Enterprise software marketing: time for a rethink

Enterprise software marketing: time for a rethink

Summary: It's always nice to see two representatives from the same company writing independently of one another yet looking for much the same answer. In this instance I'm referring to SAPpers and fellow Irregulars Charles Zedlewski and Thomas Otter.

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It's always nice to see two representatives from the same company writing independently of one another yet looking for much the same answer. In this instance I'm referring to SAPpers and fellow Irregulars Charles Zedlewski and Thomas Otter. Both are highly articulate and quick to defend their company's position (as they should do) but on this occasion, I wonder if they might have touched upon the sensitive nerve that is enterprise software marketing. Charles first:

I find most software product marketing to fluctuate between the puerile to the abstruse.

The abstruse bit actually gets me more than the puerile does. For example, most product brochures do an amazing job filling 2-4 pages with words and the obligatory marketecture diagram, but still saying next to nothing about what the product actually does or how it will specifically benefit the buyer. My belief is this is a contributor to sales inefficiencies because now it takes 2 flights from a sales rep and a demo from a sales engineer until the customer has the first clue what the product does or what to compare it to.

Add in dull, impenetrable, jargon laden, expensive, wasteful. Charles wonders whether a wiki might work where:

...readers could comment on it or ask questions and the product managers, marketers or users can clarify and enhance until all the marketing-speak is scrubbed out and you're left with a lucid description.

Vinnie Mirchandani gets really enthusiastic:

great idea..and then go further and discourage printing paper even when finalized.....have prospects just download it...HP will hate it but will also be green...and even better evolve it to merge with product demos and discourage first and second meeting sales travel

I reckon Thomas has already found a key part of the solution. He sings the praises of Sun employees Linda and Dan. These folk have done a bang up job of telling the world, in a very subtle way, just how great Atlassian is as a wiki provider through the medium of a 6-minute video. In doing so, they are telling a story that anyone can understand. Thomas says:

Says a lot about customer engagement if they build this sort of thing off their own bat, and then share it with the world. Goodness indeed. It means that your marketing people can focus on the important strategic stuff like making cool t-shirts.

Steady on Thomas, you'll be giving those marketing types wild ideas ;)

The downside is that it is remarkably difficult to get customers to talk. I had this same discussion with Hugh MacLeod over Twitter:

Most people I know with valid success stories want to keep it private ;-)

The problem arises because customers either see case references as a bargaining chip in the cut and thrust of the sales negotiation or they mistakenly believe that what they've acquired provides a competitive advantage. Nonsense. Software does not bestow competitive advantage anymore than owning a Fender Stratocaster makes you a great rock guitarist. It's what you do with it that makes the difference.

Taking up Charles idea would be a first step towards ridding the market of a massive resource waste perpetuated by a fiction that gets factored into the final price the customer pays.  I think we can all agree on that.

Topic: Enterprise Software

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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8 comments
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  • Prepared video and downloadable brochures.

    That'll produce customer excitement! Discussions in person have long been over-rated.

    Also, HP will be happy about the downloadable materials. All that printer use to make the material available to all those who will not accept it on-screen.
    Anton Philidor
  • so sad...

    "Software does not bestow competitive advantage anymore than owning a Fender Stratocaster makes you a great rock guitarist. It???s what you do with it that makes the difference."

    This is a terribly defeatist attitude. I wish people would stop posting such nonsense. Just because most enterprise software vendors couldn't innovate their way out of a paper bag doesn't mean it's not possible.
    Erik Engbrecht
    • That's not what that quote is saying

      It's saying that although some software companies might be capable of developing a top-quality "Stratocaster" product, it will still be of no use to customers who don't understand how to use it to their full advantage.
      Omch'Ar
      • yes it is

        How exactly are systems that customers don't understand and can't use to their advantage top-quality products?

        I have a hard time applying the label "top-quality" to something that is a complete design failure.
        Erik Engbrecht
    • Not defeatist, realistic

      ERP vendors tend to market their products as silver bullets that will solve all your business problems. Unfortunately a piece of software is just a tool and it IS how you use it that is important.

      This is not to say that I don't think that there are serious question marks over the quality of current ERP products. If you want to bring an ERP salesman/consultant to total panic try the following approach:

      Customer: Your product has a database designed according to the very highest standards of current practice?

      Consultant: Of course.

      Customer: Then all the necessary integrity constraints are built into the database and it is perfectly safe for us to update the tables directly without fear of corrupting the database?

      Consultant: (starting to panic) No, no, you have to put everything in a flat file and load it using a batch process that goes through several stages of validation.

      Customer: This sounds like something we used to do on the mainframe.

      Consultant: No wait, we have an API.

      Customer: So we have to write a program that does everything one record at time, in much the same way as we worked in COBOL on mid range systems back in the 1980s? What happened to the power of set operations that the SQL-DBMS sitting behind your product ought to offer? Do you have anything up to date in your product at all?

      To be fair, I believe one or two vendors have some more flexible approaches but in general the products fail miserably to make use of the simplicity and elegance of the relational approach. Given the current enthusiasm for SOA, web services and OO, I suspect that things will get much worse before they get better.

      By the way, I do own a Stratocaster, and no, I am not Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix or Richard Thompson.
      jorwell
      • Still Defeatist

        "Unfortunately a piece of software is just a tool and it IS how you use it that is important."

        The problem is how to use a piece of software to achieve competitive advantage is seldom even defined in a meaningful manner, when it reality the software should be designed in such a way where it is fairly obvious.

        Granting a business a competitive advantage by inserting a piece of enterprise software should be possible.
        Erik Engbrecht
        • Demystifying IT

          "A man provided with paper, pencil, and rubber, and subject to strict discipline, is in effect a universal Turing Machine." - Alan Turing.

          So a business could, given enough well disciplined personnel do anything they currently do with computers with people.

          Therefore the driving force for competitiveness are the decisions the business make and how they exploit the potential for automated decision making that computers offer. If they can describe the rules by which people could perform the task without having to think, then they can describe how the computer system should work.

          In the line of business I'm in we are one of the very few companies making money from what our competitors generally consider a loss leader they have to offer to compete in the market place. The computer system supports the business rules put in place by the business, but the business decided what the rules are.

          If a vendor comes to you and says their software can work miracles then what they are saying is that their software exhibits unpredictable behaviour (that's what a miracle is is, yes?) and therefore is basically useless.

          So, on the whole, I would say off the shelf competitive advantage doesn't make sense.
          jorwell
  • Just a small cartoon about marketing...

    see:
    http://geekandpoke.typepad.com/geekandpoke/2007/09/marketing-is-ma.html

    Bye,
    Oliver
    oliver.widder@...