This article was originally published on Intellyx.com
I’m going to take a break from my regular Cortex programming, in which I usually write for enterprise leaders, and today talk to tech company marketers.
If you’re an enterprise leader, however, this is still an important topic for you as you wade through all of the messaging directed at you.
Ok tech marketers, it’s time for a little tough love.
There’s a new buzzword sweeping the tech industry and, frankly, it drives me nuts. The offending term: future-proof.
Everywhere I turn some vendor or another is touting their technology as providing the benefit of being future-proof. And I get it. It sounds great, especially for enterprise leaders whose technical debt is growing faster than the U.S. national debt (and that takes some doing!).
Of course, I think you also have to be the type that liked to stay up late to watch infomercials (do they still have those?) to find it authentically appealing. Calling something future proof is about on the same level as “…it can cut through a tin can and still slice a tomato like this…” (the Ginsu knife, if you’re younger than forty).
But beyond making you sound like a common huckster, using the term in your marketing has significant negative ramifications, at least for those organizations that want to be taken seriously — and which strive to have a meaningful strategic impact on their enterprise customers.
The Future-Proof Fallacy
Let’s start with the first and most obvious challenge with future-proof: it just isn’t true.
Anyone who is being honest with him or herself knows it. Every new technology makes the last generation of technologies — some of which may be only months old — obsolete. And this obsolescence is now happening at an ever-increasing rate.
It is this very fact that the future-proof hawkers are attempting to exploit. But there is nothing future-proof about these supposedly future-proof technologies. Every one of them is based on some set of assumptions about the technology stack and architectural models.
At best, anyone claiming that their solution is future-proof can only defend that claim with a laundry list of caveats, the most notable of which would be some expiration date. But then again, “future-proof for the next six years” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
The entire frame-of-reference that most of the future-proof technologies live within — web-based technologies, RESTful APIs, modularized and abstractable architectural components — has only emerged in the last five or ten years, with many of the elements being even more recent additions.
None of this was even possible a decade ago. Most of us couldn’t even imagine this future. And every indication is that the next five or ten years is going to be even more tumultuous and move even faster.
Claiming that your solution or technology can somehow foresee all of this coming change and protect against is, at best, disingenuous. At worst, it’s a flat-out lie.
Shockingly, however, that’s not even the biggest problem with the future-proof pitch.
The Empathy Gap
Beyond the eye-roll-inducing bluster of claiming your technology to be future-proof, the bigger problem with this moniker is that it fails to do the one essential thing you must do to be successful in this crowded and noisy market: build empathy.
Enterprise leaders — and especially IT leaders — are under tremendous pressure. They are facing incessant demand to automate and leverage technology to drive both business value and competitive differentiation.
At the same time, they are facing a tsunami of new technologies that they must sort through to figure out which might actually help them do so. Oh, and they have to do all of that while living with the decisions of their predecessors and the technical debt those decisions created.
So while they desperately want and need any new technology that is going to help them solve their problems and enable their organization to leapfrog the competition, the onslaught of vendors trying to sell them the latest and greatest new piece of tech can feel like so many wolves at the door.
If you want to convince enterprise leaders that your solution can help them solve their problems in a meaningful way, you need first to demonstrate that you understand them.
And this is where the future-proof pitch goes off the rails.
On the surface, calling something future-proof speaks to an enterprise leader’s latent desire to find a solution that will make all their problems go away in one fell swoop. In the abstract, we all want this magic potion. The problem is, deep down, we all know it doesn’t exist.
When you try to sell an enterprise leader something that’s “future proof,” what you’re really communicating is that you don’t understand their reality — or worse, that you just don’t care about it and are merely trying to pander to their exhaustion and wistful hope for some magic elixir.
But doing so makes you a snake-oil salesman, not the strategic partner that you need to be if you want to help your clients create value.
If you’re guilty of being in the future-proof marketing camp, take solace in the fact that you’re not alone — not even close.
There are now countless organizations using this term in their messaging (which, by the way, should be reason enough to dump it), including some industry stalwarts.
But this rush to the snake-oil dark side also presents an opportunity for those tech companies who choose to take the high road.
I have long held that what enterprise leaders want more than anything when dealing with their technology vendors is for them to authentically acknowledge and respect the reality they face. It is a complex, challenging, and exhausting effort to continually transform a technology stack that has been cobbled together over decades to meet the ever-more-rapidly shifting demands of the market.
What enterprise leaders seek most are organizations that don’t try to gloss over this fact to sell the next shiny object. There is no silver bullet, no simple way to solve every problem. And every enterprise leader worth their salt knows it.
So stop trying to sell it to them.
Sure, calling your solution future-proof sounds like something that will differentiate it in the market (although, see above), but the ultimate differentiation is often found not in the newness of a technology, but rather in its ability to fit into all of the oldness, and bring it forward as part of a larger transformation effort.
The Intellyx Take: The New Age of Enterprise Marketing & Sales
If you’re a tech marketer, I sympathize with you. It’s a tough road to break through in this crowded and noisy market. But the first step to doing so is to recognize that we’ve entered a new age of enterprise tech marketing and sales.
To find success in today’s market, you must be willing to address your customer’s reality and acknowledge that your solution, no matter great it is, is not going to magically solve all their problems.
Instead, you need to focus on precisely the problems your solution will help enterprise leaders solve. You must help them see how your technology can help them drive business value and create competitive differentiation. And you must explain how it will fit into their current reality — or maybe even help transform it.
Claiming that your solution is future-proof does none of these things.
Many tech marketers have taken the future-proof short-cut precisely because this more authentic, reality-acknowledging message takes much more thoughtfulness to craft and energy to deliver.
But if you’re willing to go high as others go low, and take this more authentic and humble approach, the world will be your oyster.
©2019 Intellyx LLC. Sharing or reprint of this work, edited for length with attribution is authorized, under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. At the time of this writing, no companies referenced in this story are Intellyx customers.