Storage Soup

Sep 19 2011   12:25PM GMT

Vendors should focus on customers, not competitors

Randy Kerns Randy Kerns Profile: Randy Kerns

Competitive pressures often cause companies to lose focus when adopting product marketing strategies. These pressures come from executives and boards, and can be intense. They can also cause a vendor to pay attention to the wrong things, instead of putting the attention on the customer.

Vendor strategies must start with a few basics: What is the best way to position a product, and what product characteristics are necessary to meet future needs? Positioning a product is foremost about fitting customer needs. Describing how it fits those needs can be done in many ways, and typically there are multiple approaches taken in addition to data sheets and product specifications. These include:

• A short description of how the product can be used to meet the customer’s needs.
• A longer document that has details of usage in a specific environment.
• A white paper that explains the product in context of the value it can bring.

Positioning statements usually includes how a product fares against the competition. One sign of misguided focus is when the lead information about how competitive the product is starts with the negatives of a competing product. By starting with competitors’ negatives instead of laying out its product’s advantages, a vendor risks wasting the limited time a customer will spend on the material. For us at Evaluator Group, when we put together our Evaluation Guides for customers, starting with the negatives is a big red flag.

Delivering a product that meets future needs is another area where a company can get its focus skewed. Common focus miscues include:

• Lacking an intimate understanding of customer operational characteristics and their business processes.
• Lacking good judgment of the adoption probability within a specific timeframe of new technology by customers.
• Using general surveys to predict future customer needs.
• Watching what competitors are doing and trying to follow their lead.

These mistakes lead vendors to look in the rear-view mirror. Instead of looking out the windshield when making plans, they look back to see what has already happened.

Keeping the pressures in perspective and maintaining focus on how to position and deliver products can be tough for some companies. Those that do it well are more successful and from our perspective have a better handle on the competitive environment. Companies that have allowed their focus to shift make big mistakes and become less competitive.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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