Joshua Platt

It's Not About Features

“Why don’t we have a feature matrix comparing our features to our competitors features?”

A few weeks back the new VP of Sales walked into my office on the war path and boldly made this statement. He proceeded to explain why a feature comparison matrix was mission critical for his account managers to be successful selling our application. When prospects would bring up a competitors application his team could use the matrix to quickly scan and rattle off all the features we had they didn’t. His case was that this rattling off of our unique features would seal the deal. I said no.

I had three reasons not to do fulfill his request for a competitive matrix.

The software industry is mature and yet still evolving at breakneck speed. Features are no longer enough. We need to understand the the complete package and sell an experience.

Our App is Not Unique

Our phenomenal new app concept that will transform the world? Yeah, its been done. Apples various App Stores have more than 100,000 apps combined. Sourceforge has 260,000 projects. My Twitter stream averages 5 tweets about new apps per day. I don’t dare estimate the number of apps that exist for Windows. The bottom line is with this many applications present in the market there is a very low probability that a given feature or set of features will be unique to our app. Our competitive matrix would show a lot of overlap and not be much use to the account managers trying to differentiate.

Oh sure, we can fudge it. Make it look unique by playing with the language. But this tactic assumes our prospects are ignorant enough to fall for it. Trouble is there is a high probability they are not ignorant and they have done their homework. So fudging comparisons just makes us look bad and likely cost the deal anyway.

But I need a quick way to see what we have!

So there are a lot of apps available and likely share features with our app. The pain is that we don’t have a quick way to compare our app to a given competitor. This means the matrix must contain as many competitors as possible to increase the probability that we can get the info we need when we need it. If a competitor comes up that is not on the matrix it will have failed providing us the information we needed. How large do you think a matrix covering core features and competitors features would be? Could we navigate it quickly while on the phone with a prospect? I don’t think we would have much success with that.

It’s About the Experience

You could walk into any coffee shop in the world and get a latte with vanilla flavor. You could make one at home with relative ease for that matter. So why do millions of people line up every morning to buy one from Starbucks? The Experience.

Starbucks took an ordinary feature set of coffee, espresso, mocha, and latte and packaged it into an experience that people desired. They gave funky names to small, medium, and large. They play just the right kind of music with chairs that fit the part under lights that make it feel cool. Then they deliver that experience consistently.

Apps are obviously more complex than coffee (well, for most) but we are still selling to people. We need to focus less on selling features and instead get people to experience our app. It’s the experience that will differentiate us and keep people lining up for more.

This of course assumes our app has a magical total experience, but that is another article…

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