NetSuite: Hyperbole and the credibility gap

NetSuite: Hyperbole and the credibility gap

Summary: Let's face it, enterprise software is pretty dry, but sometimes there's drama -- even if it's kind of lame.


Let's face it, enterprise software is pretty dry stuff. Still, sometimes drama creeps in through the cracks, even if it's a bit lame and requires decoding to understand.

Last December, NetSuite sponsored the Sapience conference, which included a shoot-out between its own enterprise software and SAP's Business byDesign. Some observers thought the event was a set up against SAP, which was not in attendance. Blogger Dennis Byron raises these issues on the Seeking Alpha website:

[H]ere are some questions that could help us decide whether the press release described a fair fight or an ambush:

  • Who wrote the demo script and how was he or she compensated?...
  • How was the demo structured? I could make Quickbooks look good against R/3 depending on what I wanted to demonstrate.
  • And how was it scored? Netsuite said there were "five categories of performance: Design, Usability, Functional Aspects, Technical Aspects, and Other. The weight of each category in the final tally was established independently by each judge." Who decided the categories? What do technical aspects matter in a SaaS environment? What is "Other?" And what does "established independently by each judge" mean?

On the other hand, two observers who were present commented that NetSuite won the contest fairly. Respected blogger, Jon Reed, and independent analyst, David Dobrin, each responded to the Seeking Alpha post by favoring NetSuite. I know both these guys personally and trust their judgment to report events accurately.

Here's David's blog comment giving NetSuite the winning edge:

It is true that the people giving the demos were not professionals and that an artful and committed BuyD person would have brought out its virtues more effectively than the college student who did it at the shootout. But I think NetSuite won fair and square.

Jon is a bit more reserved in his evaluation, but does not contradict David's view:

A more potent question is: was the "shootout" itself a fair fight? As an attendee, I must say I was pretty surprised to see that it was indeed a pretty fair presentation....

[S]ome of the press releases I saw after the shootout seemed to proclaim this as a resounding victory for NetSuite, which was not what I observed.

For the sake of argument (whether true or not), let's give NetSuite the benefit of the doubt and say they won the competition and that it was a fair contest.

[Update 1/9/10: Considering all the facts, it clearly was not a fair contest.]

Now, on to the main point.

Press release silliness. Now, look at the title of NetSuite's latest press release on the event, which begins "NETSUITE TOPS SAP IN ENTERPRISE SOFTWARE:"

The title deftly implies that on an overall basis, NetSuite is "better" than SAP in general. The release title leaps away from the shoot-out competition into a broader realm of generic contrasts and implications regarding SAP and NetSuite products. Given the nature of enterprise software, such implications are nonsensical hyperbole.

In the enterprise, "tops" is a function of software fit relative to a specific customer's business needs. In the absence of context, it's not correct to issue a blanket statement saying that one legitimate company is generically tops over another.

Private advice to NetSuite: Guys, you know that claiming (or even implying) world domination over SAP makes no sense because you're an itty bitty company compared to them. Nonetheless, you have a great product that fits a particular niche and have every reason to stand tall and be proud based on the real merits of what you sell. It's time to give up the cheap shots because they make you look...well, like a cheap date.

Private advice to SAP: Man, how many times must we have the same conversation? These upstart companies are aggressively kicking your collective marketing butt with sheer pluck, scrappiness, and creativity. Yes, I know you're much larger and must consider your reputation, but maybe it's time to take off the suit and tie and fight back. You know, sometimes gentlemen and ladies lose to street fighters.

What do you think about enterprise software street fighting? Leave a talkback comment and share your thoughts.

[Thanks to fellow Enterprise Irregular and Enterprise 2.0 superstar, Susan Scrupski, for bringing the press release to my attention. Image from iStockPhoto.]

Topics: Enterprise Software, SAP, Software

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  • you neglected to include my feedback

    for full disclosure I had posted on Dennis' original post

    "wow, Dennis you must be hanging around some ex CRM types who are helping you polish your hyperbole. Firstly how does a vendor 1/40th the size of another really ambush it? How is it an ambush when you have been telling the world you have a product for years now - if this was a mobile device or a car, paparaazi would have long ago exposed it.

    For the record, Helmuth did not tell Ray or I who was doing the demo till the day. It was not on his site or in our check in materials. If you watch the video that Dennis posted both Ray and I went to lengths to point out SAP was at a disadvantage given the network, not having their own demo team etc.

    Having said that I look forward to such shootouts where SAP gets to put its best foot forward. It will be fantastic to see them step up and provide a single SLA and transparent up time, availability etc. No hiding behind its SI, hosting, apps management partners.

    And trust me for the first couple of years SAP will be ambushed and mauled. It's the nature of catch up products...especially those that are not-so-fast followers"
  • also fact check

    For full disclosure reporting, since you were not there, and neither was Dennis Byron, perhaps you should confirm facts with Helmuth Guembel, the conference organizer

    you may find "NetSuite sponsored a shoot-out" incorrect..

