Writing a Good SIIA CODiE Award Submission
Note: this post reflects my opinion and advice as an independent CODiE judge and does not reflect any official position from the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) or the CODiE awards
For the past three years, I have judged the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) CODiE awards in the education category.
SIIA provides a slate of products to judge in an education sub-category. They deliver a list of companies for my category. I receive the submission information and supporting documentation. The companies receive the judge’s contact information—they reach out and schedule presentations and demonstrations.
As I wait for the companies to contact me, I create my judging notebooks in Noteshelf on my iPad, so I can quickly jot notes about the presentations as they take place. I make a table for voting and all materials for markup and marginalia during the presentations.
Company presenters usually deliver rapid-fire overviews to provide the judges context for determining our score. Unfortunately, the sessions too often feel more like general sales or briefing sessions. As a result, the sessions often fail to connect with the judging criteria.
The marketing teams from the CODiE participants can do better. The following outlines three rules they should follow to better inform and engage CODiE judges.
The 3 Simple Rules for Writing a Good SIIA Award Submission
Provide introductions to those on the call, a brief overview and a value proposition. And that’s it. Do not spend time talking about the company’s history, its leadership, or its product suite. The judges are not likely to buy products based on these sessions or invest in the company. They are there to evaluate one product on a narrow set of criteria. Following these rules may prove the difference between placing as a finalist and winning the award.
Answer the questions immediately. Start with one slide that answers all the questions with a sentence or two. Then address each question on its own slide linked to the product features that support the assertion.
Companies vying for a CODiE award already have marketing literature available. Do not spend time repacking marketing literature as it likely does not address the judging criteria. Instead, organizations should work with their teams to write concise but thorough responses directly addressing the judging criteria.
The judges are volunteers. Most have only spent a few minutes before the company presentation getting to know the product. General websites and product literature usually don’t help the evaluation because they prove too broad against the criteria. Instead, give the judges content that helps them understand why they should give your product a high score against the evaluation criteria. Make sure that content is easy to find and limited to that purpose.
Tie the demo to the criteria. The judges evaluate the product based on the evaluation criteria. No matter how cool a new feature may be, don’t show it if it does not directly relate to building the case for how well the product serves the criteria. Demonstrating features unrelated to the judging criteria creates confusion—and leaves the judges to figure out if a feature contributes to the evaluation or not. But, again, the judges are volunteers. Help them get their work done, don’t add to it.
Use a case study to make the point. The best way to demonstrate criteria excellence is to provide a case study that clearly illustrates the product delivering on the criteria promise. For example, if the criteria states, “Helps faculty develop learning experiences for remote learners more effectively,” provide a case study that shows that capability in action. Don’t muddle the case study with everything else associated with that customer. Instead, hone the case study to show only the activity related to the criteria.
Preparing backup or asynchronous materials
If your product falls into an asynchronous judging category, where the judges just read provided material and evaluate based on that, follow the same steps as above. Only provide material that contributes to the judge’s ability to assess the product based on the criteria effectively.
I recently judged a product where the company submitted several pages of PDF content, none of which clearly related to the criteria. In addition, the company included links to videos. The videos were generic marketing videos or training videos. They did not address the criteria at all. They were also dull and poorly produced. I had to tease out any relevancy to the criteria—putting me through that experience did a disservice to the company and the products it makes.
Keep it simple. Speak to the criteria. Reinforce with case studies that prove the point. Run a mock briefing with the criteria posted where everyone can see it. If the presentation deviates from the criteria, then rethink the presentation until it is purpose-built for helping the judges see the high value of the submitted product.
Beyond the awards
Writing a Good SIIA CODiE Award Submission isn’t just about the materials, the presentation, or the demo. Think about the judges as an audience and design an experience that ensures ancillary factors don’t distract them from reflecting on how good a product is when they vote.
