Skip the Boardroom-ware and Try Before you Buy

You work for a retailer and have been tasked with finding software to meet a certain need. Our advice? Skip the boardroom-ware and try before you buy.

What is “boardroom-ware”?

You have seen it, far too often unfortunately. Boardroom-ware is software you can’t see, or touch. You are usually shown an arcane picture the size of a postage stamp on the vendor’s website. You can’t use this software, and can’t review its workflow and screens until you contact the vendor. Since boardroom-ware has very little substance, you are usually greeted with a value statement on the website. Vendors make promises, lots of promises.

Why do some software vendors sell boardroom-ware?

Many software companies haven’t in fact invested in “productizing” their offering. They have a code-base, sure, but to make that code-base do what you need it to do, they need to do “integration” which means lengthy and costly consulting hours. Why can Salesforce.com and Google Apps offer web-configurable products and yet some software vendors insist on billing hundreds/thousands of hours of consulting work to do the same?

Hiding details is also an effective way of hiding the shortcomings of one’s software.  Perhaps it’s hard to use or severely limited. After all, making promises and delivering value statements is a lot safer than incurring the scrutiny of users actually using and vetting your product, in the field.

Another reason these vendors are successful is because, frankly, the approach has worked rather successfully in the past. This is how it works. Pick a trade show and purchase a big booth. Do the dog and pony show. Meet tons of well-intentioned people and make a lot of promises. Don’t actually show much (you can’t anyway, see above). Next thing you know you’re selling a lot of consulting hours on projects that run for months.

Avoiding boardroom-ware

Judging a vendor by the size of its booth at a retail trade show is perhaps the worst “metric” one could use and here is why. Retail is going through an existentialist crisis right now. E-tailers are carving an ever larger slice of the market pie. Social media is changing customers’ research and shopping habits. Now is not the time to do things “the way we always have”. While there is nothing wrong with trade shows per se, a trade show is hardly indicative of what a technology vendor is capable of.

If your technology vendor can’t demonstrate they are nimble and quick-to-market, skip them. If you can’t see and try a product in a matter of hours, move on. If integration costs real money, it means the offering isn’t actually productized; keep looking. If your technology vendor could do these things any other way, they would. Buying from the boardroom-ware vendor could mean you are buying the worst of the lot, buyer beware.

Buying enterprise software: What’s in, what’s out

We think enterprise retail software should be marketed in essentially the same way as business to consumer software (a very competitive marketplace):

1. Enterprise customers should expect to see screen shots and details on a vendor’s website. OUT: Promises and value statements. IN: Facts and details.

2. Customers should expect to see a demo, quickly. OUT: “We’ll talk about it”. IN: “We’ll show you”.

3. Customers should expect to receive a pilot, at no charge, that reflects their own workflow, stores and users. OUT: “This pilot is going to take 3 months to set up and cost $10,000”. IN: “The pilot is free, comes with support and starts as soon as you are ready”

4. Customers should expect to pay an all-in fee for a service, not be bombarded by surcharges, maintenance contracts and more consulting hours. OUT: Surprises. IN: Predictability.

Is that too much to ask? We don’t think so and neither should smart enterprise buyers.

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