Cognos TM1 positioning is 1 example of what’s wrong with IBM

IBM - Cognos TM1

If you wonder why IBM has been struggling lately, look no further than the way IBM positions its products including Cognos TM1.


Effective positioning is really quite simple. State a benefit that addresses the target’s most pressing problem. Make sure only you are making the benefit claim. Then repeat it over and over and your target audience will listen to your marketing message. But IBM is getting this wrong.

I doubt that their target audience is listening to the way IBM positions TM1, which solves the No. 1 problem of the target market – Excel hell. Users spend too much time maintaining spreadsheets. Yet IBM positions TM1 as a way to transform your planning process.

I seriously doubt that financial professionals wake up in the middle of the night worrying about how they are going to transform their planning process. Improve, and make it more efficient, yes. But transform it? Give me a break… and differentiate.

Transform is so “me too”

Differentiation is the holy grail of positioning. A lousy position that is unique is better than a compelling one that others are also claiming. Apparently IBM pays little or no attention to the competition because Host Analytics, a strong competitor, claims a similar position – transform your enterprise into a high performing organization. In addition, another significant competitor, Adaptive Insights, offers intuitive solutions that fundamentally change the world of business analytics.

“Transform” and “transformation” are the most overused buzzwords in B2B software and technology marketing today. In most cases it’s a bogus claim because most companies aren’t coming close to transforming anything. In every B2B software market that I cover, at least one company is singing the praises of their transformational capabilities. Read my blog about why you should never position around the notion of transformation, and probably should never use the word in marketing communications, ever.

If you claim to transform, prove it

Since IBM elected to position around the idea of transform, one might expect examples of how TM1 transforms the planning process. There is no such supporting evidence on the TM1 web page. Perhaps that is because IBM has no evidence to support the transform claim. It’s as if IBM is positioning TM1 in its own little make-believe world.

Reality is that TM1 solves the problems associated with heavy use of Excel for budgeting, planning, forecasting and financial reporting. These applications make up what is either called corporate performance management (CPM) or business performance management (BPM).

TM1 is a significant player in the CPM/BPM market. Unlike most competitive products, TM1 works with Excel; it is a natural extension of Excel. If you know how to use Excel, you know how to use TM1.

IBM turns it back on a competitive advantage

However, IBM makes no mention of Excel in any of its TM1 marketing collateral. I can only assume the reason for the snub is that IBM hates Microsoft, and refuses to acknowledge Microsoft products. That’s a big mistake on IBM’s part because Excel is the tool of choice for financial professionals. Something like 80% said in a recent poll that they would prefer to continue to use Excel despite the problems associated with using Excel for budgeting, forecasting, reporting, etc.

However, most TM1 competitors sell against using Excel. They want to replace Excel, which is not what the target market wants.

If IBM would swallow its pride, and wake up to reality, TM1 could take advantage of its clear competitive advantage – it works naturally with Excel which is what 80% of the target market wants. There’s only two other Excel-centric CPM products – Oracle’s Essbase and Vena Solutions; all other competitors want users to quit using Excel. Talk about differentiation! Yet IBM ignores the clear advantage it has because TM1 is so Excel centric.

IBM should embrace Excel like Vena Solutions does

In contrast to IBM, Vena states a strong pro-Excel position on its home page:

“Love Excel? Then You’ll Love This. Vena turns ordinary Excel into an extraordinary enterprise solution.”

TM1 has functionality that gives IBM a competitive advantage over most CPM vendors, and there is no mention of it in any of its TM1 marketing materials. Even worse, TM1 solves the No. 1 problem in its target market, and IBM doesn’t even acknowledge it.

Either the TM1 marketers aren’t in touch with their customers, or politics force them to fight Mother Nature (Microsoft’s Excel). It is not surprising that TM1 seems to be misunderstood by marketers at IBM. That’s the way it has always been with the last three companies who owned TM1 after it was first sold in 1996.

I was on the management team of TM1 Software before it was acquired by Applix, which sold TM1 to Cognos, which sold TM1 (and all its other products) to TM1’s current owner, IBM.

Despite less than optimum care in marketing and sales by the three previous owners, TM1 is still the technology leader in the market.  So at least IBM is doing a good job of developing the product, but excellent products don’t win in the market without a strong position.

Perhaps, IBM’s marketing leaders should read my ebook: “Positioning: How to Communicate So the Market Listens.”

Download my ebook to learn my process for differentiating your software and technology solutions and communicating its value that your market connects with.