15 years ago, you could forgive a company for thinking that a Web site was something they needed to have because everyone else had one. But by the end of the dot-com boom, pretty well everyone had realized that a corporate Web site was much more than just an online business card or brochure. Today, a company’s Web site is one of its most important assets, simply because it’s the first point of contact with potential customers.
Unfortunately, when it comes to talking to those potential customers, many companies are still missing the mark, and enterprise software vendors are among the worst offenders.Instead of talking to you, they’re talking at you. Here are 6 ways they’re doing it.
If you’re developing a tagline, a good rule of thumb is to analyze the claim you’re making and think about whether any of your competitors would ever claim the opposite. If the answer is no, you need a better tagline. For example, a software vendor might use the classic three-word tagline structure and come up with something like “Flexible. Powerful. Efficient.” Since no vendor would claim to be rigid, weak, and wasteful, it’s neither memorable nor effective.
Shouldn’t the same rule apply to other communications?
Apparently not, it would seem. Vendor Web sites are chock full of unsupported claims that sound good, but don’t mean much. For example, almost every vendor’s site claims that the vendor is an “industry leader.” But what does that mean? How is it measured? Who decides? And more to the point, if every vendor is an industry leader, is that claim really going to help you decide?
What you want to know is what sets the vendor apart, and how that affects you. For example, if you run a financial services company and you’re looking for accounting software, are you going to pay more attention to a generic “industry leader” or to the “leading provider of accounting software for financial services firms?”
Probably the latter, right? And if that vendor backs up the claim with some hard information about their expertise and ties it into your business, so much the better.
But most vendors, content to wow you with their leadership, don’t do that. Why not?
Vendor Web sites are full of descriptions of businesses. Businesses facing challenges. Regular businesses becoming best-run businesses. Businesses applying best practices to achieve explosive growth. Businesses in turmoil. Businesses suffering in a weak economy. Businesses burdened by regulation.
But the only business you care about is your own.
This may sound picky, but to me, these generic descriptions sound a little too prescriptive. They sound like the vendor, without even asking what your business is actually doing, knows what it should be doing. Like without understanding where you want your business to go, they know where it should go.
If you would only implement their solutions.
And in their defense, many vendors deal with hundreds or thousands of companies—certainly enough to see what successful businesses (and unsuccessful ones) have in common.
But having things in common doesn’t make businesses the same. Your business has its fair share of unique characteristics, and you’re more keenly aware of them than a vendor will ever be.
So isn’t it easier on the ears when a vendor asks what you need? When they acknowledge that your business has its own problems and its own requirements? When they ask you what you want instead of telling you what “businesses” need?
If vendors aren’t telling you what you need, they’re probably telling you how good they are. Industry-leading this, best-of-breed that, and redefined the other. They’re almost daring you to speak ill of the software they’re so proud of. And pride in your work is great, but the problem with this approach is that it implies that the software is perfect, and it’s your business that has the problems.
But facts are facts. No solution is going to do 100% of what you need it to do. You’re going to have to make some compromises, and so is the vendor. In other words, the “best fit” solution is the one that comes closest to doing what you need with the least amount of headache. And vendors know that. The chest-beating tone is just that—a tone. But it does create an impression of how you’ll be treated as one of their customers.
So why not change the tone? Wouldn’t you prefer to hear that a vendor has a great piece of software and that they’ll work with you to integrate it into your business as smoothly as possible? Wouldn’t you rather feel like you’re working with your vendor and not for them?
I thought so.
I see this one all the time. Vendors start by extolling the virtues of their solutions, then they make a bunch of claims about what those solutions will do for your business, and finally they throw a laundry list of features at you in the hopes that you’ll recognize what you need. But they rarely connect the dots.
The problem is that many vendors approach things backwards. They developed all kinds of neat features to (presumably) solve common business problems. So when they tell you that a feature exists, they think you’ll a) connect it to the problem it was designed to solve, b) immediately see its value, and c) recognize the benefit they claim it brings.
A more effective approach is to just spell it out. Rather than claiming that a solution “manages customer interactions, from contact data and history to calendaring and tasks,” (for example) a vendor might explain that when a customer calls the support department, your rep can see what products they have, what problems they’ve had in the past, and what other reps have told the customer. The call goes smoothly (and quickly), the customer feels valued, you save money, etc., etc.
