Dan's Take

Pretty Slides Can't Mask a Bad Product

Beware of vendors who substitute jargon and buzzwords for clear descriptions and details.

Vendors often send materials, like PowerPoint slide decks or press releases, to accompany briefings about their products. Many times these materials are jargon-rich, but less than helpful for understanding what the product does.

I've been around the IT industry for a while, and have been a software engineer and a product manager. Thus, I'd think that I could piece together what the company does and maybe have a few good ideas about how they do what they claim to do.

Once in a while, I'll run into a company that's developed a solution to a problem I ran into during product development many years ago, and I applaud their creativity. Other times, it appears the company hasn't addressed the issues that stymied my efforts at a solution. I'll ask them about those issues to see if they really are unaware of those issues, or if the product summary in the PowerPoint deck wasn't comprehensive.

Case in point: recently, a company discussing "intelligent data management for the cloud era" sent me just such a presentation. Here's a quick summary of the slides in their deck:

  • The deck started with a slide that presented the history of the founders, showing logos of all the companies they had started or precipitated in.
  • Slide two presented the logos of selected customers to show how their customer base spans both industries and geographies.
  • The third slide showed the logos of the company's storage partners.
  • Slide four presented a figure from a recent IDC report showing the research firm's estimate of the size of data being stored and an estimate of growth. Unfortunately, the slide didn't contain the actual name of the report, its order number or even labels for the graph's axes. I wasn't sure what they were really trying to show, other than the obvious facts that storage is large and getting bigger.
  • Slide five listed a number of attributes customers need to consider to become more agile. The obvious inference is that this company offers products, services, tools and so on to address those needs. It isn't clear where that list came from or if it's comprehensive.
  • The next slide appeared to show a screenshot of a storage management tool. It offered a lovely set of charts. It wasn't at all clear what network was being shown, how big it was or what type of computing environment it represented. (Did I say that the charts were pretty?)
  • Slide seven showed a chart of different types of storage media and a list of both on-premise and off-premise locations. The company logo was positioned between those two layers. It was attempting to make some point about data movement. I think.
  • Slide eight showed two directory hierarchies with an arrow pointing from one side to the other. I guess a point was being made about the before and after images being the same after a migration of some type.

Need I continue?

Dan's Take: The Intelligent Person Test
When a company sends a press release or slide deck, I adopt the viewpoint of an intelligent person who isn't familiar with the company or its products. I then ask the following questions to see if a person it that category would get any value from the deck. Here are a few of the questions:

  • What are they doing?
  • Is this a problem enterprises really face, or is this technology "because they could" rather than technology "because there is a need?"
  • Are they the only ones doing this?
  • If there are others, do they do it better?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Will this set of messages mean anything to the target audience?
  • Is it persuasive or a "painful study of the obvious?"
  • Should I care?

If I get through the deck and can't answer any of these questions, it's clear to me that the company's attempt at communicating who they are, their value proposition or even what they do has failed.

Often, I'll give the company another chance by asking for a more detailed whitepaper. If they either don't have a whitepaper or only offer an executive hand-waving session, I'll carefully file the document or documents they've already provided and go about my business.

Quite often the PR representative will attempt to set up a conversation with executives from the company. I almost always decline such kind offers. After all, if they can't communicate who they are and what they're doing in 15 slides or in a 10 page paper, 30 minutes of conversation is not likely to be able to provide a greater understanding. On the rare occasion that I do accept the call, it almost always turns into a unpaid consulting session to help them further define their marketing messages or product strategy.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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