In my day job I get exposed to Vendor marketing pitches a fair bit. It can be in person one on one or at a conference, or it can be through marketing reading material; but there appears to be one common theme: they all, almost without exception, focus on the product they’re trying to sell, and its features.
In other words, they are dumping on me a solution, while doing almost nothing to help me to understand whether the problem they’re addressing is relevant to us and our customers. The included obligatory “problem statements”, almost without exception, are too high-level unspecific and do not answer this. And this is just wrong.
Allow me to elaborate. Every time, when analysing a pitch, I land up going through the same process:
- Build a mental model of the product that’s being pitched and how it may fit into our architecture – that helps immensely to fill the unknown gaps and provide some reasonably feasible answers to the questions not directly answered during the pitch
- Attempt to map the product and its features to the known needs we or our customers have
- Estimate the potential benefits and associated costs and effort, and make a call on whether or not it is worth the time to investigate any further
At which point I am left out with a couple of questions hanging heavy in the air:
- Was this product designed for the types of customers that we have? This is very important, because it ultimately defines the direction that the development of the product takes – it may align with what we’re doing today, but if it was ultimately targeting a different audience, it is inevitable that our paths will diverge in future. Which is Bad.
- In designing this product/feature, were you considering the needs of the end-customer and equally the needs of a Managed Service Provider (MSP), such as ourselves? This means extensive support for efficient multi-tenancy, including security, scalability, performance SLAs, reporting, programmatic interfaces, SP licensing, and so on, which, while almost irrelevant to the end-customer, is a “make or break” crucial for an MSP.
In my experience, these two points are rarely addressed adequately and almost never together, despite being so critical to the go/no-go decision (and ultimately, success of us as an MSP and your, dear $Vendor, customer), that it is not even funny.
What I would love to see/hear during the pitch
Disclaimer: I know that the proposed below may not be feasible for some types of wider audience marketing presentations, but I totally don’t see why it can’t be done in one-on-one discussions.
The companies who prompted the development of your product/feature, are they my (potential) customers?
I want to know a bit more about the customers who generated the requirements for your CTO, which triggered the development:
- What kind of business are they in?
- Are there particular regulatory or industry-specific challenges that they face that drive some of their key requirements you’ve taken on board?
- Are these challenges region-specific (i.e., local legislation)?
Now, these requirements that they have, what are they?
I totally accept that we don’t know everything about our customers, and am always extremely keen to learn more about their business and the things they are struggling with. After all, the better we know what we can help them with in a meaningful way, the more efficiently we can spend our product development time, and ultimately be more successful as an SP. Yes, and buy more of your stuff.
If you can share those key hot points that your product is addressing, it would help us a lot. Obtaining this information from customers is both expensive and time-consuming, but when it is available, it can help cut down so much effort that’s being currently wasted on bad products, and make a world of difference to the end-users.
What is happening in the lives of these customers, as far as your product/feature lifecycle is concerned?
We do have our own understanding of how things are developing, but we would also like to see how you see things, and planning your roadmaps, accordingly. If we buy into something, it is typically for a good while, and we need to make sure we’re rowing in the same direction. Note that the focus here is not on your roadmaps, but on your vision of how customers’ needs will be evolving.
Last, but not least: have you thought of the needs of an MSP?
And if you did, what kind of an MSP you have in mind, when considering the needs? Are they like us, when it comes to their target market and approach? Which of their requirements have you considered? What’s happening in their lives? How do your roadmaps align with them?
No easy answer
I am writing this with a clear understanding that this is not how things are set up and work today. Every time I talk about the above to our Vendors’ account teams, I get nods of agreement and a suggestion to go to the next big industry/Vendor conference, and corner their CTO team.
I could do that; but that’s not the point. I think there’s a much bigger opportunity here to up the game, or watch somebody else do it and eat your lunch.