4 tips for My Marketing Utopia

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A few weeks ago I pulled my first blogpost ever; “The Marketing Wall of Shame” where I would give a central location for competitive vendor marketing which I truly loath. There were two reasons for pulling the post: 

  1. It could get me in a long-term trouble in the industry being such a PITA (pain-in-the-ass) This was if you know me well, not enough reason to pull it.
  2. I don’t like being negative and as there was not really a positive twist it just seemed too much complaining without resolving.

So let’s take that to the next step. Let me give you my does and don’ts for today’s marketing in our industry. You could see them as universal ideas but I know there are differences in selling cars than datacenters. I truly welcome comments below or per mail (hansdeleenheer@gmail.com) as this could be the start of a working document for myself in the future.

1) Vendor Bashing

This is the strongest point. We all agree it is shameless but it is still around us on a daily base. It lives in multiple types and everyone has an excuse for using one over the other form. Let me address a few types:
  • if your company is directly attacked by a competitor: your choice! If the competitor is spreading fallacies, you can answer publicly by setting the record straight  Keep it stylish and limit yourself to facts, not opinions! If the competitor is the challenger in the market; IGNORE! The only result you will get otherwise is more traction to their opinion. 
  • answering a press release with a press release / blogpost of your own: WRONG! People on the other side also have worked their asses off for weeks to get that release out. Reactions like that are just disrespectful. Leave that to press and customers.
  • taking the competitors marketing and making fun of it (parody); although sometimes funny, in our industry I call it classless: WRONG!
  • spreading FUD through payola (press/analysts): WRONG! (see #4 Gartner)
  • banter / punching down-up; “we are so good, where are you?“: classless hence WRONG! Even when funny, still classless.
  • Calling your competitors vendor B, M or A when talking about German cars is still calling them out. It’s even more classless than calling them by name. Call your competitors vendor X, Y & Z and answer questions when necessary in private.
Summary: if you are not directly being attacked or if what you have to say about your competitor is not 100% positive: SHUT THE F* UP. There are plenty of people out there that will call things out when necessary. A good rule of thumb here: if you have to change jobs in a few weeks, will you still be able to back everything you said without apologising?

2) Numbers Numbers Numbers

Numbers can prove anything. Last week in Belgium there was a press release from a marketing study that over 30% of men suffer from Premature Ejaculation. Another clinical study showed only 3%. The difference: parameters, manner of measuring and audience. So here’s a few things about numbers:
  • Never use numbers that are not backed by research. Just saying you will have 20:1 footprint reduction after deduplication is not enough. You have to back it with the specific story what and how it has been tested.
  • No single number is the whole truth for every environment. If you promise me $1/GB, that number is worth nothing to $2/GB if you have to sell me more than double the capacity upfront.
  • Whenever you are comparing, compare to today, not yesterday. Don’t tell me you replaced 8 racks of spinning rust with 1 all-flash array, tell me you offered 1 flash array against an offer of 8 racks of spinning rust and that the customer is happy with the result.
Summary: numbers have nothing to do with value. Back yourself and give context. Openness upfront gives you happy customers in the long run (and less headwind from community).

3) Bias and Unique Selling Points

One of the most common mistakes in product selling; not knowing/respecting your own limitations and not knowing/respecting industry evolution.
  • Everyone is limited by their own experience and by extend, the experience of the people you work with. This is both a technical limitation in knowledge as a limitation in opinion. I used to resell HP & Dell Storage, hence my technical and opinion wise limitations to know more about those products than other products. Respect your limitations!
  • If you are feature selling you are doing it wrong! I truly loath product comparisons. First of all technology evolves. If you try using a feature, for example encryption or deduplication, as a unique selling point you will have big issues if the competition adds it to their list 2 weeks later.
  • There is more to a product than the product itself. Most of the time company DNA like support or local representatives sell a product better than the features as such. Use these product differentiators rather than a feature comparison.
Summary: Unique Selling Points are golden! If everyone in the industry has a similar strategy and yours is different, you can stay ahead of the competition by using that. Think NetApp with it’s filers against block-based arrays 10 years ago or Nutanix/Simplivity HyperConvergence against converged blueprint architecture models today.

4) Buzzwords and Analysts

People who sell through buzzwords and analyst reports are taking advantage of the ignorance of customers. We as industry specialists are on top of the news and we know exactly what is happening in technology and where it came from. Customers only know their own environments and maybe some trends through reading magazines or networking events. They rely on trusted advisors for objective information.
  • Don’t try to retrofit your existing technology to a new buzzword. In our industry Software Defined definitely has been a big example of that las year. Instead of that try to focus how your future vision and innovations would address these trends.
  • Do not, and I repeat – do not – have someone else doing your dirty work (without being open about it). More than 37% of the analyst reports are being paid for. Even I write stuff for vendors. But if it has been paid for it needs clear disclaimers that it is not an objective paper. And even a disclaimer is not enough; the context itself should be addressed that way as well. Yes, IDC, DCIG, Gartner, … I am looking at you.
  • Do not take analysts analysis for the whole truth. Gartner as the biggest example has proven themselves wrong more than once in the past. They are just one more opinion out there. The Magic Quadrant doesn’t tell you who’s products are the best, it tells you who they think will be a good sponsor next year.
Summary: There are good people working at all those analyst firms. But the way these messages are distributed and (ab)used are wrong. No one in technology has a crystal ball, treat every prediction with that knowledge.

Summary of Summaries:

I will most probably be joining another vendor position as public figure someday (soon?). I know that I will face these issues more than once with either people that don’t get it or people that do get it very well. I cannot promise I won’t have to make mistakes against my own principles one day. Don’t hesitate on calling me out on that!
Rule of thumb: if it is against my personal principles, I will refuse to do it. If the company requires it to be done, I will politely ask someone else to take the task (been there, done that!). If the company builds a strategy that goes against your principles: walk away! It’s ok to agree on disagreeing.
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