The Platform Inflation Syndrome
Chris da Cunha
Similar to grade inflation that is sweeping academic institutions across America, every software vendor on earth seems to be adding the word “platform” to their product description and dubiously awarding themselves an A+ grade, even though most offer little more than a point solution with multiple features.
Because platforms appeal to buyers who conceptually prefer buying a fully integrated solution from a single vendor that meets all of their needs, instead of dealing with multiple vendors offering point solutions that are loosely integrated at best.
How about users?
Frankly, users don’t really care if they are using a platform from a single vendor or point solutions from multiple vendors so long as the tools are intuitive and easy to use, and enable them to get their job done with the fewest number of clicks and searches.
Feature inflation syndrome
In addition to the allure of platforms, laundry lists of features also appear to strike a chord with buyers, and unfortunately many vendors have become infected with feature inflation syndrome.
While some buyers may be swayed by checking the ever-expanding box of supposedly important features, users don’t really care as long as the critical features are easy to use.
The unintended consequence of this feature arms race is products that are overly complex and difficult to use. Much of this can be blamed on product managers and marketing teams who, with the best of intentions, get caught up in appealing to buyers and lose sight of the end user.
Some of these features are requested by one-off fringe customers and aren’t relevant to mainstream customers, but product managers will still include them in their new releases because it indicates progress.
Furthermore, product marketers will wax on eloquently about why these non-critical features are critical differentiators. Hogwash!
Users quickly home in on the 20% of features that matter the most, and can only hope that the bloat doesn’t overly complicate their ease of use. Certainly, for the majority of end users, simplicity is the key to adoption, utilization and compliance.
The next time you entertain a pitch from a vendor hawking “platform” or a laundry list of features, ask yourself: What is the problem we’re solving for?
Does their solution adequately solve your primary needs?
Will the extra products and features benefit your users or needlessly distract them?
Can they coexist with other vendor solutions in your ecosystem?
Over the long term, if a vendor truly wants to be viewed as a genuine platform play, they ought to allow and, in fact, encourage best-of-breed vendors and competitors to integrate tightly with their platform with the end goal being to offer a seamless and superior experience for the customer.
So how does a buyer make an intelligent decision that will benefit their users in the short and long term?
Trust is key
The key decision in my mind comes down to good, old-fashioned relationships built on trust.
In addition to conducting due diligence on the company, their products and customers, there has to be a level of trust in their people.
Can you count on their people to deliver the solution as advertised today, and can you count on them to deliver future product enhancements in a timely manner?
Contrary to vendors who will unethically say “Yes” to every question and demand, I believe that you may be better off with a vendor who is thoughtful and forthright and has the confidence to say “No.”
Either “No, we do not offer that feature and here’s the reason why,” or “No, we do not offer that feature but it’s on our roadmap and will be available on such future date.”
From an entrepreneur’s perspective, there is nothing more rewarding than the ability to solve pressing customer needs and feel valued.
It’s OK to start out with a best-of-breed point solution so long as you can seamlessly coexist with the tools that the end-user is using.
Educate the buyer and assure them that you will solve their problem and delight their users. Offer free trials to prove this point.
If you are successful, you will likely get acquired by a larger platform player or you can choose to continue to innovate independently and ultimately become a genuine platform player.
At the end of the day, your success will be determined by your long-term customer relationships. If they are as vibrant today as they were when they started using your solution, you’re a winner!
Like small batch single-malt scotches, these relationships will just get better with time.
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Image credit: Garrett Heath