How to schedule time with the judges
Get connected quickly. I have wondered more than once if a company on my list was still on my list after weeks of waiting for them to contact me. If the judge has to work to get a demo, that will impact their thinking, even if it shouldn’t. So make that consideration go away. The participants know when the judging kicks off.
Be prepared. Have your team define and their calendars ready. Send e-mails as soon as you can. In many ways, the judges are doing a favor to the industry, so treat them as though that is the case. Give them plenty of time to share openings and be ready to accommodate their time constraints. If a judge uses a scheduling tool, use the scheduling tool to schedule the briefing and demo.
Confirm category alignment
Don’t accept the category SIIA assigns. I have received products on a list that prove nothing like their list companions; for example, a language transcription service in a category filled with remote learning delivery tools. Although SIIA asks judges to evaluate products against the criteria and not against the other products, a discontinuity in the classification makes it hard to level set. A judge may be able to imagine how a narrower (or broader) product could fit the criteria, but their scores will mean very different things.
It’s the old apples and oranges analogy. If the attribute is crispness, how does one judge an orange? If it is tartness, tartness in an apple is very different from tartness or sourness in an orange. If the companies on the list are more partners than competitors, then the product is likely in the wrong category.
Don’t be afraid to challenge the category alignment. SIIA includes dozens of categories. Reach out to SIIA to challenge the category assignment and suggest a better alignment. Keep in mind that SIIA manages a significant workload, so don’t frivolously suggest a change to better position a product. However, do suggest a change if the current category simply makes no sense.
Several factors play into the choice of category and the assignment of judges, including the number of products in a category and the number of available judges for a category. But to maintain the relevance of the awards, SIIA needs to work with its participating companies to put products in the best light possible.
When categories are aligned, awards make sense, judges don’t get confused, and companies feel like they were fairly treated. However, both SIIA and the award participants need to take responsibility for keeping the quality level of the awards high.
Follow-up with the judges
Yes, the judges all have contact information for the companies in the categories, and they usually include an open invitation to ask follow-up questions. The best CODiE participants will also follow up with a “thank you for your time” note to judges that reiterates openness to additional questions the same day as the presentation. The judges may not respond, but they will appreciate the outreach as closure to their experience just before they vote.
A final bit of advice on writing a good SIIA CODiE award submission
When I receive entries that offer standard marketing literature with a slight node to the category and its criteria, I see an entry that doesn’t acknowledge the needs of the competition or the judges.
It’s great that many of these companies offer a wide variety of products and solutions. For an award, though, the only thing that matters is demonstrating excellence against the category’s evaluation criteria. There are no extra credit points for delivering other value.
The SIIA judges have a specific focus. Making it easy for them to do their job is the best way to ensure that the judging criteria accurately reflects the company’s perception of their value. Losing the message in a scattershot presentation forces the judges to tease out criteria-related results from the narrative. With their limited time, the judges will likely not vote as precisely as they might.
Of course, companies win their categories with poor presentations, especially well-known companies that can lean on the industry presence. But, right or wrong, the judges may assume characteristics of a product based on reputation, not on how well the company presents within its category.
Smaller firms can’t afford to hope that the judges will glean specific value from a general presentation. Make the judge’s job easy. Create a presentation and supporting materials that address the judging criteria directly and engage the judges proactively.
Companies should develop stories for the CODiE judges that provide irrefutable evidence of their excellence against the judging criteria. If they can’t afford to do that for all of their entries, they should scale back their ambitions and submit only where the entry they submit is as excellent as the solution it documents.
It takes a lot of extra work to craft a unique story to meet the judging criteria for an award. Many companies enter multiple categories, which is one reason they may generalize. They should, however, avoid generalization and instead focus investments in the places that best reflect their value. Companies should develop stories for the CODiE judges that provide irrefutable evidence of their excellence against the judging criteria. If they can’t afford to do that for all of their entries, they should scale back their ambitions and submit only where the entries they submit are as excellent as the solutions they document.
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