Much of the technology I consult about boils down to performance. There are many sub-categories — parallelization, scalability, low latency, interactive response, price/performance, and more. But basically it’s about computers operating faster, within realistic resource constraints.
There are three kinds of benefits performance can offer:
- It can allow you to do things more simply and/or cost-effectively (e.g., with less hardware or less tuning).
- It can allow you to do things better. Examples include:
- Faster-loading web pages for your customers.
- Faster-responding queries for your business analysts.
- Better prices on your algorithmic trading.
- Better analytic results, perhaps from:
- Using more data.
- Running more queries.
- It can allow you to do something that would be impractical otherwise (usually because of expense).
These benefits are easily confused. When a prospect says “I can’t do X with existing technology”, what she really means is often “I can’t afford to do X well enough to matter.” When a vendor says “We make it cheap and easy to do Y”, what prospects hear is commonly “Great! Now we’ll be able to do Y within our resources and budget.”
Given the breadth of the subject, it’s hard to generalize comprehensively about the marketing of performance claims. But my observations include:
1. For “cheaper” to be a strong message, you have to be significantly cheaper in TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), not just in system acquisition/floor space/power costs. But raw performance is often not the biggest driver of cost, given:
- The cost and risk of technology adoption in immature markets, when experience and expertise are hard to come by.
- The cost and risk of technology adoption in mature markets, when expectations and switching costs may both be high.
2. Hardware/software purchase/license cost is a directly important performance consideration mainly to two classes of users:
- Those who want to do a lot more of something than they have been doing to date, and quail at the expense unless they change vehicles. But that’s in the “better/more” category of my taxonomy, not the “simpler/cheaper” one.
- Those who want to do something they couldn’t afford before. That goes in the “impractical” section.
I have real trouble thinking of a pure “we out-benchmark the other guys and so we’re cheaper” story that ever has won.
3. But “simpler” is a benefit that should not be overlooked. It speaks to all of operational cost, operational risk, and resource availability. Analytic RDBMS vendors brag about how little tuning their systems require. In both the Hadoop and NoSQL/NewSQL markets, ease of scaled-out cluster management is a major criterion.
4. An important sub-case of “better” is “do lots more”. Scenarios I run across frequently include (and these overlap a lot):
- We want to analyze a lot more data!
- We want to do a lot more analysis on our data.
- We’re hitting a wall with Oracle Standard Edition, and Oracle Enterprise Edition/Exadata cost much more than we want to pay.
5. If you think your story TRULY is “Our performance is so great it makes the otherwise impossible possible,” you’re kidding yourself. First, you have competitors, who also make it possible. Second, if what you’re newly making possible is all that bloody important, then probably people have already been making do to get it done as best they can, even in an inferior way.
Yes, I know there are a few exceptions. I invite you to mention them in the comment thread.
If you want to say “It can’t be done without us” as part of your marketing flair, be my guest. But please remember that what you’re saying isn’t actually true.
6. Overall, the most fruitful performance-related business-benefit positioning usually straddles “better” and “impractical without us.” For the richer or more sophisticated buyers, you’re “better”. For the laggards, you’re taking them by the hand and leading them to the Promised Land.
7. Actually, the middle layer of the layered messaging model may be more important than the top one. Your “metric” kinds of benefits may be clearer than your business benefit stories.
8. Anyhow, it’s hard to market on performance only, since performance stories are often hard to differentiate from each other. So the rest of your technical benefits may be what sets you apart from your close competitors. As just two examples:
- Multiple generations of data management technologies have been differentiated in large part by their associated development tools. Examples include prerelational DBMS in the early 1980s, relational DBMS in the later 1980s, and CEP/streaming tools in the present era.
- Memory-centric business intelligence tools are rarely differentiated from each other on performance grounds.