VaporWare, DemoWare and BS

With all the new innovations or maybe better said, new concepts, the world of software innovation has rapidly produced a very agile world of releasing product and a lot of Vaporware, Demoware, and BSware.  It’s great that you can see early prototypes and show the direction of where you are going. Or project how a new concept or cool vendor can help you accelerate your future.  The challenge as a buyer is balancing cool ideas with what works, right now.   Nothing worse than seeing something super cool in a demo and then finding out, it isn’t an actual live product.  Or Better yet,  what you see is a different product, but just linked by a menu in the interface.   Demonstrations can be vastly misrepresented if you don’t pay close attention and set yourself up in the right way.    This is not just a vendor problem its a buyer problem, stemming from the deluge of salespeople and thousands of options, many of which struggle to differentiate.

I’ve lived in the product world in many companies and taken to market many products; minimally viable products (MVP), enhancements,  loosely integrated products and even demonstrated with slight of hand with multiple screens, PowerPoint screens.   Those times are gone.

Reality is, as a buyer, you need to focus on what is tangible and production ready.   Being an early adopter has its benefits, and I encourage everyone to take a risk occasionally.  As I like to tell most Marketing Executives,” use the ostrich effect”.   Dig your head in the sand and focus, yet come up for air a few times a year and look at the new stuff with an open mind and some money in your purse/wallet to act on a few good ideas.

Understand,  the greatest challenge in being successful in marketing and innovation is to shorten the gap from ideas to execution.   Don’t let too much noise slow you down.

In my experience, many marketing executives/managers just don’t set the playing field for their time in the right way.  They will either ignore the vendors or delegate it or just are too busy to do the due diligence before the meeting; all of which can be lost opportunities and time sucks on your business.

As barriers to entry in the MarTech industry have lowered and investment capital is increasing.  software companies are racing to get the product out and sales tactics can get dodgy and sloppy tactics.   All Natural pressures or companies trying to grow, especially when cash is fluid and the economy is good.

So, that’s the problem; what is the solution or Life Hack?   Not sure if this fits you, but I’ll share a few things I’ve learned over the years.

  1. Set the Playground for any demo, upfront.     You own your time, so put in a little effort and make sure you are only seeing real product, not beta, alpha or third party product.   State this clearly up front.   “I will give you a 1/2 hour, but do not show any product or new feature that is not in production and used by at least 25% of your clients” – if a new vendor.  If an existing vendor that is showing new stuff to upsell you,  “Do not show me features that have not been through a client beta process for at least 3 months”.    Salespeople can misrepresent this, but this will come back to bite them when you ask for references.
  2. No PowerPoint or slight of hand. You want to see the product in a live, production environment, not slides, not with 10 screens open. you want to see it in a live environment. This isn’t 1999 when Bandwidth was an inhibitor.   if you have latency in a demo, you can more than likely expect it in the real world x 10.
  3. It’s your time, make it about YOU, not them. Nothing worse than sitting for 15-20 minutes listening to them talk about their company.   Make them “Get to the point and come prepared or wait until you are”.  If you are a retailer, I’d shut down the demo immediately if you showed me a demo of a publisher or hotel chain. Or vice versa.     Respect my time and learn my business before you demand my attention. You shouldn’t have to interpret the value.
  4. Have them provide customer success stories in your space BEFORE you let them spend your time. This can be a case study, a quote or just a story over email.  Make sure there are named brands, you can easily do your homework and see if it’s credible or a “planted” customer that will say anything for them.
  5. Keep it short– Demos can usually happen in the ½ hour, if planned well.  Great products and Great ideas don’t take forever to demonstrate if they are prepared.   Compress the time and it will force them to be focused. It also sets a cultural standard of how you operate.  “Don’t Waste My Time”
  6. NO Sales folks allowed.   Salespeople are great and necessary, but not in a demonstration.   if they did their homework and prepared their team and gave you all the information upfront, they don’t need to lead it, outside of introducing people and ensuring we make good use of the time.    You want a “power user”.  Simply put.  They can make complex, abstract things seem simpler and makes for a far more compelling Q&A.   Nothing worse than having a demo and the person leading doesn’t have the answers or experience..
  7. Give vendors the same respect they give you.  This is a value exchange. If you beat down vendors you will get beaten down vendors and that in itself is a business risk.    If you expect them to prepare, you should prepare as well, otherwise, go sit on a webinar where you can do 5 other things and listen to the recording later.

The last tip, how companies develop, and release products are so critical to whether a product will help your company.  Countless times I’ve heard marketers/leaders complain about slow releases or a company not fixing bugs or haven’t released anything new.   If you challenge how they release product, how they run customer beta and alpha programs, how they approach sandbox testing and do it up front,  it will tell a lot about their future or projected success as your partner.

While SaaS technologies are great at standardizing on capabilities across a broad set of customers, you want the companies that can adapt to you and some of your custom needs and have the cultural DNA to be agile in that.   Many of the things you want, and need are needed by many others, just need to find the right company that agrees with your priorities and is smart enough to know the trade-offs.

Good Luck

David Baker