Beware the one stop shop…

Be wary of buying from the one stop shop. In fact, I would suggest that you don’t. Perhaps best not to purchase at all, if you are in any doubt.

Last week, I was speaking with a systems vendor who was, politely, pitching their product to me. The beauty of it (apparently) is that a newly minted sole trader and a corporate client can use the tools therein. This struck as an interesting pitch territory: a tool which will satisfy an SME and a corporation alike. We didn’t get on to pricing which would have been an interesting space as well – I am confident of success but I suspect my investment potential is somewhat limited by comparison to a corporation of any scale, as yet.

The reason, it seems, that it is useful for me as a consultant and to corporate buyers is that it does pretty much everything. In the cloud. I could use it as an LMS, an intranet, an extranet, a enterprise social tool, a document store, a resource library and video library (which is somehow different) and an e-commerce package. I am uncertain that I need any of these things at present. Were I in a position to buy on behalf of a corporation, I would frown and ask: “What is it?”. I mean, singularly, what is it for – what problem does it solve?

Defining the customer defines the benefits of the product. Or, it should do. There are so many potential buyers implied in the list above that confound a clear pitch of the benefits of the tools. That is to say nothing of the budget holder that one would seek to pitch at. Where are they in the global address list?

Let me exemplify the problem with a metaphor from the pitch itself. (And this where I really lost my way). The product (or products) were likened to 3D chess. Now, I like chess. I am quite bad at it but I do like it. It is very hard and requires a lot of effort to be good at. I have not yet played 3D chess but I suspect it is rather horrible and on the unsatisfying end of the difficulty spectrum. I think the benefit behind the metaphor (some distance behind, in the shadows) is that it can be seem from many perspectives and applied in many ways. It is a cunning and powerful tool (maybe). Let me be clear, this was supposed to be a good thing. There is a reason this is not even a thing of any kind. There is little joy or utility in it. 3D chess has currency as a metaphor precisely because it is exclusively difficult and challenging. Nobody plays 3D chess.

To be honest, if it were pitched as likening good old 2D chess, I was a lost customer. A good workplace tool, or set of tools, needs to help us find things out and get things done. Quickly.

Despite the problem of the pitch missing the benefit by a country mile there is a design problem too. A one stop shop is not what I need – there is not a destination that I am travelling to. I want resources, advice, ideas and context as I travel. A diversion to the universal emporium will slow me down and may re-route me entirely.

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