At some point or another, we’ve all sat down and heard a presentation from a relatively new company. Whether it be a startup, a stealth mode developer, or just someone trying to find their marketing legs not everyone can afford to have a PR budget like Microsoft. At some point, all of this started sounding the same to me. With the help of my friend Joshua Williams (@JSW_EdTech), we’ve managed to figure out why this all seems to sound like we’ve heard the same story over and over. It’s not quite like the presentation bingo game that you may be used to. Instead of trying to cover the card, you just need to wait for the five magic phrases or indicators.
B – Business Founders – Odds are good one of the first things a really hot startup will tell you about is how awesome the founders are. The most impressive companies you have never heard of seem to be run by really famous people that got really bored with what they were doing for their old job and ran out and started a new company. These folks likely used to work for Cisco or Juniper or Microsoft or even EMC. But now they’ve got something really awesome that they want to sell you or tell you. You will probably see this by the second slide in the Company Overview. And the odds are really good that if the founder is one of those Cult of Personality types, you’re going to hear their name brought up a few more times in the presentation. Usually by first name, because that shows the close-knit group dynamic that they’ve got going on.
I – I’m Unique Because… – Let’s face it. Do we really need another storage array or switch or single pane of glass management program? Probably not. However, that’s what’s been built to target a segment of the market that’s really untapped at this point. The key isn’t making the product totally awesome in every way possible. The real key is to tell you how it’s radically different than anything you’ve seen before. Maybe it automatically configures switch ports when load characteristics increase exponentially around holiday shopping traffic. Maybe it can do hitless snapshots while the array is online and rebuilding. Maybe the interface has unicorns all over the login page. The presenter is going to hit you over the head with the fact that they are different than everyone else. That’s why they’re going to be successful. Never mind that the login process takes five minutes and the documentation looks like it was written by a classroom full of first graders. When a big publication does a story on us, we have something different to draw everyone in.
N – Neato Tagline – Everyone has to have a tagline. It’s the stinger that you take away and put in the back of your mind until you’ve completely forgotten about the presentation. Then, one morning when you’re having breakfast, the tagline comes back to you out of nowhere and you suddenly realize that this is the thing you need to fix the thing that doesn’t work! Never mind that you can’t remember what they did or how much it costs. That tagline was awesome! It probably rhymes or is a pun on the state of the industry. Maybe the it’s something the founders are fond of saying at the end of every meeting to remind people what their goals are. Chances are it’s so cool that it will generate a few hundred thousand sales. Then the company will hire a professional marketing firm and they’ll do market research to find a tagline that resonantes with a key demographic and everything will change and there’ll be glossy marketing slicks to go with everything. And when that fails eventually, they’ll go back to using a modified version of the old tagline to remind everyone how they’re getting back to the core of what makes them great.
G – Gartner – You knew this one was coming. I’m picking on Gartner here because the name fits my theme, but you know that IDC and Forrester and Tolly and others are going to come up at some point. Despite the fact that you’ve likely never heard of them, you’re going to see that the analysts know all about this company and will have already pigeonholed them into some polygon or ranked them among the best in some esoteric category that doesn’t matter to 90% of the buying population. It’s like being in a bank. Everyone’s a vice president…of something. A friend of mine was VP of communications for a bank. His department had no employees besides himself. What’s the point of being number one if there’s no number two or three or four? I’m pretty sure you know how I feel about analyst firms in general by now. Just know that the presenters are all hot to tell you about how other people tell the world that they’re awesome. And be sure to take that information with the prescribed grain of salt.
O – Our Customers Include…(NASCAR Slide) – One of my personal favorites. Never mind that the presenter is telling you how awesome their company/widget/idea is. Take it from the list of companies that I’m about to show you on one (or many more) slides. But I’m going to be clever and just show you logos, since you obviously might get FedEx confused with FedEx Cleaners in Cleveland or something. These slides are usually a jumble of graphics that look like someone has vomited a stream of GIFs and JPEGs onto a slide. In many ways it resembles the side of a NASCAR vehicle or jumpsuit. In fact, all it really boils down to is an attempt to sway your opinion by saying, “Hey! These successful people use our stuff! You should too!” It’s as ridiculous as McDonalds putting the logo of every company in the world on their marketing material because the employees of the company eat there on occasion. Rather than filling your presentation with slide after slide of blather and graphic, include a testimonial from a specific company. Or better yet, have a representative of that company come tell me how awesome your stuff is.
After you get all five of these in your presentation, you can proudly jump up and shout “BINGO!!!” and then leave. You don’t need to know any more about the company from this point forward. Who cares what they make? Do you really want to know how they handle upgrades or licensing or costs? Probably not. You’ve already seen the important stuff. They have awesome founders that are doing something totally unique that no one else has thought of. They spent all their time coming up with a catchy phrase to stick in your brain and did just enough to get noticed by a few companies looking for something different to try this time around. That, in turn, got them noticed by professionals whose job it is to tell you who you should be using and reassuring you that the products you are using are pretty cool. After all that, you just need to write the check for whatever it is that the company is trying to sell you. I mean, with an amazing presentation like that you shouldn’t need any more details.