Three financial reporting vendors fail to prove their transformational claim in latest positioning evaluation

The claim you make in your positioning statement needs to be substantiated otherwise it is a meaningless claim. Of course a claim that has no basis in fact is impossible to prove, as evidenced by three vendors who sell financial reporting and consolidations software, a market Gartner now calls “Cloud Financial Corporate Performance Management Solutions.”

My recent evaluation of how vendors are positioned in this market uncovered three who are positioned around the notion of transforming either the whole organization or finance and accounting. These claims are at best a joke, and perhaps something akin to “fake news.”

During my 30-plus year career in B2B software marketing, I have worked for, or consulted with, eight companies who sold financial reporting and consolidation solutions and services. I can say with 100% confidence that those claiming transformational powers – BlackLine, IBM and Trintech – are kidding themselves.

What is a true transformation?

A transformation is from one form to another. Improving and speeding up processes for financial reporting are nothing more than that – a better way of doing what has always been done. They are not transformational!

Of the three vendors making the transformational claim, not one provided evidence to prove it. While they might think that, by speeding everything up, it is transformational to be able to do more value-added work. But this isn’t even a new capability or claim; financial reporting vendors have touted more time for analysis since the 80s. I know because it’s a claim I’ve used over the years.

No proof. No benefit. No position!

In addition to not proving their claims, the three vendors don’t associate a benefit with their transformational claim. Here’s a sampling of high-visibility content from each vendor’s website:

“BlackLine’s Finance Transformation Solution empowers the accounting and finance function to manage and control the end-to-end financial close process by automating accounting workflows, providing a centralized and secure workspace to perform period-end accounting activities, and streamlining financial reporting.”

“Trintech is transforming organizations across the globe by automating the entire financial close process. Over 1,700 companies around the world rely on us to empower and evolve their processes — delivering increased efficiency and effectiveness, reducing costs and improving governance and transparency across finance organizations.”

“IBM software solutions help companies of all sizes—from large-scale enterprises to small and midsize businesses—transform slow, expensive, disconnected processes into more dynamic, efficient and connected experiences. IBM enterprise performance management solutions serve finance, line-of-business and IT professionals alike, helping to create “analytics-driven” organizations.”

First-hand knowledge of part of the IBM solution

The IBM solution includes TM1, software I know a lot about because I was on the management team of TM1 Software and spent two years at Applix after it acquired TM1. I’ve also have helped several TM1 partners position their TM1-related services. Thankfully, no one wanted to embrace IBM’s transformational claim for many of the reasons mentioned in this article. Lack of differentiation is the other significant flaw in any transformational claim made by financial reporting vendors as well as vendors in any B2B software market.

Everyone in every market claims to be transforming everything. It is such a “me-too” claim that any vendor paying attention to customer problems and the competition would never use it to position its product or company. Differentiation it is not!

Anaplan is one of the financial reporting vendors who recently got off the transformational bandwagon. Here’s a perceptual map that makes it easy to see how Anaplan as well as all the other vendors in this market are positioned:

Is anyone solving the target audience’s most pressing problem?

At least those making the transformational claim have the right idea by talking about improving the efficiency of various financial reporting processes. A recent joint study by Workiva (included in this evaluation) and the business systems information provider FSN found that the financial reporting process keeps 97 percent of CFOs awake at night.

The survey polled 977 international CFOs and senior finance professionals across more than 23 industries. Fifty percent of the respondents said reporting involved huge amounts of manual checking every time a change is made, while 60 percent of respondents said they spend too much time cleaning and manipulating data.

What is an ideal positioning statement?

Since a positioning statement should state a benefit that solves the No. 1 problem of the target market, the ideal positioning statement for financial reporting vendors is a benefit statement that solves the inefficiency problem. If IBM substituted “change” for “transform,” it would meet this criterion to some extent. IBM’s position should be “change slow, expensive, disconnected processes into more dynamic, efficient and connected experiences.” The problem even with this statement is that it does not convey a benefit.

Not surprisingly, Workiva’s position hits the nail on the head: “we help teams work smarter.” Who doesn’t want to work smarter? Especially those in finance and accounting who devote much of their time to non-value add activities.

Who’s to blame for meaningless positions like transform?

In contrast, those claiming to transform totally miss the mark. How does that happen? I suspect in many cases management is dictating the message to the market. If you have this problem, you can overcome it by adopting a formal process for positioning that includes management feedback during the process and gives them final say. Management should approve your positioning strategies explains how to get their approval.

The benefits of adopting a business process for positioning are explained in this white paper. Learn more about the process by downloading my eBook “Positioning: How to talk so the market will listen.” Adopt the Messages that Matter positioning process to deliver a message to the market that actually matters. It will solve your target’s audience’s most pressing problem unlike most of the financial reporting vendors included in this evaluation.