When Bad Marketing Happens at Software Vendors and Consultancies

Executive Summary

  • Software vendors generally overestimate the quality of their marketing.
  • This article describes common mistakes that we have observed vendors make.


I have worked with quite a few software vendors and consulting companies. When I was younger, I often assumed that companies have marketing departments and they knew what they were doing.

Oh my, have I found that to be untrue.

It is sad to see account executives get hired into these companies — realizing that they will simply be handed a bunch of played out old prospects and will get so little in the way of fresh leads. One of the reasons that account executives have on average a 20-month duration in companies is that as Jack Lemmon famously stated in Glengarry Glen Ross…

“The Leads Are Weak.”

Getting bad leads are demotivating for the account executives. When they have bad leads, they won’t qualify out of them because they can’t simply have it appear that they don’t have any pipeline. So then the company ends up wasting time and resources on bad leads that the account executive only keeps because of job security.

An account executive with poor sales but a full pipeline is one thing, but an account executive with weak sales and a sparse pipeline is something else entirely. Ultimately the account executive is held responsible for the inability to meet the quota, but of course, this is dependent upon marketing. However, it’s very hard for the leadership of companies to admit their marketing is ineffective, so they can instead allocate the blame for the lack of sales to the account executive.

In this article, I will describe the glaring errors that I see software vendors and consultancies make on marketing.

These are the items I will cover.

  1. Focusing on Effort Rather Than Return
  2. People in Marketing Not Knowing the Product or Technology
  3. Having Just Anyone Write Content
  4. Clumsy Social Selling

Focusing on Effort Rather Than Return

In marketing, it’s easy to do things. It’s easy to publish a blog post (especially a bad one — those are easy to bang out). It’s easy to buy a list of emails and to “blast” thousands of people with the same message. It’s easy to attend conferences. Conferences continually reach out to marketers (and everyone else of course) to attend them. 

All of these things are easy to do, but knowing how to do whatever one does and to get a return from the efforts is what separates good marketers from the bad. Anyone can just waste a bunch of energy “doing things.”

More than most areas, marketing is a question of selecting the best use of time and effort from many competing areas and then doing those things in a very practiced and measurable way.

Fishing in Which Pond Again? 

There is no shortage of young go-getting marketing resources that are tech savvy and can get things done. However, the issue is at the senior level, the knowledge standards of the resources which are supposed to set the strategy and know the right ponds in which to fish.

The adage that.

“I know 50% of my marketing budget is wasted, but I don’t know which half”

..always applies.

Marketing Shoe Shinning

Some marketing departments out there are “shining their shoes” within the company. Shining one’s shoes is to showcase about how they are doing a lot of things, but they don’t measure the impact on business development.

Now not all marketing is necessarily connected to business development — some marketing is to create awareness, to improve the brand, etc.. — but a lot of marketing comes down to business development — or in plain English — to leads generated. If the marketing department/group/individual is not tracking relevant lead generation nor wants to be measured on this, then the company probably does not have a very certain department/group/individual.

People in Marketing Not Knowing the Product or Technology

People that work in marketing for software vendors or consultancies almost never have any background in implementation or software.

However, it’s not so much necessarily having a background as it has the curiosity to listen to those that know.

As an example where this did not happen, I recently performed ghostwriting for a software vendor. I was quite taken aback by how little my marketing contact knew about technology generally, and how little the person was willing to listen. This individual seemed to be trying to see what we could get away with writing rather than what was accurate. I found it impossible to develop a writing relationship with this person. Everything required so much explanation. Every article apparently needed to be changed for some superficial reason. Major rewrites requested, and then the further explanation was required after the initial rewrite.

A Bridge Too Far

There cannot be a yawning chasm between what the marketing person knows and what the content provider knows.

An individual who knows so little of the subject matter cannot manage the content provider because the individual is simply too far away from the technology, and the gap is too great to bridge.

This same issue arises in book publishing. Book publishers assign editors who don’t know anything about the technology, and so the interaction effort is almost all placed on the content to a provider, and then after putting the author through the ringer, the publisher takes the vast majority of the profits from the published book.

