Why “Overcoming The Tyranny Of Excel” Is A Lousy Positioning Theme

Time and again, we come across companies who position their software around the theme of “overcoming the tyranny of Excel”. Recent examples include developers of a business activity monitoring (BAM) platform and a mobile secondary sales application.

It is true that Excel-intensive environments are generally fraught with indiscipline and duplication of efforts. Therefore, the “tyranny of Excel” is very real. It is also true that any software worth its name inculcates discipline and eliminates duplication of efforts. To that extent, overcoming the tyranny of Excel might be a technically correct view of most software. However, it does not make for good positioning.

Before we explain why, it’s useful to remember that positioning, by definition, is the image of a product that a marketer tries to create in the minds of its target market. In other words, positioning is not the same thing as what the product is or does.

If we look at this whole thing from the customer’s point of view, what do we see?

We see companies who have spent millions to implement ERPs but have still not given up the use of Excel. According to anecdotal evidence, 70% of Fortune 500 companies have ERPs but over 90% of them submit reports to their board of directors in Excel. Even in specialized functions like, for example, corporate treasury, the use of Excel continues unabated. According to this gtnews article, “around 70% of (companies) are carrying out cash flow forecasting using Excel spreadsheets. Many corporates who have a (separate) treasury management system or a suitable module of an ERP system do not actually use the system for this purpose”. Excel’s ease of use is one reason for this apparent anamoly. Besides, in the words of a former boss of mine who used to report to the company’s board, “No other software allows so many last-minute changes as Excel”. So, whether we like it or not, Excel is not going away anytime soon.

Examples of Marketable Items

Examples of Marketable Items

Against this backdrop, it should be obvious that positioning a software product around overcoming the tyranny of Excel is unlikely to get a vendor too far in the mainstream market. Agreed that it would evoke a favorable response from the prospective customer’s IT middle management and might even suffice to gain the endorsement of the company’s technology leaders. However, the business case and funding requests for such software would invariably be shot down by the C-Suite, which is comfortable with Excel and is unlikely to find any compelling reason to buy something that only replaces Excel.

One common outcome of this flawed positioning is the “100 demos, 0 order” problem that ails many software companies who complain that they’re able to showcase their products to eager audiences all the time but are unable to win too many deals in the end.

If “overcoming the tyranny of Excel” is not a good positioning theme, what is?

According to us, software and all other high-tech products and services need to be positioned using Marketable Items regardless of whether they replace Excel or do something else. Marketable Items package product features (and service capabilities) into compelling reasons to buy that resonate strongly with the target market’s pain areas and hot topics. If they don’t create gain, they must solve pain. More information on how to create Marketable Items can be found here. To find out more about how a re-positioning based on Marketable Items propelled the aforementioned mobile secondary sales application into a different orbit, click here.

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