Conventional wisdom says if you build a better mousetrap you’ll catch more mice. The same would seem true in the cable industry when it comes to technology; offer better technology solutions (along with content) and you’ll get more subscribers. VOD servers, better DVR guides, stretch bandwidth for more HDTV channels – you get the idea. But even with all these new technological "mousetraps" how many "mice" are we really catching? Give ’em some cheese Perhaps the quickest, easiest way for tech vendors to increases revenue and retain clients is to create a comprehensive customer support system that helps the cable company engineers and tech support who will actually be using the technology on a regular basis hit the ground running. When I was at Charter I had to deal with two VOD technology vendors: one offered widespread tech support and on-site training for their product, one didn’t. Guess which one I decided to go with? The one that had 24/7 tech support and helped our bottom line of course! People in the industry will tell you, it’s not just about having the latest, greatest technology; it’s about the total solution support, customer service and training a vendor provides. In today’s market it’s not enough just to have a better mousetrap. Differentiation is key. Co-brand the rat race The cable industry moves too fast and too furious for tech vendors to go it alone, so it only makes sense for your organization to seek some sort of co-production/co-branding opportunity with an established MSO. By establishing a co-branding relationship in exchange for say, cross-channel promotional spots, you can make like that lovable mouse in Fantasia and start calling the shots more often instead of chasing your tail. One such example was when HDNet co-founder Mark Cuban began promoting HDTV. Cuban painted a picture of what a product could do, which led to better understanding an acceptance. Because of Cuban’s HDTV advocacy, the HD transition accelerated rapidly, with many more people saying yes to HDTV and HD programming which, in turn, has led to many more cable execs saying yes to HDTV technology and training. From modest to mighty Two other things tech vendors need in order to go from modest to mighty in the cable industry are the leeway and patience to allow cable industry execs to realize the usefulness and full potential of their products. When I was working at Incanta we teamed with Brainsurgery to do research on how cable execs make decisions about buying new technology, and what we found was very illuminating. The execs we spoke with said that, in addition to weighing a new technology’s potential affect on their customers and companies, the most important factor was how it made them look. Think about that for a minute. Most cable execs don’t invest in new technology because they’re afraid of buying something that’ll be obsolete six months later and looking bad. This has huge ramifications on how, and when, new technologies are brought to market, making it even more imperative that your company not only has the best product available, but the best customer training and support system in place as well. The Tom & Jerry scenario Another problem you may encounter as a tech vendor is when an MSO says they’d rather build a comparable product than buy yours. I call these "Tom & Jerry" scenarios because, similar to the cartoon in which Tom tries to catch Jerry before Jerry reaches his mouse hole, your company must convince the prospective client to buy your product before they decide to build their own. Many senior cable execs would argue, with the support of their technology and engineering staffs, that building a product in-house is a more streamlined, cost-effective method of developing and implementing new technologies. But what they fail to recognize is that producing technology in-house usually leads to increased costs for cable companies because it requires more people, more costs, and more time and doesn’t utilize the open market model that tech vendors operate in. Consequently, in an effort to minimize costs, cable companies that attempt to produce technology in-house may end up keeping things from going to market that ultimately help consumers. Whether you’re in the business of building mousetraps or new technology for the cable industry one thing is certain-you can’t catch any mice without some cheese. Maggie Bellville is a partner in the Atlanta-based executive search firm Carter Baldwin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.