This orientation of generally being basically “out of it” promotes these marketing individuals not to engage with the company’s own internal person with software expertise.

If the marketing resource is intimidated by the technology, they will tend to go off and do their own thing in isolation — and that is how you get unrealistic “plastic” content onto websites.


The software is a complex topic, curiosity, and ability to get into new and unfamiliar areas are critical capabilities for working with the concepts. 

The software has integration aspects, implementation aspects, functionality, coding, usage, and these different areas come up frequently in an article and when figuring out how to market these things. In my view, the best articles are those where the writer can connect up the different aspects to one another in a manner that is easy to understand. That means using knowledge from multiple areas and having a firm grasp on what the exact connections are, and what things may seem connected superficially, but are not connections at all.

There are types of simple products that if one is not particularly curious one can work in marketing. However, if a person is going to work in marketing in the enterprise or even consumer software actually, they are going to have to be more able to understand complex topics than the average marketer. Furthermore, you can get a feel for a person’s curiosity and ability and interest to deal with complex information with just one or two conversations.

I have worked with good enterprise software marketing people, and it’s not that hard to figure out.

Is the Marketing Department Hiding from the Technologists? 

If the marketing department/group/individual can’t seem to gel with the technical experts in the company, if they have always to be corrected on contentions that they make about the technology (at least basic ones) then there is most likely a problem with the depth of those working in that group. 

This brings up another point. Many technologists in the US speak English as a second language. Therefore, this places an extra burden on the marketing resource to be able to understand people with who are not going to communicate the same way as a native English speaker.

This is not fair, but it is the reality of software.

Having Just Anyone Write Content

Writing is one of those things that by definition any literate person can do, but it takes a lot of experience in writing to write compelling content.

Some of the writing capability is one’s innate ability, but a lot is simply how much one has drafted in the past. Writing productivity increases significantly with experience.

Writing Ability and Writing Productivity

People ask me how I can put out so much content. I think this underlies a great misunderstanding about how writing skill and productivity is developed. One would not question why a person who has been training with a bicycle for ten years can peddle so fast.

For some reason, people do think, or at least they imply through their questions, that writing ability stays at one level throughout one’s life. That is you graduate from college, and then that is your writing level.

It’s just the opposite. It is just like anything else, from golf to tennis, developing knowledge in an area, etc.. A person who begins writing in a serious way is not the same writer ten years later.

The problem is that most people don’t get the opportunity to do a sufficient amount of writing to get particularly good at it. There is no shame in that, I am a very poor quality database administrator, you probably would not want me administering your company’s database, as I only have done that a few times.

Unless you get lucky or have staff writers, the chance that the right person to write the article works for the company is low. Website content etc.. is critical as it allows the company to communicate with its customers at a very low cost and comprehensive way to prospects, as well as reinforcing concept with existing customers. Good content in anything from marketing to support content can help retain customers as well as help acquire them.

When I run into great articles on a software vendor or consulting company website, my respect for the company goes up, and I suspect the same goes for others because it demonstrates that the entity knows what they are talking about. This leads right into the next point.

Clumsy Social Selling

Many marketing departments follow the old model of getting into people’s faces as quickly as possible, to get the email address so they can be sold. How many times have you filled out a form to get a document and then you get called within a few hours from some junior sales rep? I wonder how many of these calls are successful.

If the product or service is compelling, wouldn’t the prospect naturally reach out to the company?

Social/Relationship Selling

The old way of marketing/selling is giving way to a more sophisticated and more relationship-based form, and there are many people who speak on this topic so it’s certainly not an original idea on my part. This means less aggressiveness and more providing information, asking for feedback, answering questions, asking for feedback, etc.. Hmmmm…sounds something like developing a relationship.


It does not have to be this way. There are some relatively straightforward things to do regarding hiring and strategy that can improve the situation. I am not an expert in marketing, but I do get to work with marketing departments and sometimes develop content for them, so I get to see how some of them operate and it is easy to differentiate the effective from the ineffective. And from what I know there are just lots of easy ways to improve one’s marketing.