How to Understand Sun Tzu on Enterprise Software Marketing

What This Article Covers

  • Who was Sun Tzu?
  • Deciphering the Marketing Code
  • A Modern Incarnation of Sun Tzu’s Wisdom for Enterprise Software

Background on Enterprise Software Marketing Strategy

Most people are familiar with Sun Tzu the ancient Chinese general and philosopher who wrote the classic “Art of War.” Some memorable quotations have come from this book such as the following:

If you enemy is superior, evade him. If angry, irritate him. If equally matched, fight, and if not, split and re-evaluate.

However, after years of evaluating, in many cases misleading, marketing literature from software vendors I think some rules of thumb apply to how enterprise software vendors position their product that seems eerily similar to the way Sun Tzu presented his knowledge. It appears that Sun Tzu has influenced quite a few enterprise vendor marketing and product management departments and has greatly influenced marketing strategy at many vendors. Sun Tzu’s philosophies are based on a combination of common sense, military experience, and deception.

Deciphering the Marketing Code

With many vendors, it becomes necessary to learn the code to get around their marketing strategy to get to real information. I describe this in my article where I attempted to find an effective SaaS MDM solution, which you can read at this link. Interestingly the marketing strategy of many of the largest software vendors is to confuse the client actively, and this itself is evidence that there may not be much or much usable to the solution they are presenting.

Another consistent marketing strategy of enterprise software vendors is to present areas that they don’t have a product in or have a very new and untested product as if it is much more substantial that it is. When I read the literature for products like SAP PLM, SAP MDM, or WinShuttle and compare it against the actual software, it’s like the literature does not even describe the product, but is describing some other product that the company wishes that it has been smart enough to develop.

A Modern Incarnation of Sun Tzu’s Wisdom for Enterprise Software

  1. If your application is uncompetitive, discuss the integrative aspects of the application.
  2. If your software has a poor user interface, do not let the user community see it before obtaining the software contract. Also, restrict the number of screenshots of your application on your website.
  3. If your application has little practical use, infuse presentations with big words and big concepts. (good examples of this would be use of the terms “data governance” and “taxonomy” to cover up poor MDM solutions)
  4. Turn your weakness into a strength by discussing things in the future you never intend to do (this relates to SAP’s discussion of their plans for SOA and SaaS – something that would reduce the power of their ability to lock in clients to their solutions)
  5. When a previous message and product has failed to gain tracking introduce a reboot of the product. Pay off the necessary analysts to write uncritical articles on you that won’t hold the lack of performance in the software area against you.
  6. If you are large, but uncompetitive in an area, partner with a smaller company commingle the separate solutions to confuse customers from understanding that most of the functionality is coming from your software partner. After you have co-opted the space, and taken some of your partner’s intellectual properly, end the partnership and introduce a competing product.


There is a great deal of sophisticated strategy being employed at some vendors, and I would not be surprised if Sun Tzu is a popular book in the marketing departments of the large enterprise software vendors.

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