Posted On: Friday, 10 April 2009 by Rajiv Popat

If you've ever been involved in a sales chase for a million dollar project you probably know that folks who market consulting services and software products will go quite far to sell their products or  services to you and close the deal. The whole act of lying about quality of people working for the organization, timelines and above all features that the product being sold has, is an age old Adam's apple folks in the business of marketing software have been tempted to bite for years.  

After all software marketers are experts and their interests revolve around selling you their services. If you have a problem and they have a hammer; they are notoriously famous for making your problems seem like a nail.

Seth Godin in his book titled All Marketers Are Liars describes how all marketers are supposed to indulge in the act of story telling:

Marketers are a special kind of liar. Marketers lie to consumers because consumers demand it. Marketers tell stories, and consumers believe them. Some marketers do it well. Others are pretty bad at it. Sometimes the stories help people get more done enjoy life more and even live longer. Other times, when the story isn't authentic, it can have significant side effects and consumers pay the price.

The reason all successful marketers tell stories is that consumers insist on it. Consumers are used to telling stories to each other, and it's just natural to buy stuff from someone who tells us a story. People can't handle the truth.

Seth in his book describes how marketers make consumers and even veteran wine tasters believe that the same wine actually tastes better when tasted in a better glass. The book has other examples including that of a real estate marketer who takes customers around the neighborhood and talks about the various other houses including the lives of people living in those houses.

Seth describes how the individual selling the house is not selling the property he is supposed to sell. He is selling a story.

The book is all about successful story telling.

Story telling that can genuinely create win-win situations both for the marketers and the consumers.

Then there are times when the story telling isn't authentic. The foundations, framework and the very core of the story is built around a lie. That is when Seth warns that the consumer ends up paying the price.

With software however; there is one more group of individuals who end up paying the price of lousy story telling built on utter lies ----- the development team.

My first successful failure was a classic example of the marketing team promising too much with little or no respect for the iron triangle under the influence of wishful thinking and the we-have-a-great-team-that-can-do-it story.

Apart from a few folks, like 37signals, Google and a handful of others who have a great story to tell; almost all other software marketers; especially the ones selling consultancy services; are down right lousy story tellers who don't have anything new to say. Most stories revolve around the same old rather lame ideas:

  1. We can meet your deadlines.
  2. We can build something really cheap (by outsourcing most of the project).
  3. We can deliver quality.

Of course if you pay us more we can do all three and vaporize the iron triangle into thin air; just for you.

If software marketing, for you or your organization, is just about one of these three lame old stories or their combination, your marketing efforts; just like your product website and descriptions; might be downright impotent.  

Pawel Brodzinski describes his rather honest and candid approach to software marketing:

I often try to bring this kind of approach to the table. Too often. You shouldn’t be surprised if you’re a customer and I ask you: “We plan to develop this product for you, does it makes any sense for you or is that just a brain dead idea?” I may also state: “This function would make both your and our lives easier, although I don’t believe they’d allow me to do it for free. Would you find some budget for the feature? I promise the price will be good.”

On the side note, if you ever worked with me as a salesperson I know, you already hate me. I guess I must live with that.

This approach may weaken negotiating position of my party. Sometimes it is considered as pretty harsh by customers since you occasionally don’t wrap up the truth with nice marketing blah-blah (“No, we won’t build and deploy complex telecommunication solution in a month”). That isn’t playing by the rules and from time to time people find it hard to deal with it at the beginning.

However the thing I found out is that when a relation with the customer is already built they start to appreciate this attitude. Having an honest source of information on the other side is quite a valuable thing. Even when the guy is sometimes too honest and too straightforward.

Marketers are supposed to be story tellers. If you are in the business of selling; you need learn the art of story telling and weave stories that are completely new, remarkable and built of a strong foundation of facts; not the same old lousy stories woven around disrespect of the iron triangle. Software marketing guys have been telling these same old stories for years and honestly we're all a little sick and tired of these.

Even if you not a master story teller and can't tell a win-win story which is completely new; you still have a trump-card up your sleeve --- move over to plain old honesty; because honesty in the world of software marketing; as it turns out; is sofa king --- [to be read loudly and very fast] --- extinct that the mere act of being honest will make you a remarkable purple cow and help you not just close your deals or win customers; but have long lasting business relationships.

I wish you good luck.

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