    I believe NetSuite was one of the sponsors for the entire conference. The shootout was one of, I think, 20 sessions.I was only there 2nd day and there were 8 on that day.
    • Semantics

      Let's not argue definitions of "sponsored".

      Personally, I think the shoot-out is kind of silly -- what objective point does it actually prove, given what appears to be a relatively ad hoc and cavalier approach to the whole thing.

      But this post is not about the shoot out at all -- it focuses on a press release headline that is misleading. I've written in the past about NetSuite being misleading in a similar manner.
      • It's about reporting integrity

        You were not at the conference. You do not appear to have spoken to the conference organizer. Semantics or not, how can you make the statement? In fairness to NetSuite, you should check.
        • The post gives NetSuite the benefit of the doubt...

          ...on the shoot out itself.

          The main focus and point of the post is on the misleading press release.
  • RE: NetSuite: Hyperbole and the credibility gap

    It appears that since NetSuite grew up under Oracle's wing, they picked up a few Oracle marketing tacticts as well.

  • the relative rank of enterprise applications


    Great post. I think that the key point is:

    <b>In the enterprise, ?tops? is a function of software fit relative to a specific customer?s business needs. In the absence of context, it?s not correct to issue a blanket statement saying that one legitimate company is generically tops over another.</b>

    I just completed a project in which an organization bought and implemented far too much "system" than it could handle. They now have a Ferrari but never had driving lessons and, to continue with the analogy, are crashing into everything.

    Organizations would do well to ask themselves two questions:

    * How much can they handle?
    * What do they truly need?
  • To clarify a point

    The focal point of this post is ultimately NetSuite's marketing message and tactics.

    Since I was not present at the shoot-out, I only grudgingly accepted the claim that it was fair, in order to move to the main point.

    The entire shoot out scenario, including the press release, was just nonsense. It would be great to see a legitimate comparison that compares the products in a serious manner.

    Although my intent obviously did not emerge sufficiently in the writing, the post title and associated image make my position quite clear: NetSuite's marketing is sometimes disingenuous and should be called out.
    • Why? which case why did you write such a piece? Especially given you have changed both the image and the 'sponsored' ref without drawing attention to the updating?
  • Lofty Statement...

    An anology: If I went out in my front yard, threw a paper airplane and then said that Garry Air Indistries has just topped Continental. Probably some other BS about "Speed of deployment and number of routes (around my yard)".

    This isn't even a streetfighter, more like a sucker punch.

    • Agreed

      That's why I wrote this post -- NetSuite's marketing effort appears fact-based on the surface and sounds nice, but really is not.
      • Can you tell me why its not really fact based.

        An unfair contest??? because there was a marketing no show. It sounds like there was more substance then marketing and presentation, and NetSuite's won.

        It also sounds like, if SAP's marketing team did turn up, they might of overshadowed the substance with (better funded) marketing/presentation and won, would that have been fair???

        From the above perspective, the challenge sounds fair, it also sounds like your saying, had SAP <b>HAD</b> its marketing team there it would have been a different story, hence marketing would have won the day and not substance.

        Or are the results actually wrong and NetSuite's did not beat SAP overall and therefore, the corresponding articles are misleading??

        On another note, as a reporter/blogster, you should know all about hyped up/dramatic/misleading titles, it gets peoples attention, the big boys do it all the time, hell some of you guys on ZDNet are prime advocates.

        What am i getting at, well if the title your talking about is misleading, then the results that the headline is based upon is also misleading, and therefore, its the comparative process that's at fault and should be questioned and not the resulting headlines.

        Or do you personal think SAP is better hence your blog, which i might add, actually questions the results and not the headline:

        "That's why I wrote this post -- NetSuite's marketing effort appears fact-based on the surface and sounds nice, but really is not"

        the results show NetSuite came out on top in this event, or don't they?
    • No comparison

      Did you compare your Garry Air Industries "paper planes" against Continental Airlines "Airliners" in a head to head?

      Are you suggesting that NetSuite's just went out and published a baseless theory based on falsities:

      "I went out in my front yard, threw a paper airplane and then said that Garry Air Indistries has just topped Continental."

      Or are you suggesting bigger is always better, and that small can never do better (its just to small)?

      Or both.

      The problem with analogies is, they are too open to interpretation, hence, misleading.
  • NetSuite v SAP v Simple Cloud Apps


    Nicholas G Carr needs to update and publish a new version of his great work: IT Doesn't Matter. Why? Because the sad truth is this: monolithic on-premise IT and business apps are being replaced by monolithic cloud computing SaaS apps. It's the same s*** in a different bucket.

    Once the nonsense and obsession about hosting - sorry cloud computing - has run out of steam, I hope that we'll have a debate about what really matters:

    1. Right Brain Led: Design-First, Build-Second
    2. Simple Cloud Apps Built in Days and Weeks
    3. Thinking and Acting Like a Web Designer
    4. Building Everything on Trusted Clouds
    5. Killing Complex IT Thinking
    6. Hiring CIOs from Business not IT