Differentiate the product (was Take this engineer and shove it)

Subject: Differentiate the product (was Take this engineer and shove it)
From: "John Bell" <jbell -at- siebel -dot- com>
To: "'TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM'" <TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 31 May 2000 08:15:10 -0700

Jim Shaeffer wrote:
> No matter how good our documentation is, it does not
> provide our companies with a way to 'differentiate
> their offering'. Our work falls in the hygiene category,
> not the core value proposition. Think of hygiene this
> way. Most of us bathe regularly and brush our teeth,
> but we do not list these accomplishments on our resumes.
< snip>
> Similarly, most documentation does nothing to
> differentiate the product when it is being evaluated by
> customers. If there is no documentation, that 'stinks'.
> If the documentation is there, as expected, it is time
> to focus on real differentiating factors like speed of
> execution and ease of use.

I think this depends on who the customer is. For mass-produced shrink-wrap
products, it is hard to evaluate the documentation before buying. However
for industrial products, many potential customers insist on evaluating the'
docs along with the software. I know that in previous companies our
sales folks had told me that our docs gave us a substantial
advantage over our competitors, and several times they went so far
as to say that the docs were a major selling point. This was partly due
to their completeness and helpfulness, and partly due to the screen shots
proving that our product existed and wasn't vaporware. Good docs are
a sign of software maturity.

I once got a very nice compliment from an industry analyst (someone who
writes reviews of products for trade magazines). When he was invited to
our company to review our software, his first request was to see the books.
When asked why, he replied that he found a strong correlation between the
state of the documentation and the state (maturity, usefulness, etc.) of
the software. Good companies produce good docs. He read through our
docs and was then actually eager to come visit us and try out the software
first hand. We got a very positive review as a result.

--- John Bell
jbell -at- siebel -dot- com

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