By Judith Hurwitz, CEO
In the years I have been in the technology space I have witnessed what seems like every vendor who has passed through the market, hawking their wares and positioning their technology. More and more I am convinced that marketers simply don’t get it. I recently was helping a vendor (who shall remain nameless) position a new product. They started by going through their existing pitch. About half way through I couldn’t stand it any more. “Please stop,” I said. “Have you used this pitch with prospects?” “Of course,” the marketing maven said. “Let me guess, the CIO and his team didn’t ask many questions. They listened politely.” The marketing VP seemed surprised – he nodded in agreement; yes, that is exactly how the scenario progressed. “Did you make the sale?” I already knew the answer – well, no.
Without being in the room or knowing the customer, it was obvious what was wrong. The vendor was using so many acronyms, so much jargon, and so many platitudes that the customer had no idea what the vendor was trying to sell. Our poor marketing VP thought he said, “Our new improved product will solve all of your problems because we are a better solution than anyone else in the market. It is easier to implement, and easier to use. The product will enable your business people to be better able to compete in the market and save money. Therefore if we work together your company will have a competitive advantage in the market. We will make you strong and better!”
In reality, this is what the customer heard: “Our XML Performance Mapper BCL is the top accelerator of the massive BFD that protects your CMBL against incursion of BRI. Unlike other BCL solutions, our offerings will stop the massive inability of your company to achieve consistent DXL capabilities. This offering will help you link people, process and technology to its fullest capacity!”
I don’t know about you, but the previous paragraph makes absolutely no sense – and you will be relieved to hear that it was not meant to mean anything. But think about it. If you are selling complicated technology to a high level audience, throwing around jargon like this is like speaking a foreign language that no one understands. And you know the first principle of good marketing is that no one will buy what they don’t understand.
What’s more, prospective customers will not ask you to explain the jargon you are feeling so cleaver about. For example, when you say EM instead of Enterprise Management, it doesn’t help your prospect understand what you are selling. When you use AD instead of applications development, your prospect might think you are talking about Animal Diseases. Your prospects are not necessarily going to tell you how stupid they are feeling. They simply will show you the door and look for a solution from someone who can speak plainly.
So, here is my prescription for good marketing of complex technologies:
- Never, never reduce your product category or your product names into a set of acronyms. Use your time to explain your value without resorting to short cuts.
- Focus on customer benefit. I can’t tell you how many times I have to ask vendors what problems a technology solves for its customers. What is the benefit? Once a customer implements a technology how does the organization change? Is the company better able to serve its own customers?
- Stay away from clichés. While you may be very sincere in talking about your focus on people, process, and technology – the phrase is so over-used that it loses it meaning.
- Find a way to make your customer a hero. The best marketing programs I have seen have a hidden agenda. If your product can be designed and marketed to ensure that your customer gets a promotion because of the success of your technology, they will follow you to the end of the earth and tell everyone they meet that they must use your technology. PowerSoft is the best example that I remember. The PowerSoft graphical user environment was not the most sophisticated product in terms of architecture but it was able to turn a COBOL programmer with no future into a client/server guru. Now, that’s successful marketing!
My bottom line is that marketing is an undervalued skill. Companies mistake good acronyms for good marketing. I challenge the marketers out there to start talking to your customers and prospects differently. Lose the jargon! Remember, it’s about customer benefit and value. How will your technology help these human beings who are just trying to make a living and justify their value to their bosses for another day? Let’s start a dialog here. Send me your acronyms, your jargon, and your clichés! Maybe we can launch a startling new trend!