Inquisitive editor: Who does your company compete with? Who do you butt heads with when you find yourself on an end user's short list?
Vendor staying on message: Actually, we don't have any real competitors. No one else in the space offers the functionality and feature set that we do.
Inquisitive editor: C'mon. You can't win every deal. Who do you lose deals to?
Vendor staying on message: Really, we don't have any serious competitors. Our biggest competitor is "no decision."
Inquisitive editor: What a crock. (Did I think that, or did I just say that?)
Marketing Hype Helps No One
I have no doubt that many vendors must compete against end user indecision and looming budget shortfalls. But, they most certainly compete against other vendors. It's beyond me why vendors hesitate to call competitors out. It's refreshing to here a vendor announce, "We compete with these three companies, and let me give you the reasons why our product is better and why we win deals." Instead, however, they engage in platitudes and puffery.
That's why it's so effective when companies compete directly with each other - in print, for all to see. I'm not talking about the Microsoft e-mail that explored ways to choke Netscape's "air supply." That appeared in print, but only after it was discovered in the Microsoft antitrust suit. I'm talking about PeopleSoft upstaging Oracle last fall. One day before the Oracle release touting enhancements to its supply chain software, PeopleSoft fired off an e-mail with the subject line of "Oracle's Announcement/PeopleSoft's Response." The e-mail pointed out the differences between the two companies and ensured that its executives were available to "help 'balance out' any [Oracle news] stories with competitive perspective." Now, that's confronting the competition head-on.
Public Scuffles Are Entertaining, Useful
A similar meet-me-in-the-parking-lot-after-school exchange is shaping up in the CRM (customer relationship management) space. In what seems to be a cross between "The Mouse That Roared" and a pesky gnat, salesforce.com has aligned its messaging to singularly confront Siebel Systems. You momentarily forget that Siebel ($2 billion in 2001 revenue) dwarfs salesforce.com ($50 million to $60 million in 2002 revenue). The message is screaming too loudly - ads that offer free shirts to customers that have "lost their shirts" to Siebel; ads that feature the word Siebel with a slash through it. The marketing is so brazen and specific that it gets through the clutter.
Now, as if recognizing a good thing and wanting to take part in it, CRM vendor NetLedger has launched its own competitor-specific ad campaign. Guess who the target is? That's right, salesforce.com. In addition to a side-by-side comparison chart in advertisements, NetLedger also announced a "salesforce.com Migration Path." Additionally, it supplied the names of 30 companies that already have traveled said path. I'm sure salesforce.com's response will be forthcoming.
In addition to the sheer entertainment value, these vendor skirmishes benefit end user customers. They give you a chance to see how a vendor reacts to competition - with facts or marketing collateral. They also allow you to see a vendor attacked at what one would assume to be its most vulnerable areas. (For example, salesforce.com attacks Siebel on customer satisfaction and implementation fronts.) This may open up a line of questioning with prospective vendors that might never have crossed your mind.
It's already a buyer's market, and this type of head-to-head competition only improves your prospects. It also makes you a tougher sell. The result is a more informed, quality purchase.