It takes just a few extra words (or a short video) to explicitly connect a feature to a real world problem, connect the problem to a solution, and connect the solution to a benefit. And as a potential customer, you now know a lot more about what you’re buying.
Again, wouldn’t you rather deal with a vendor that goes out of its way to give you all the facts?
The problems I’ve listed so far all assume that you’ve actually found something like the information you’re looking for. But a number of vendor Web sites commit the cardinal sin of making information hard to find in the first place. You can find examples of this easily enough, so rather than listing some, let me just say this:
You should never have to work to find the information you want on a vendor’s Web site. That’s the vendor’s job.
Every vendor should be doing everything in its power to make sure that all the information you could possibly want is available, easy to find, and easy to act on. From information about solutions, to feature lists, demos, trial versions, references, testimonials, contact information, and especially purchasing information, it’s up to the vendor to make sure you find it. Not the other way ’round.
That issue of responsibility brings me to the common thread in all of these problems: vendors assume you care. About them. And they’re not wrong. They’re just going about things the wrong way.
What they’re doing is assuming you’re willing to slog through reams of marketing material to get at the information you want, convince yourself that their solutions are right for you, and buy.
You, on the other hand, care about whether vendors’ solutions can address your specific problems. You care whether the vendors can deliver what they promise—on time and within your budget. You care whether they’re going to support you before, during, and after your implementation.
So why aren’t they telling you those things? In concrete terms, and in language that’s targeted at you?
Do you feel that vendors aren’t addressing your needs on their websites? Are you frustrated by sites that don’t speak to you? If you’re a vendor and you feel like your company does a good job of communicating with customers, how are you doing it?
Great article. I think you are right. As a software company you have to build the American Idol version of your business more then ever. what I mean by that is the Vendors are like the judges, opinionated, know it all but they do have an inside view and front row seats to what it takes to pick a star ( we do know are strenghts and weaknesses and our competitors but we might not care to say it too loud). The audience gets to vote and at best we can influence them. They are very savvy and know what they like. In the meantime if we are smart we can create some form of entertainement around the process, video being one, webinars may be another. Thanks for digging through these sites to provide examples. We have some too!
[…] feel obliged to lend my crusty shell to another blogger this morning. Mr. Rahal just penned a piece taking vendors to task for what really amounts to the well-recognized phenomenon of uncreative […]
Interesting. Life is not about oneself, but those around her/him. Place smiles of contentment and peace on those faces around you and then you will see your see yourself. By the way it will not be a gamble in life.
Businesses that require marketing require:
- a better product
- to develop a improved customer trust relationships
- an overcoming of product weaknesses without mention thereof.
I deal with a number of companies, those that suceed the best are those that need not to advertise. However they have developed a trusting relationship.
Price has little to do with matters pertaining to purchase. If prices are necessary, then trust does not prevail, hence the product 95% of the time does not interest me….except when it comes to gasoline! :~)
Oh i like the article; let me mention the following as well:
1. Successful marketing strategies require an in depth structural development that involves a clear understanding of the business platform.
2. However, this can only be developed on a strong human capital base, guess you see where am heading to.
nevertheless, thank you for that discussion, hope it will benefit many.
Good article and much to the point. Software cannot be all things to everyone. Find the one that provides the functionality to improve your business and be sure the pople behind the software can help your organization grow with it.
I feel this is a superficial overview of the real issues of the problems vendors cause in our departments. There is a better overview at www.processgenie.com
and the discussion at: http://blog.processgenie.com/business-process-blog/bid/18212/Point-2-Don-t-start-from-a-software-or-a-software-vendors-perspective-Part-1
though it is specific to BPM vendor. I think (as does this article) there are clear and concrete ways to prevent the vendors from helping us down own self made path to ruin.
Very good article that reveals the truth of what occurs with software vendors of business solutions as well as in so many other aspects of our culture. It reminds me of the old adage, “the difference between a used car sales person and a software sales person is the person selling cars knows they are lying.”
Ultimately as buyers it’s our responsibility to purchase a solution that suits all of their criteria. It helps when selecting vendors that are about NO vendor lock-in, there’s access to the source code if change is necessary, and is total cost of ownership (TCO) is a major criteria. It sounds like Open Source enterprise software to me. Market leaders are not always the best solution.