Putting Lipstick on a Pig

The task of software product developers has become increasingly difficult.  It used to be that marketing could “put lipstick on a pig” and sell a poorly designed product based upon futures, a few cool features, and a high ROI claim.  But increasing competition and higher user expectations make dressing up a weak product more difficult for several reasons:

  1. Buyers do much of their research up front, so marketers and sales no longer control the narrative.  Purchasers are now able to frame their requirements and conduct much of their basic research before raising their hands.
  2. Review sites such as G2.com (FKA G2 Crowd) and TrustRadius provide input on what users like and dislike about software products.  If there is a disconnect between promises and reality, these problems will be surfaced.  If there are connectivity, performance, or scaling issues, these will also be flagged. (Warning: be wary of reviews that are manufactured by vendor campaigns.  Look at the review dates and note if reviews are tightly bunched in time or if a small vendor has several-fold more reviews than its larger competitors.  These reviews are often derived by campaigns, some with rewards, for reviews.)
  3. We’ve all come to appreciate great design thanks to Steve Jobs and Apple.  Most of us are not experts in what makes for great design, but we are much better at identifying poor design, balky workflows, and ugly interfaces.
  4. Services must integrate with each other.  It is no longer possible to build a product that only weakly integrates with key vendors.  Simply providing a download CSV for enterprise software platforms is unacceptable to admins.  The AppExchange has thousands of vendors on it.  In SalesTech and Martech, it is expected that your service integrates with Salesforce, MS Dynamics, Adobe/Marketo, and Eloqua/Oracle.  Other common integrations are Chrome Connectors, Hubspot, Gmail, Exchange, and LinkedIn Sales Navigator (SNAP).  We are already seeing Sales Engagement vendors such as SalesLoft and Outreach.io build their own partner ecosystems.
  5. Competition is fierce.  In the Marketing Technology space, Scott Brinker identified approximately 3,500 Martech vendors in his 2016 graphic, up 87% over 2015.  By 2019, the vendor count had doubled to 7,040. That is a large gaggle of voices calling for attention.
"Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic (2016)" courtesy of Scott Brinker and Chiefmartec.
“Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic (2016)” courtesy of Scott Brinker and Chiefmartec.

Products rarely succeed if they are backed by poor marketing.  But is increasingly difficult for poor products to gain traction by marketing alone.  Firms now must tie strong marketing to strong design and an unmet user need.  A company like SalesLoft identified an underserved market (Sales Development professionals) and gave them “sincerity at scale.”  Likewise, DemandBase was talking about Account Based Marketing for years (and supporting it with their programmatic marketing platform) before other vendors recognized the value of targeting your best clients and prospects.

In a blog, Gartner Research VP Jake Sorofman warned marketers:

When your value proposition, use cases and features are all in perfect harmony with a high-value need, customers take notice. You’ve won their minds. When the user experience doesn’t just fulfill these use cases, but does so with artful simplicity and deep respect for the user, you’ve won their hearts, too.

When I’m evaluating which products to profile, a poor UI is a red flag.  I’m also wary of profiling products that lack an integration story, have typos on their website, push marketing puffery into bald-faced lies, or whose pitches suffer from featuritis.

So be wary of the firms that sell features over value, that promise ROI with gauzy claims of indirect benefits, or that fail to understand the underlying needs of their customers.  A pig with lipstick is still just a pig.