“Which Market or Magic Quadrant Do I Fit Into?” is a question that comes up time and again from software vendors that feel they have a great product that would be a smash success if only everyone knew about it.
There are definitely benefits to being in a well-defined market space. The pros include an audience that comes ready to buy without education on what your type of product does and exposure through lists of players in the market (like the MQ). Most organizations treat major market categories like a shopping list, making sure they have at least one of each to run their business, so that drives buyers to you. And – if you think you’re the best – head-to-head comparisons can neutralize much bigger players through meritocracy (beating them on quality given a common list of evaluation criteria). Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good set of pros! Why wouldn’t you want all of those benefits?
Well, crowded spaces are often wars of attrition. Well moneyed players keep pouring in development resources and embedding other assets they have (like translation engines or AI) to produce advantages their competitors struggle to keep up with. It’s like a poker game where the richest player keeps upping the ante until those without a huge stack of chips fold (sometimes that player with less chips is actually a better player). The feature list gets longer and longer until you can’t afford to keep going or you have to retreat to a niche or low price/ low functionality strategy.
Another reason to avoid actively trying to fit into a well-defined category is that it undermines your ability to act as an add-on to a leading vendor, as a higher level unifier between the popular products, or as an agnostic component. And if your heart is not in all portions of the market as defined, getting listed as a player in that market will waste your sales resources fighting off RFPs from buyers that aren’t your target. If you want the benefits of succeeding in that market, you have to be totally committed to that market.
Finally, once you get to the head-to-head competition, you may not fare as well as you thought. You may get better attention being in your own space than being #9 in another.
What I tell client is that the most important consideration is to find a bundle of buyer needs that you address better than any alternatives. Do what you do best. If that happens to fit a well defined market, great. If not, then being a rebel in your own space is probably best. You may be happy being a big fish in a small pond. Maybe you’re just ahead of your time and the market will come around to your way of thinking without you having to chase the market. At Gartner, we create market segments where we see clusters of needs with many players. But those needs do shift – note how we adapted the EFSS market to become Content Collaboration Platforms. And they will shift in your favor if you’ve correctly read the tea leaves of what buyers are going to want.
I suppose I just spent 500 words saying this: Vendor, know thyself.
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