So, Tell Me a Little Bit About Yourself

If you know nothing about a company, you should be able to figure out the bare essentials by visiting its About Us page, right?

Turns out this is only true sometimes.

When visiting the Digg website, for example. The first line on Digg’s About page is this: "Digg is a place for people to discover and share content from anywhere on the web."

Neat, huh? One click and sixteen words after visiting the site, you know, in a nutshell, what they do. Read another fifty or so words and you’ll find out that content is displayed and ranked based on votes from users. Go further and you’ll find out how that works. The information is there, and it’s not hard to find.

Enterprise software vendors, by contrast, don’t always provide such clear information so concisely. To show you what I mean, I looked at the About Us pages of the ten vendors listed in The New and the Noteworthy: 2008 Vendor Wrap-up, published late last year on this blog.

I wasn’t looking for anything spectacular. I only wanted to know, as quickly as possible, what each company does, whom they do it for, and what, if anything, sets them apart. Here’s what I found:

The Top 3: Flexi, Oco, and Saba

Of the ten pages I looked at, Flexi, Oco, and Saba provided the best examples of what an About Us page should be.

Flexi’s About Us page was almost exactly what I wanted to see. In a mere 136 words, I learned that Flexi develops two accounting products for the banking, insurance, and financial services industries. Further I learned that Flexi focuses exclusively on accounting, which supports their claim of deep industry expertise. Additional information was available from a clear set of links at the top of the page, so if I had approached the site as a reporter, investor, or job-seeker, I’d have known where to go.

Bonus points for linking from the About Us page to the overview pages for each of their products.

Oco also provides a concise description of their company. 211 words in, I learned that Oco provides on-demand reporting and analytics for any kind of business data; that the industries they serve include retail, manufacturing, consumer packaged goods, and private equity firms; and that Oco’s solutions are fixed-time and fixed-cost.

While Oco gets bonus points for differentiating their solution in clear language, I did find it odd that the term "business intelligence" only appears at the end of the description. Still, it’s a solid overview, and I wanted to learn more.

Saba was originally destined for the middle of the pack, but a second look convinced me otherwise. It turns out that their About Us page tells me what they do—provide human capital management (HCM)—software, lists key customers, and lets me know that their software is available “both on-premise and on demand,” which is a pretty good start. Again, the description is short enough to be readable, and informative enough that I can decide whether I want to follow the links to more information. The only downside is that the main description begins only after a huge plug for their corporate brochure, which I wasn’t interested enough to download. Oh well.

The Middle of the Road: Global, IFS, PTC, Targit

The companies I thought provided fair to middling About Us pages all tended to have the same problem. While most of the information was there, it usually wasn’t presented as well as it could have been.

For example, Global Shop Solutions starts off well, making it clear that they are the “largest privately held ERP software company in the United States.” Unfortunately, you have to read quite a bit more before you find out about the size and industry of the typical Global customer. Generally speaking, I found the information I was looking for, but I had to hunt around for it since nothing on the page indicated what was important.

IFS is another example of good information with lackluster presentation. Oddly, the IFS About Us page has two short descriptions of the company, but only one (the less visible one) actually tells you what kind of software they make (ERP and MRO). To their credit, they do immediately differentiate themselves, citing a commitment to using open standards. Good to know. The frustrating thing here was that The About Us page links to a page titled “IFS in Brief,” which actually has more and better information, and would have made a better About Us page to begin with.

PTC’s About Us page isn’t exactly packed with information, and most of the links to additional information are only available from the site’s main menu. However PTC gets big points for doing two things. First, the description is very concise, letting you know that the company makes product lifecycle management (PLM) and enterprise content management (ECM) software. Second, and most important, each of those terms is linked to a page that describes exactly what PLM and ECM are. In an industry drowning in three-letter acronyms (TLAs), it’s refreshing to see a company stop and offer some helpful information for newbies like me. Thanks, PTC.

Lastly, there’s Target Business Intelligence. On the plus side, it’s immediately clear that the company makes BI software. Unfortunately, their About Us page doesn’t do much to expand on that. Instead, it talks about the company’s size, number of customers, partnership agreements, philosophy, and corporate culture. This is all good information, but it’s not as useful as it could be if I had a clear picture of the company’s products and target markets to begin with. On the other hand, one very nice thing about Targit’s About Us page is that it links directly to an online product demo and some videos, which are always useful.

