Futility of “feature wars”

Feature WarIf you as a software product manager is arming your sales force with detailed information on all of the features in your product(s), you are arming them with information to fail. If your sales team is engaging in a “feature war” with your competitors, you are bound to lose to the competitor who is smart enough to engage the customer in a discussion on their needs and how their product(s) solves these problems and how it would help the customer achieve their goals.

What exactly is a “Feature war?” – software vendors trying to outdo each other on who has more features than the other. You cannot win this war – any product is going to have a feature that another one does not and vice versa. Engaging in a “feature war” is death knell for two reasons:
1) You are losing focus on the fact that the customer is looking for a solution to their problems and not for a product with features. They want to know how your product (as a whole, not individual features) benefits them, solves their problem(s) and achieve their goals.
2) If you get caught up in the features (weeds), your driving force is going to be add more features and create a very complex product – a “Frankenstein”.

Mature products have feature bloat – they have more features than one would ever want to use. Take the example of MS Office. I would still be happy with MS Office 97 because I still use maybe 2% of the functionality that is there. I would bet there is a large majority of users are like me. But software vendors often have to keep adding features just to put out a new release to feed the subscription “engine” (often a large “revenue” stream and only “profit” generator) and and also to create momentum for their sales force. This is fine if the new release solves problems for new market segments or problems previously not solved for existing customers. But often times, it is not. It is change for the sake of change.

You should rather be spending time on solving the customer’s problem(s) better – understand it better, solve it better than anyone does today. Then make sure your sales force is armed with information on how your product(s) solves the customer problems better than your competitors. Make sure they start the discussion at a very high level, thoroughly understand the problems faced by the customer and then convince the customer on how your product(s) provide the best possible solution and if needed the features that make it work.

When you are training your sales force, make sure you are educating them on the customer benefits of using your product(s), what problems it solves and how the individual features contribute to solving the problems. Package it for your sales force so that it is easy for them to grasp than them getting caught up in the weeds.

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Image: Courtesy of filesanywhere.com (the use of this image does not indicate in any way that filesanywhere.com is engaged in feature wars or has feature bloat. The image is for illustration purpose only. In fact they have a very good website that clearly explains customer benefits of using their product using words that I as a customer would use. Please check them out.)

5 thoughts on “Futility of “feature wars””

  1. Geeks love to customize their environment, so when you address your application to geeks, you end up with feature bloat that hangs around even as your product enters markets far from the geeks. A mature product facing the late market needs to be rewritten, because late market users are not like early market users, and even more unlike geeks. Moore called this task sublimation. These days you take your product to Saas, and that gives you the opportunity to eliminate feature bloat. If you want to keep your geeks, then move your non-geeks to SaaS, and end up with two different products.

    Another feature war one could engage in is one of fitness. Typical requirements processes and market segmention lead to average products that don’t fit anyone particularly well, because it tries to fit everyone. Average products smudge meaning. The closer you get to the real meaning that users attribute to the labels in your UI, the higher the fitness. If the fitness is too far away from a particular user’s meaning, they will compensate. But, it’s costly to compensate.

    The recession is another reason to compete on fitness. It will improve your value proposition by eliminating the costs of compensation. A recession is also a good place to do mass customization, so a feature can have high fitness for different groups of users, even some new users you’ve yet to reach in adjacent markets.

    Head to head competition on features, because there is nothing new under the sun is nuts. Admittedly, the subject domain your application automates probably doesn’t change all that fast. There might be a paradigm that you haven’t encoded. But, without a business reason or change in the subject domain, competing on features is a very short-term win.

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