Buying Software When Expertise Clashes With Hype

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When a business embarks on a journey to buy new software, it is often faced with a vast array of vendors from which they can make their selection.  These vendors typically vary greatly in terms of the functionality that their products offer (and how they differ from alternatives available to the buyer), the expected implementation time, and the price in terms of user licenses (or monthly subscription fees), services, and support.  But there’s an additional factor that plays a major role in the buyer’s decision-making process: the overall expertise of the vendor.  Many buyers will pay more for such knowledge and wisdom to ensure that their implementation goes without a hitch and the full return on their investment is realized.

Here, we’re not talking about business applications – such as Microsoft Office or IBM Notes – but enterprise-level solutions that can fundamentally change the way that a business operates, turnaround financial fortunes, and radically alter the competitive landscape of their industry.  And achieving this isn’t cheap: it can cost many millions of dollars and require many months of effort from a team of dedicated people to implement the solution correctly.  Getting the implementation wrong is costly in many ways – financial, morale, reputation, and very importantly, job-wise.  Let’s put this into perspective: the buyer is recommending a multi-million dollar and lengthy implementation.  The business has a vested interest in its success.  If the buyer gets it wrong, then it often costs them their job so the personal stakes are high.

But here’s the problem: often the buyer doesn’t get it wrong despite the apparent failure of a project.  Many times, the software vendors themselves are at fault for overselling and mis-setting expectations.  Expertise is a major factor in the buyer’s decision-making process, and the vendors know this so the tactic is simple: create some hype and look like an expert.

Many years ago, buying optimized scheduling software was easier than it is today.  Then, there was one dominant vendor that still leads the market today: ClickSoftware.  If enterprise mobility was the focus then maybe MDSI stood out or an early Syclo or Dexterra was the preferred route. But today, things are different and far more complex because the vendor landscape is littered with choice covering every possible size of vendor and products ranging from the most simplistic to the ultra-complex. This requires the buyer to very clearly determine the scope of the solution that meets their business’s needs.  And the safest bet is to buy from the experts who know best, but that’s no longer straightforward.

In recent years and months, vendors have been widening their product portfolios by acquiring suitable candidates.  While this may strengthen their overall solutions, it effectively reduces some choice for the buyer by removing a vendor from the market.  And here’s the issue: completing an acquisition does not suddenly make the vendor an expert in this new field.

Over the past few weeks, we have tracked announcements from a scheduling vendor who now openly talks about their expertise in SaaS and enterprise mobility because of a few small acquisitions but there’s no substance behind their claims.  And there’s another vendor who now professes to have the highest level of enterprise mobility knowledge because of their acquisition of a field service management solution that includes a simple mobile product, again without substance.  But blogs, press releases, interviews, and simply talking-the-talk is just hype and this actually clashes with genuine expertise.

For the buyer, spotting the true leaders through the hype and noise is not an easy task and this really puts the emphasis on one key aspect of the buying cycle: check the vendor’s references and seek external validation from the industry’s experts such as Gartner.

After all, it’s not just the buyer who has a problem with this: so does the industry.  Mobile workforce management solutions can be tremendously difficult to implement because it is an extremely complex business so let’s not make it even more difficult by encouraging service businesses to buy the wrong products!

But that’s our view: what are your experiences, good or bad, of buying a Mobile Workforce Management solution?

2 Responses to "Buying Software When Expertise Clashes With Hype"
  1. Stewart Hill says:

    Gadi

    This is a great blog with some excellent observations particularly ClickSoftware’s leadership position! I have been around field service and sales for about 25 years (the last 12-or-so within FSM vendors themselves) and was myself a buyer of scheduling software around 1999-2000. Back then, life was much simpler because the market was new, messaging was rudimentary and the number of competing solutions to consider was small. But even then this was a major, career-defining, decision particularly if it turned out that you’d selected the wrong solution.

    But there’s one more factor at play here that makes this even more complicated – and that’s the continual use of the same terminology used by different vendors when what’s being compared is actually very different. I see this often, vendors using the same language in an attempt to appear the same as their competitors. While this may be a standard tactic for the also-rans, it makes life exceptionally difficult for the buyer to understand what the true differences are between the alternative solutions and there is an unwritten expectation that the buyers will appreciate these differences in making an astute investment decision. The problem therefore is that the confused buyer may be less willing to make a decision if their personal reputation and security are at stake and this would hinder the overall growth of our industry.

    So I agree; as software vendors it’s our job to educate the buyers correctly and not to confuse and exploit them as part of a bigger commercial game because that is detrimental to us all.

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