Does Your Software Solve A Problem, Or Provide A Better Way?

Does Your Software Solve A Problem, Or Provide A Better Way?

Scenario 1. Imagine after a major rainstorm you walk down to your basement to check things out. You pull the string attached to the hanging incandescent light bulb. After your eyes adjust to the dim light, you walk slowly down the stairs. There, covering the concrete slab, is an inch of water. It’s receding slowly, but the stains on the wall reveal that the water was deeper a couple of hours ago. The basement flooded.  You have a problem.

Checking the weather forecast on your smart phone, you see another bad storm is coming in a week. You have only a few days to find and fix the problem.

You conduct a search and find dozens of options and dozens of companies out there to help. Choosing a solution depends primarily on function—“Will it fix MY basement?”—and on brand awareness. With so many solutions, the one or two that have familiar names will attract your attention. Price will be less of a concern; after all, you must find a solution fast! No time to dicker about cost. Do a little research. Make a call or two, then pick one.

Scenario 2. Imagine one day you take a look in the basement in your house (no flood this time). You pull the string attached to the hanging incandescent light bulb. After your eyes adjust to the dim light, you walk slowly down the stairs. It’s a mess down there: Poor ventilation, stuff strewn on the floor and on rickety shelves, a small pile that looks like mouse droppings in the corner. There’s a smell of moss and mold. “That can’t be good,” you think. “Water’s coming in from somewhere.” Someday there could be a problem down there.

But as far as you can tell, everything is cool right now.

Let’s say I sell a basement sealer called Water Plug that dries and fixes holes in basements. I am going to be quite successful in Scenario 1  There’s a real and perceived need (the flood) and I have a way to prevent the next one (my product). My product SOLVES A PROBLEM.  As long as you find me, you will buy it.

Hell I might even be successful in Scenario 2, provided I have a solid brand name and the price is reasonable. What home owner wouldn’t want to keep some Water Plug on hand?

But let’s say I sell a basement drainage solution called Future Promise. Future Promise includes a complete basement hydration and leakage assessment, an upgrade of all existing drains, new shelving and a site visit from a technician who will ensure your basement is set up properly. For an extra fee, we will install new drains and visit your home each quarter for routine maintenance.  Future Promise solves a problem that may occur in the future. My product represents a BETTER WAY OF DOING THINGS.

My sales job is harder.  For me to be successful, I will have to

  • Educate you on the dangers in your basement (“next big rainstorm, you might flood down there”)
  • Convince you of the likelihood that you will face those dangers (“I’ve seen it happen in homes of this age”)
  • Demonstrate (with dollars) how investing in Future Promise will pay off in the future (“You do this now and you’ll avoid worse damage later”)
  • Stimulate you to buy with some kind of offer (“We’ll give you a year’s free maintenance”)
  • Illustrate how by buying Future Promise will make you a hero with your wife and family (“She’ll feel confident that your belongings are safe”)

What if Water Plug and Future Promise were both software solutions and that house was a business? Water Plug would be a consumer or business application. It solves a easy to recognize problem, and is probably relatively inexpensive. Maybe even free.  The return on investment for Water Plug will be seen and felt immediately. Have problem. Buy product. Problem gone.

Examples include: Dropbox, Turbo Tax, Adobe PhotoShop, Evernote, Office.

Future Promise would be enterprise software. It represents a better way of doing things: a solution that will save money, time, reduce effort, minimize human error, increase accuracy and compliance, provide visibility into dark basements of a business where future problems lurk and improve security protocols. Future Promise costs a lot, takes a while  to implement and pays off the return on investment over some time horizon.  Buy product. Improve process. Avoid problems. Deliver benefits. Calculate value.

Examples include: ERP (SAP, Oracle), Financial packages (Microsoft Dynamics, Intacct, NetSuite), Analytical platforms (Adobe, Webtrends)

Seems simple right? However, many sales and marketing teams at Enterprise Software firms think they are selling a water plug when they are really selling a basement drainage solution. In other words, they THINK they are solving an immediate problem but they should KNOW their enterprise platform is a “better way.”  If you don’t get that distinction, your sales and marketing teams will fail miserably. A few ways to tell the difference:


My product is A BETTER WAY

Sales cycles are short Sales cycles are long
Products are sold on the web We have a sales staff
Website has only a few pages Website is loaded with content including white papers, case studies and product sheets
Pricing is simple; buy the product Pricing is complex; includes licensing, options for implementation, and annual maintenance costs