I came into software back in 2011, at the peak of what I jokingly call the “great stack showdown.” I grant you that this “showdown” is still going today, as massive acquisitions continue to roll in from global leaders like Salesforce, Oracle and others.
But at the time, these global brands used mergers and acquisitions (M&As) to build foundations of their all-encompassing tech stacks. This included email, customer relationship management (CRM) and many of the tools we use today.
As a product marketer, it was a really exciting time to be in tech. These acquisitions seemed to happen every week, with each platform promising greater power, reach, utility and functionality to the thousands of businesses and millions of customers who used them.
It was truly a massive vision — both in terms of market movement and in technology storytelling.
The Tech Stacks Have Been Stacked
That said, looking back almost a decade later, it seems to me that the “great tech stack arms race of the early 2010s” was, in fact, the largest exercise in feature-based business storytelling to date.
Now, fast forward 10 years later, everyone’s stack is powerful — layered with similar tools for businesses to use. The deck (and the stacks) have been “stacked,” so to say.
We’ve Mastered Shipping New Features, But Not New Stories
That’s why I say that if software companies haven’t completely mastered the art of building, buying and delivering new capabilities quite yet, I think we can all agree that we’re pretty darn close. And it’s only growing more complex.
The same updates that once took three months or longer to ship are now being completed in three weeks or fewer. To the surprise of no one, agile software development actually worked to evolve and up-level development teams into cross-functional, well-oiled machines.
And just in case we still feel like we’re not shipping new capabilities fast enough, artificial intelligence (AI) is even writing its own code.
New Categories, New Capabilities, New Complexities
This has created a “perfect storm” in software, where we’re buying new companies and developing new capabilities faster than ever before. And then, for good measure, we’ve even put in the work to integrate and partner with each other in a variety of innovative ways.
We’re truly in a technological renaissance where new ideas and categories are popping up everywhere. But in our push to create categories and launch new capabilities in record time, developing the value stories and human comprehension needed to make them successful has been far slower.
Because after all, and I know no one wants to hear this, building and shipping new capabilities is the easy part. It’s the storytelling, training and human-focused rollout to follow that’s the challenge.
Before we’re ready to sell our products to a market full of buyers, we need to first sell them to a room full of our own people. And this room full of people needs to understand the personas, problems and capabilities that are core to our value story to deliver it the right way.
The Software Seller’s Goldmine: Empathy And Understanding
So, what do we do now? There are more than 10,000 privately held software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies out there creating new categories — all while the world’s largest publicly traded giants are still actively growing their portfolios through acquisitions.
Everyone’s market is crowded, everyone’s tools are powerful and everyone’s stories are starting to sound the same as they all fight to sell to the same buyers.
As a result, the buyers have caught on. They’re trading in pre-canned case studies for peer recommendations. They’re turning to reviews to uncover the good, the bad and the ugly before they ever buy. Simply put, in a world of data, capabilities and integrations, buyers are using their emotional intelligence to navigate the complexities of business-to-business (B2B) software buying. This is backed by brain science that tells us that “emotion is a necessary ingredient in almost all decisions,” and that includes buying decisions.
This is where we begin to transition from “who has the best stack” to “who has the best story.” Those who fail to adapt their logic-first stories will likely fall behind as competitors introduce better storytelling into their marketing — the kind of storytelling that people actually want to read that captures pain, heart and the hero’s journey.
This tells me that our ability to craft stories that strike emotional chords and create empathy and understanding on behalf of our audiences will literally make the difference between winning buyers and losing categories.
The Stories We Remember Will Be Written By Software’s Winners
And so, in a world with more software companies than ever, with more robust tools than ever, and that have perfected shipping more new capabilities and creating more new categories than ever, the race to tell the best story is on.
We’ve proven we can come up with new ideas. We’ve proven that we can build great tools. We’ve even proven that we can make them all plug into each other and work together. But it’s the story that wins the hearts of buyers by capturing their pain and putting them at the center of their own hero’s journey that will make the difference between who wins and who loses.
They say history is written by the victors. And in this case, it’ll be written by the storytellers who find new and brilliant ways to cut through the noise and complexity to deliver a story straight to the hearts of their buyers.