Image: “Computer Software Development” by Fabio Bruna, CC license

Being on the “buy side” of corporate software for many years I’ve seen numerous pitches by software vendors. A few were excellent, most were forgettable, and quite a few were incoherent. Like actress Clara Peller in the Wendy’s ads — for those of you alive in the 1980s — I was often left wondering: “where’s the beef?”

One thing missing from nearly all of these presentations: a clear understanding of what my company did and what our business needs were, not to mention how the software solution met those needs.  Nearly all the meetings with vendors centered around the software and its ability to do this or that.

Another common theme: the vendor would present a business problem — one that you may or may not have — how solving this problem is the key to business success, and how that is accomplished with the vendor’s packaged lines of code.

Some advice to software vendors:

Ask the potential customer what they hope to accomplish with your solution.  Listen.  Ask questions and clarify.  The first response you get is probably not enough information.  Once you understand the problem and how you can help then you are ready to present something.

Know the specific issues facing the customer’s industry. Is there a language used in that industry that someone in your firm is familiar with?  Many software vendors have expertise in selling to specific industries, but have few people in their organization who’ve actually worked in that industry.

Limit the accolades for your firm.  You don’t need five slides explaining how great your firm is and how many of your firm’s customers are household names.  The customer probably wouldn’t be meeting with you unless they already knew you were legit.

Most importantly — connect the dots.  Most people cannot, in their minds, translate software functionality into business benefits.  You must do it for them and you must use the language of their business to do so.  You also need to leave behind a draft business case for investing in your solution. Most people don’t know how to write a business case, for anything.