Differentiation. Competitive advantage. Value sales. I’m sure you’ve heard these buzzwords many times. Competition is part of everyday business life. Usually, I don’t speak about competition. I searched across my blog and founded only one reference to competition related writing – PLM Competition Toolbox. But I want to look in my crystal ball today. Here is the article that made me do so. Over the weekend, I’ve been reading Joe Barkai’s blog post – How To Win Without Differentiation. Article speaks about how to develop differentiation strategies and what to do when differentiation is not coming easy. I liked the following passage:
When value differentiation is too vague and difficult to demonstrate, price competitiveness does not work. Potential buyers seek other ways to drive their decisions, and, as Vermeulen points out, they rely on other factors, such as the seller’s brand, status in industry, and prior relationships. In other words, the buyer switches from assessing and comparing features and costs to differentiate based on the brand’s credibility and trustworthiness.
The article made me think about PLM vendors competition and differentiation. PLM industry is dominated by small number of large vendors (namely alphabetically – Autodesk, Dassault, Oracle, PTC, SAP and Siemens PLM). There are some specific competitive niches each of these companies were developed for the last 10-20 years. However, looking on websites and public marketing materials about PLM solutions, I can see less visible difference. These companies are targeting similar businesses and within time it is not simple to get value differentiation between brands.
Enterprise software is an interesting business. One of the characteristics of software for engineering and manufacturing is lifetime customers and legacy software. The lifecycle of customers in this domain is relatively long. It goes from extremely long in defense, aerospace programs to long in automotive and others. To get familiar with engineering software (such as CAD and PLM) takes time and effort. You need to cross educational barriers. So, when you already “in”, the entrance barrier for competitor is getting bigger. Overall investment and significant amount of customization play another role. This business is different from selling smartphones. After spending few millions of $$$ on a specific solution, it is very hard to justify the replacement of this solution with a competitor.
So, what will differentiate PLM vendors in coming 10 years? What will become future competitive advantage? Technology will obviously play some role, but I mostly agree with Joe – “Don’t oversell technical wizardry. Buyers of enterprise software and services consider your product roadmap and long-term commitment to the space as much as they do to your product features and engineering skills“. So, it is very hard to create sustainable technological advantages in this market. Very few companies succeeded to do it in the past and kept it for a long time.
However, there is one thing that getting more and more value points. I call it “vertical experience”. Sometimes vendors call it “industry practices”. However, it can go much more beyond what vendors are doing today in this space. I can see specific vertical solutions focused on design patterns, bill of material management, change management, services, suppliers related to particular segment or industry. The niche can be big enough to serve business of service providers as well as provide an impact on overall vendor business. This is a place where PLM vendors will be able to show big value to customers and fast implementation ROI. It is not simple and it takes time and dedication.
What is my conclusion? Vertical (or industry) specialization can become a future goldmine for PLM vendors and solution providers. To develop deeply integrated solution including specific behaviors in data and process management is not a simple task. Customer experience is something that very hard to gain. However, once achieved it can be leveraged for a long time. Industry verticals can become a future differentiation factor for large vendors and startup PLM companies. Just my thoughts…