Friday, May 6, 2011

Comparing Apples and Oranges

Our marketing professor at MBA studies used to say: "You can always find a market where you are a leader, if you define market accordingly". A similar wit could be applied to comparing one product to another: "You can always find that your product is better than competitor's if you define criteria accordingly".

The idea for this post came after encountering some sort of "comparison war" between two global players in the CRM market: Salesforce and Microsoft. Microsoft has made a strong entry in the hosted CRM market by launching the online CRM 2011, which has obviously provoked the, by now the global leader in that segment, to respond with typical chart aimed to present to general public the advantages of Salesforce vs Microsoft. This chart was published at the beginning of the year, and since then it was changed, so firstly I will post the original chart:

This chart has of-coruse caused a response from Microsoft, primarily from Microsoft parners and bloggers. They have presented evidence that this chart is misleading and plain wrong. The most erudite was a blog from Sonoma partners, one of the leading Microsoft CRM's partners, in which they have analyzed and refuted each of the seven claims that Salesforce has presented.

Now comes the interesting part. Salesforce has since then changed it's original chart and now, at the time of writing it looks like this one:

You can also look at the link where the graph was published, but I'm posting the graphic, so not to lose the original chart if the Salesforce choose to tweak it once more.

Now, not knowing anything about Salesforce or Microsoft, you can notice that Salesforce has changed a criteria a little bit, and most interestingly, they are now more generous, as before they were better on all 7 points, and now they are better on 6 points, with Outlook integration being listed as a feature which both products support.

Curiously enough, the criteria they have chosen to eliminate in the first chart, "any email app", to be acknowledged as equally supported on the second chart, "Outlook integration", is the one on which they had the best chance of claiming their advantage. It is truth that Microsoft's CRM works great with their most popular mail client - Outlook, but it is also truth that it doesn't have out-of -the-box integration with other mail clients, like Lotus Notes or Gmail, where Salesforce supports all three clients. The customer who doesn't use Outlook as their mail client has to pay for the third party add-on like LinkPoint360 to have the integration. Now, I'm using all three mail clients and in my opinion the Outlook is clearly the best, and globally it's the most popular client. But, of course, not everyone will share my opinion, and in many situations the change of mail client is not feasible.

But, of course, such comparisons are almost never intended to be as accurate as possible. Their main aim is to persuade the potential buyer to choose our solution. And one can well imagine the reasoning of a Salesforce's employee who was responsible for re-crafting the chart: "what is more convincing, seeing a chart on which we are better from competitor in every single aspect, or seeing a chart in which we are better in every single aspect except in one in which we generously give the credit to the competitor? No one is going to believe that we are better in everything, so, to make things more realistic let us concede that just somewhere Microsoft is on equal terms with us."

I don't want to say that Salesforce is deceitful company, Microsoft also has his own fair shares of marketing bluffs and such misleading comparisons are typical in Software industry. Both products have there own strengths and weaknesses, and the buyer has to go much deeper into each product to rightly decide which one is better for him. But, Salesforce's marketing department could have certainly done a better job of promoting advantages of their product to the competitor's.

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