This morning, the IBM Websphere executive team (Nancy Pearson, Marie Wiek, and Beth Smith) offered IT industry analysts a summary of the latest developments from their IMPACT 2011 conference. Although well produced, as expected from IBM, the jargon filled presentation left business-focused analysts with the impression that the IBM team felt it was still 1985 when technology-speak enticed, surprised and demonstrated credibility. When it comes to distilling a conference, rattling off product and technology names interspersed with vague terms like Enterprise Visibility, Operational Dexterity and Process Integrity doesn’t do the products, the company or the customers any justice. This is not unique to IBM. IBM is often touted as the technology company that knows how to talk to business customers. Analysts need to hear that come through in their briefings.
What software companies need to create a story that puts their products in context. Not the kind of narrow, my-customer-did-this-one-cool-thing-with-20-users kinds of stories, but one that tells the company story, the brand story and uses customers to punctuate and illustrate that story. The impression that IBM left was: IBM had a conference and they talked about a lot of products (a lot of products) with names that don’t connect to my reality and a few customers figured out over the last year or so how to make these disparate components do something meaningful, even if constrained to a pretty narrow part of the business.
Now, that is not what IBM intended, but that is what came across. How else would a business oriented audience respond to PowerPoint Slides with bullets like these?:
WebSphere DataPower XI52 and XB62:
New modular design lowers TCO by efficiently easing delivery of additional hardware features
Enhanced WSRR subscriptions for WSDL and WS-Policy
Support for ebXML CPPA v2.0 (XB62 only)
Enhanced MQ File Transfer Edition integration and transaction visibility (XB62 only)
Start with why the listener should care and then lead them down the path to how the company’s technology/solutions achieved what the listener cares about. It’s good advice for analysts calls and for customer conversations.
The world may be caught up in technology, but look at Apple’s new iPad commercials. Apple goes out of the way to tie products to words[F2] like intuitive, inspired, powerful, the future and magic. Apple tells the story to potential customers with few words combined with visuals that connect to the brand promise. IBM does this with their Smarter Planet messaging, but they didn’t follow through on this call. Commercial software companies seem to think that they need break their external messaging (or just mention it passing, in an off-handed way) when talking about technical details. That takes away the credibility of the over arching message. Let’s talk about a Smarter Planet and how things like ebXML make the planet smarter – how it makes customers smarter, and the businesses they work for smarter. Actually, tell me about ebXML only if someone asks how a customer made a particular solution work—otherwise, let the specifications on the website speak to standards and interoperability.
The best analyst briefings, lead with context not the technology. The story should be crafted so that the person listening quickly understands why they should keep listening, that he or she wants to keep listening. If a vendor insists on technical jargon, then make the rest of the presentation so compelling the audience forgives the transgression, or perhaps is so compelled they really want to know the details – and if those same companies thought this way ahead of time, they might not create so much technical jargon in the first place, opting to spend more time thinking of their offers as characters in their story rather than footnotes elevated to the level of protagonists.
Five recommendations for holding good analyst briefings:
Stay within the brand. If there is an overarching brand message, tie everything to that message. If something doesn’t fit, then you have to ask the value of saying it (yes, this can cause some internal consternation between development and marketing, but those strategic conversations need to be held)
Understand what research the analysts are currently conducting and tie comments to their research agendas. Don’t focus on what you want to say as much as the audience wants to hear.
Create a cohesive context, a story, that helps make all the elements make sense. A technical architecture is not a story framework.
Avoid jargon. Jargon and product names and standards don’t add value. Point people to a reference site or put some of the material in notes to accompany the slide. Just because the slide does contain jargon, you don’t have to say it – tell the story and let the product names and standards speak (or not) for themselves.
When you practice, listen back to the presentation and ask if you would be interested in hearing what you just said.
And one extra: provide case studies with deep historical perspective. Bringing in a partner to get something running and then talking about that isn’t a case study. Develop deep studies that talk about what companies were doing before, how they approached the problem, why they selected technology as a key part of the solution, what technology the selected and how the entire project benefited the firm. Produce real metrics with deep historical results and comparisons. That will get the attention of any analyst.
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.