Novell continually missed the mark.

It is sad to see what was a company of such bright people doing such amazing things become a wilted husk of its former self. I am glad to see Dragoon gone, but I know it's too late for it to make any difference. It's hard to know where Novell should go now, but I think we have enough data to know with certainty that this path leads nowhere for them.

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