RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Marketing IT In-House: Truth Is Better Than Fiction

Honesty is the best policy with your in-house customers because you have to live with them. At the same time, getting to know your own product so you can tell the truth about it is a journey in itself.

Marketers often excuse dishonesty when they're selling BI (or anything else). Many say, "It's okay to stretch the truth because telling the truth isn't enough to move most people to do what they should do -- buy. If you have something they need, you owe it to them and to yourself to do everything in your power to get them to buy."

It's easy to talk to yourself that way when you don't have to live with the people who buy your products, but when your customers are in-house BI users, you'd better be an in-house vendor with the firm habit of telling the truth and nothing but the truth.

Sometimes It's Called Lying

Years ago I responded to a newspaper ad that read: 1976 Fiat. 4-door, power windows, runs good, looks good. No rust. $600

I said to myself, No rust! Wow! That's remarkable. Maybe I should buy it. I made the 40-minute drive to the owner's house and looked the car over. There was plenty of rust all along the bottom of the car.

"You said it didn't have any rust," I told him.

He shrugged and suggested I was overreacting. He said a car that old should be expected to have some rust. He obviously thought it was okay to "stretch" the truth because telling the truth would not have been enough to get me to make the 40-minute drive.

You can see how weak the ad would have been if it had said: "1976 Fiat. 4-door, power windows, runs good, looks good. No rust on the upper part of the car body. $600."

Warm memories of the Fiat my father owned many years earlier helped me look past the imperfections of the one I was now considering. I paid the $600 and drove the car home.

Well, almost home. I was 30 seconds from my driveway when the rust-free 1976 Fiat stopped dead in the street. I was furious at the previous owner and the new one, too. How could I have been so stupid? The seller hadn't stretched the truth; he had outright lied.

Yet his ad was effective. It had convinced me to drive all the way to the city to see the car. Yes, I could see the rust had practically severed the lower part of the car from the upper part, but I was hoping the guy had told me enough truth about the rest of the vehicle to make it worth my money and time. I sold it soon after to a junk yard.

Quite a bit of BI is sold by vendors who truly don't know what they're talking about. I read an incredibly happy report from a vendor about the performance of its well-known enterprise software solution. There's no way it can do everything the report says. If it could, all employees might as well clock out and let the software program run their organizations by itself.

The text read like a work of fiction, because the product has no apparent shortcomings, limits, or specific range of effectiveness. That's how we know the vendor is either lying or just doesn't know what the truth is. A product always has limits.

They Hope They're Telling the Truth

Many vendors nervously hope their products live up to their claims -- after they make the sale. Their "stretches" of the truth can have consequences. A large health care network sent a team of IT and nursing professionals to a trade show in Las Vegas to learn about the latest EMR systems. These "scouts" became enchanted by a particular solution and eagerly brought the good news home. "You're going to love this!" they told the hospital nurses.

Not one of the scouts had worked with the nurses who would be using the new "solution"; none understood those nurses' needs. They thought they could make educated guesses about how the vendor's magnificent claims would bring users to tears of joy and gratitude.

Two years later, the EMR that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars -- in a variety of ways -- continues to frustrate the users because (1) it requires them to learn a new system and (2) it offers no advantage over their previous system.

Lessons Learned as a Vendor

There are outright vendor lies, but sometimes vendor lies and stretches are strictly unintentional.

Six years ago, my twin and I began selling language instruction to schools. My part was to produce short videos to teach Spanish to 1st- and 2nd-graders. Schools began buying them -- except there weren't any to buy yet. I said I was going to make them and that they would be very good.

School administrators began requesting lessons for older students, all the way up to 8th grade. This placed an extremely different set of demands on me.

Little did I know how long and difficult my technological and instructional journey would be. I was learning different software and hardware for making and delivering video, technologies kept changing, and customers were dropping us or signing up for more. I began wondering what in the world I was trying to sell!

All the while, the skills I acquired from teaching in buildings and on TV were not easily transferring to video. I was in unchartered territory. I made and remade many hundreds of videos before arriving at the insight I have now. I finally cracked the code on how to make videos that effectively teach new language to children. We also began streaming our videos to any device.

My twin and I immediately announced our much upgraded product to our list of schools. We said it would come with "no IT headaches." That afternoon, we mistakenly violated the terms of our e-mail sender and our website was shut down. How incompetent we must have appeared -- at the very point where we are unquestionably more technologically and instructionally competent than ever.

"Although we were ultimately responsible for the claims and promise we make, we learned that we'd made those claims because we were relying on the word of a key vendor. Lies, you see, can have a domino effect." We rely on the BI systems of several vendors, and we have noticed that they, too, have annoying bugs to work out. We're all growing through endless technological changes and challenges. We're all learning more about our own products and what we can truthfully claim about them.

It's embarrassing to admit that I now know I was not telling my customers the truth about what they were getting for their money. The customers going into their seventh year with us will see the huge improvement. The rest might think my twin and I are just a couple of marketers stretching the truth to make a sale.

The solution to solving this predicament sooner than later is to do a better job of studying the performance of every product feature in relation to its corresponding customer need.

Living Happier Ever After

Marketing BI in-house means you are the vendor to your users. Users will decide whether you knowingly exaggerate or intentionally hide the truth, or whether you're setting realistic expectations by honestly declaring limitations and specifications.

Take a long look at the claims you make about your BI product and be known as the trusted, in-house BI vendor.

Max T. Russell invites your suggestions for future article topics. As owner of Max and Max Communications, he works behind the scenes to promote individuals and projects in a variety of industries. He and his identical twin, Max S., are heavy technology users who have been discussing and dissecting the challenges of IT in the workplace for the past 18 years. You can contact the author at maxt@maxtrussell.com.

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