One of my biggest daily challenges is to stay genuinely interested when a partner gives a corporate overview. Every company in enterprise software claims they are unique because they lower costs, mitigate risks, and increase productivity for IT. Differentiating is a really tough challenge in this industry.
I've observed roughly four ways that enterprise software companies try to differentiate:
- Product Trial (or Proof of Concept)
- Customer References
Many IT buyers these days insist on a test drive before a significant purchase. As might be expected, many vendors will try to game the evaluation by biasing evaluation criteria and weighting to their product strengths. All in all, heavy reliance on product trials to differentiate is extremely expensive and can have some downside risks. For example, saavy competitors may use their own efforts sell around the technical evaluators, positioning their own solution as superior in high level vision. The reward for focusing too much on a successful product trial may actually be to get pigeon holed into a lower level feature function offering. Also, there is significantly more risk relying on product trials since it is more challenging to set the agenda on value perception. While product trials may be necessary, the task of differentiating must be performed at a higher level in the sales process.Demo
Giving a good product demo for enterprise software is not easy. A common problem for presenters is to treat the demo as a training session for the audience. The purpose of a sales demo is not to educate the audience on every last feature of the product. Sure, features are shown in the demo -- but with the sole purpose of convincing the audience there is unique
value. The demo should focus on clearly proving the product is unique at solving relevant customer problems. It is essential that you demo capabilities no one else can offer. Another common challenge in giving demos is that value must be demonstrated from the audience's perspective
, not with respect to the previous release, not from the viewpoint of the product group, not from the perspective of how hard it was to code. One take away from Guy Kawasaki's The Art of the Start
is to always answer the questions "so what?" and "for example." I've found these two questions really helpful in focusing on keeping proper focus on audience perspective.Messaging
Really great marketing results in messages that everyone can easily understand and
that leverages your competitors own positioning against them. For example, when I was Oracle in the early 1990's, one of the key messages was around portability. You could run the Oracle RDBMS the same way on any operating system platform. In the Oracle Tools Division, we took that mantra and applied it towards client GUI's. You could use our Oracle tools the same way on Motif, Windows, Mac, character-mode terminals, etc. We competed against PowerSoft and they differentiated against us brilliantly with their messaging. Their message was that they focused purely on one GUI -- Windows. They managed to use our own messaging against us. Hats off to them.Customer References
An all too often overlooked means of differentiating is via customers. When I evaluate partners, I invest most of my time following up on their customer references. I find out an incredible amount of information from talking to a vendor's customers and I have a much higher comfort level in my understanding of their product offering. Cultivating solid customer references is hard work and requires constant attention. However, of all the possible ways to differentiate, it offers the most sustainable advantage.