It is not unusual for a Product Manager to find that his product is often not up against a competitor product but against systems and tools handcrafted by the potential customer. Underestimate the replacement inertia at your own peril. The home grown system has entrenched through emotional bonds with the same users who you are trying to wean away. Never an easy task.
Key to establishing the value proposition of your product is to focus on the future – not on the present. One big advantage a product company has is its existing and potential installed/user base. Imagine an in-house built editorial publishing system that is used by 100 journalists against a product-based offering that is used by 2000 journalist across a diverse user base. The use case exposure of the in-house system is bound to be limited, reflecting in its ability to evolve quickly and in line with market trends. In other ways, even if your user base didn’t grow – you have 2000 minds feeding you requirements versus the 100 that your prospect has. Drive this point home.
Product Managers, Marketers, Engineers in the product firm wake up each morning (or should wake up each morning) with just one thought – how to better the product. That’s how their DNA’s are programmed. To do this they network, talk with customers, engage with the industry, partner with firms and keep abreast of the latest technology and all that. The customer on the contrary wakes up each morning with very different things that bring them to work. Just as you don’t want to wake up with their priorities, they shouldn’t be burdened to wake up with yours. Trust the experts – tell your potential customer this.
If you are selling into a large organization, it is not unlikely that you will discover (after some investigation, a couple of beers and a Deepthroat) that your potential client has a proliferation of tools, each solving the same problem with different resources, different approach and different technologies – all scattered across different parts of the same organization. Use this information to create compeling Return on Investment (ROI) arguments. Position yourself as the messiah who will bring about uniform technology to solve common (or almost adjacent) business problems.
Sometimes trying to dislodge a home-grown system is more onerous than fighting a competitor. First, you cannot use boilerplate art-of-war techniques perfected through competitor analysis. Second, emotional bonds with home-grown systems are greater and more pervasive than with third party products. Third, you are asking the prospect to make a trade-off between incremental (revenue) expenses (enhancing the in-house system) and capex (buying your product).