The Bottom 3: Callidus, Ramco, and Visibility

Let’s start with Callidus. Their About Us pages actually do provide the type of information I was looking for. They made the bottom three because their presentation makes that information so difficult to find, that the overall experience is frustrating. To get a comprehensive one-pager about the company, you have to go the main About Us page, then follow the “Why Callidus Software?” link. Then you have to find and click the “Corporate Backgrounder” link, which takes you, finally, to a useful page (which, IMO should be the main about us page).

The real bummer is that Callidus does some nice things on this page. For example, like PTC, Callidus links to definitions of the types of software they make—sales performance management (SPM) and enterprise incentive management (EIM). They also provide concise descriptions of all of their products, provide some details about the underlying technology, and list some of the business problems that their software helps solve. Shame that it takes them so long to get there.

Then there’s Ramco and Visibility. Both of these companies have apparently decided to let visitors guess what they do. Neither About Us page provides a clear or concise description of the company or its products, opting instead for vague marketing-speak.

For example, the Visibility About Us page begins “Visibility Corporation provides business and technical solutions that help organizations achieve optimal results from their business information systems.” OK, but what is a “business and technical solution?” Do any companies make similar solutions that help organizations achieve sub-optimal results?

Visibility also assures us that “Optimizing productivity and recognizing an immediate return on investment are common business drivers for the organizations we serve.” Again, do any of their competitors serve companies who want to reduce productivity, or see ROI later, rather than sooner?

About the only useful piece of information on this page is that “Visibility provides solutions that range from easy-to-deploy, high impact reporting and analytic solutions to comprehensive integrated enterprise applications, to applications built to address your specific business needs,” which I guess means that they offer solutions ranging from small and off-the-shelf to large and custom.

To be fair, the Visibility home page makes it immediately clear that the company makes enterprise resource planning (ERP) and business intelligence (BI) solutions. Why they don’t reiterate it in their company profile is a bit of a mystery.

Ramco is in pretty much the same boat, claiming to provide, “flexible enterprise applications that can be delivered quickly and cost-effectively into complex environments.” But what vendor would claim the opposite?

The description goes on to say that Ramco “…also gives companies the agility they need to stay competitive by enabling fast, flexible deployment and change on demand of business applications. Ramco VirtualWorks ensures maximum flexibility to execute a business process strategy - so when business needs change systems change automatically.”

Sounds challenging. Um… what is VirtualWorks again?

You won’t find out on this page. Nor will you find out on their home page, which at least lists their target markets. So if you want any real information, it’s off to their network of drop-down menus in the hopes that you can identify what you want to know.

So Why is This Important, Anyway?

The reason I’m going on about this is that a company’s About Us page is important. And while it needs to address myriad audiences—journalists, investors, students, job-seekers—its most important purpose is to provide clear information (like what the company actually does) to potential customers.

Put another way, if I’m tasked with purchasing a new software system, I need to evaluate many competing software solutions. Chances are, I don’t have as much time as I need, so when I visit a company’s website, I’m going to make some immediate decisions based on

  • Whether the company provides the kind of software I’m looking for

  • Whether the company serves other customers in my industry

  • Whether the company serves businesses of the same size as mine

  • Whether the company does one or more of these things in a way that’s demonstrably better than its competitors

That’s the information I need right away, and if I don’t get it, or don’t understand it, I’ll probably look elsewhere.

I’m not saying that all companies can be as concise as Digg (who does one thing, does it well, and does it for free), but there’s no reason that every company can’t tell me, in 50 words or less, enough about what they do to keep me interested.

Clear information, well presented, makes me feel like the company behind it values my time and respects my intelligence, and that engenders the kind of goodwill that’s very much to the company’s benefit when I get serious about making my selection.

Of course none of this speaks to the quality of software offered by any of these companies. All of them were singled out by TEC analysts as deserving some special mention, and no doubt they can all be proud of their products. My point is that in many cases, the blog post that praised these companies offered better descriptions of their products and services than the companies’ own websites. Go figure.

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