Every summer my kids get me hooked on America’s Got Talent. We love watching those brave hopeful performers taking their chance at stardom. Every year some of my favorites are the magicians. This year a talented illusionist, Landon Swank, made it all the way to the final 10. The best a magician had ever done on the show. As much as I love magic as entertainment, I believe it has no place in marketing.
A Cautionary Tale
I recently relayed a story to some of my Savvy Sisters about working with a client whose product was about 75% production ready. They hired me to do a big launch promotion. Under their direction I wrote email copy, solution briefs, product specification overviews, etc. All the while they were to be completing development so we would reach the prescribed moment when the product was ready and matched the wonderful things that had been said about it in the marketing materials.
To make a long story short the product never lived up to its hype. The management of the company thought they could get by with a 75% demo until they could sell their first customer who would then finance the development of the last 25%. Unfortunately the launch promotion I developed was successful. Their trade show booth was packed with people. Their appointment calendar filled up with sales meetings. And after two years and approximately 120 prospect demos they had no clients and exited the market.
This is such a common tale among start-up B2B companies particularly in the down economy that every one of the Savvy Sisters could spin the same yarn I just told with slightly different details.
You must constantly ask yourself – Does my product live up to the marketing? If the answer is no then something has to give. Either you pull back and reflect some of the features as “in development” or “planned future enhancements” or you put in the hard work to develop them as part of the base product. If you market your product as having features that aren’t reflected in your demo you are pulling a bait and switch. Even the best sales staff will get called on the slight-of-hand eventually.
In the case of my client they have now burned bridges at 120 companies because they went in with a half baked product. Do you think they will be able to get meetings with those same prospects again if they do finish the product development? Maybe some will agree to see the “new and improved” but they will always be skeptical about what they aren’t being told the next time.
Not Just a Small Company Problem
Overstating benefits or ROI is not just a small company problem. Even some of the big B2B solution providers have been in trouble for performance guarantees that didn’t come true. I live in Kansas City and a local example that played out here a few years ago between Sprint and IBM was eventually resolved. The two companies continued to work together but when you have to file lawsuit against your vendor to recover damages the relationship had to have been strained at best.
A more recent example is the current fight between Lawson Software and CareSource Management Group. Their ongoing legal troubles stem from the fact that CareSource isn't finding Lawson's software as "seamlessly integrated" as their marketing had indicated it was.
As B2B marketers we do our clients little good to make them sound better than they actually are. We aren’t writing infomercial copy. We need to focus on proven results and documentable case studies as the sharpest tools in our bag.
Do you have a tale of marketing magic gone awry? Share it in our comments section.
About the Author: Heather has spent the past 15 years advocating for the customer perspective in her approach to software development and product marketing. Her penchant for collaboration is what drew her to the Savvy B2B team. Read more of Heather's posts here or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.