People have been selling collections of products and tools for centuries, and with the advent of commercial IT and off-the-shelf software, IT suppliers were quick to follow. There are various ways that products and tools can be brought together for a combined sale, though, and there is potential for confusion as a result – as I was reminded when my colleague Dale’s recent blog, Is ‘suite’ becoming a dirty word?
The differences matter, though perhaps not so much to the marketing department
If the suite is less than sweet these days, what are the alternatives? Let’s start with how I explain the various options available, which I will define as a Suite, Bundle, Package or Platform. As I am mostly focusing on software, this is how I think of them:
- Suite – A collection of applications and/or tools that work together to provide a comprehensive solution in a given area, e.g. end user productivity, data protection, project delivery, etc. You might expect everything to be fully integrated, but this isn’t always the case.
- Package – One or more applications, tools and related services brought together and delivered as a single product for single price. A well-designed package will include things it typically makes sense to buy together. Beware though, that some packages are conceived around what the vendor wants to sell!
- Bundle – I think of this as being similar to a package, but it could include components from multiple suppliers and may even stretch to cover hardware and/or services as well.
- Platform – This is a bit of an odd one out, as it has more to do with architecture than commercial delivery. In a strict sense, a platform provides a set of reusable components and frameworks upon which applications and tools sit.
Other people may, and do, have different ways of looking at these groupings. The main point I wish to make though is not about these definitions. Instead, it’s that I find different vendors using the same terms to describe different assemblages. In essence, some marketing can confuse potential buyers, and me, as the collections they bring to market may use terminology interchangeably and indiscriminately.
For example, vendors, large and small, in a diverse range of solution areas all make use of one, or more, of these terms to describe their offerings. Whether it’s Microsoft Office, Zoho Suite, the Veeam Platform, Box Suites, Adeaca’s project business solutions or the Puppet platform, to name but a few, it can take a little bit of digging to work out exactly what’s included and what’s not.
Getting it wrong can be expensive, anti-productive or both
The result – delay in making decisions and, worse, the buyer picking an option that may not meet their expectations, or might result in them subsequently feeling that they haven’t made the best choice. This can frequently happen when buying suites, packages or bundles where the seller includes components that the buyer is unlikely ever to use.
As vendors increasingly seek to offer more flexible and attractive payment terms, it is time to ask: Should we only pay for the software tools we need now, and have the vendor agree that if we need to add additional components later, the net cost will be minimised? It’s a bit like having a daily cap on your travel card, set at the cost of a day-pass.
With the pressure on IT and business budgets increasing, the era of “buy this bundle because it is cheaper than acquiring everything separately, whether you need all the bits or not” has passed. Vendors really shouldn’t want to create any resentment in their customers. As every good salesman knows, it is far easier to lose a client than it is to get them back.
So it would really help if we could, once and for all, agree what the four terms above actually mean. And if marketing departments could all keep to them, rather than being extremely flexible in their use of language.
Tony is an IT operations guru. As an ex-IT manager with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, his extensive vendor briefing agenda makes him one of the most well informed analysts in the industry, particularly on the diversity of solutions and approaches available to tackle key operational requirements. If you are a vendor talking about a new offering, be very careful about describing it to Tony as ‘unique’, because if it isn’t, he’ll probably know.