Most software technology benefits boil down to either:
- We help people be more effective. (Productivity)
- We help computers run faster. (Performance)
- We help people be more effective at making computers run faster. (Performance via productivity, or vice-versa)
My views on the marketing of productivity benefits are similar to what I wrote about the marketing of performance:
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. …
- It can allow you to do something that would be impractical otherwise (usually because of expense).
These benefits are easily confused.
… “simpler” is a benefit that should not be overlooked. It speaks to all of operational cost, operational risk, and resource availability. …
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.
By way of contrast, I am skeptical of positioning better performance purely as a matter of cost savings.
Most of the same reasoning applies to productivity/personal effectiveness benefits as well. In particular:
- Doing the heretofore impossible is often a good thing …
- … but of course it wasn’t really impossible before, just impractical or too expensive.
- If the customer has already determined that something is important enough to invest in doing, then doing it better is likely to be appealing.
- Simplicity is great. People like to hear that their jobs will be easier, with reductions in scut work and/or in opportunities for failure.
- Cost savings are trickier. People don’t always like technology that eliminates jobs — especially their own.
Beyond that, selling and marketing software that helps people do their jobs better depends on:
- Who is directly helped by the software?
- Who cares about that?
For much enterprise application software, the answers are something like:
- Low-status workers do their jobs better with the help of the software.
- Their bosses like that idea, and hence buy the stuff.
That can work fine. But when users have enough status and agency to resist, things get trickier; if the stuff doesn’t get used, then it earns the label of “shelfware”, and further sales can be hard.
In particular, software that helps somebody invest effort so that somebody else can later do their job more easily can be problematic, because the users who are supposed to put in the initial effort keep finding reasons not to bother. Examples of categories that were sunk by this problem include (and these overlap):
- Knowledge management.
- Various things that help programmers avoid incurring technical debt.
- Various kinds of taxonomy builders.
Sales force automation (SFA) software is a particularly instructive case:
- When SFA was a tool for salespeople to fill out forms so that they could be managed more effectively, purchases were enthusiastic but adoption disappointed.
- When tools were added to makes the salespeople actually sell better, the SFA category prospered, and indeed laid the groundwork for CRM (Customer Relationship Management).
In contrast, software that obviously helps techies do their own jobs better can be very easy to market — just offer free trials, get the word out somehow, and let the prospects do the rest. Back in the 1980s, this made for a very nice telesales business model, at a time when most software had to be sold in person. And that was before the internet era; now, free downloads and trials are everywhere.
Of course, I’m making some assumptions here about the offering, specifically that:
- Price looks good against value.
- Price looks good against users’ available budgets.
- Costs and risks of adoption, other than price, are minimal.
But if those things are the case, the software business can be remarkably simple.
So to a first approximation:
- Software that helps people be more effective is an appealing proposition, but …
- … only if actual users are likely to cooperate.
Thus, user buy-in is central to productivity software success.
If you think about it, I just made the case — again — that product management is central to sales and marketing success. That could be a subject for a whole other post …
- I sometimes list three views of the essence of IT. Two of the three are about productivity.