Why is it so hard to sell PLM? Because no one gives a sh*t about PLM software…

Why is it so hard to sell PLM? Because no one gives a sh*t about PLM software…


When was the last time in the morning you woke up and said – I need to buy some PLM software today? Let me guess… never!

Here is a story… I spent most of my last year consulting companies about selection of PLM products and technologies. Lots of talks. Most of these companies were prepared to pay six figures $$ to PLM vendors. The thing I found – nobody cares about products as is. You can buy Pork Luncheon Meat (PLM) or Psychotic Leisure Music (PLM). Everything companies have tried to understand is the outcome or result of the product.

So, what does it mean?

If you sell CAD software, the outcome of the product is design. After 20+ years of moving from 2D to 3D, design is still (unfortunately and very often) is presented as 2D drawings. So, if you CAD product can give the outcome, then you are good and you can sell it.

If you sell MRP software, the outcome of the system is purchase orders and timely delivery of parts to assembly shop-floor. It is true, MRP software converted into ERP, which added all bells and whistles of enterprise software on top of MRP, but fundamentally, MRP is solving a problem of parts ordering in a timely manner.

If you sell CRM, the outcome is to bring contact information together with all history of communication about customer in front of sales people that supposed to sell products to customers. If you can do it efficiently, there is a chance sales rep will get right information in front of him at the right time and it will help him to sell. Also, sales rep will be able to focus on right customers or to get notification about his client just bought a new luxury car based on the intelligence crawled out of social media sites.

So, what is the outcome of PLM? Things are getting complicated here… PLM is stuck between engineering, planning, purchasing, manufacturing helping to organize data and processes. Connecting people is always hard. When it comes to connecting engineers with purchase and manufacturing department, things can get messy. Welcome to PLM world! Technology is easy. People are hard. The only way to help them is to delivery some measurable results.

PLM companies followed the path to discover customer problems and, as a result, added features to PLM software. The mantra to deliver a “best product” was around for the last 10-15 years. As a result, PLM products were bloated by additional features. Then the new mantra came – we need to simplify PLM (hint – to reduce number of features). I’ve been part of both processes working for PLM companies, so I’ve seen how it happened.

The lesson I learned last year after consulting companies was simple. Your customers don’t actually want to buy a PLM product. And they don’t want to buy services. They want to buy a specific outcome of your product or service work. Your product can help to company not to miss a component from bill of materials. Your product can help to find a guilty person that didn’t sign ECO and, as a result, product delivery was stuck in production. Your product can help to find an assembly you can re-use for a new project to save time. You product can help to create change report in 5 min instead of 5 hours. These are examples of measurable results.  That’s it. Customers don’t want to buy PLM product with more features. Customer is looking for a specific outcome from a specific function.

The last point is about PLM sales and marketing. To become PLM sales person, you need to be engineer and understand all engineering and manufacturing process. Therefore, you can see many engineers “upgraded” to PLM sales. If you understand engineering and manufacturing, you can nail down sales process to the following simple steps:

1/ Invite potential customer to meeting,  lunch, dinner, golf, football…

2/ Talk to a customer about current work and find what is really painful in a process/work on every day basis.

3/ Ask about big failures that caused CIO or VP level attention.

Then take a break and come with PLM software which can solve this problem. In most of cases you have a good chance to sell. Depends on the size of the company, it can take from few months to few years.

What is my conclusion? When you sell PLM, try to focus on the problem and potential outcome / result. It doesn’t mean your company shouldn’t sell a vision too. However, focusing on a specific result produced by PLM products will help you to improve overall process and demonstrate value. It is different from “managing product lifecycle process” – message written on many PLM marketing brochures today. Remember that no one gives a shit about PLM software product. Company care about their work and about solving their problems. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain.


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  • Murray Pickard


    Reading this post, I have to ask if you are familiar with Integrated Process Excellence through Configuration Management (CMII) as taught by Institute of Configuration Management (ICMHQ.com)?

    The points in your article regarding the difficulties in selling (putting a value on) PLM products and technologies mirrors some of what I learned about CMII and getting businesses to implement those practices as part of their PLM process.

    Background – I was completely unaware of PLM and vaguely aware of CM (Change Management) and didn’t realize there is collection of business processes around these concepts until a few years ago when a supervisor suggested I go through CMII training and certification in efforts to help get a business product launch moved further along.

    Talk about an eye opening experience for me. Ken Black was the instructor I got my CMII Certification under, and he did an excellent job identifying (and sharing from personal experiences) how businesses typically don’t track their expenses related to corrective actions and rework due to misguided business processes – poorly structured PLM tools (spreadsheets, unlinked business systems, etc) or PLM tools not being configured or capable of being configured to meet CMII methodology requirements that would provide the needed visibility or appropriately linking the various aspects of business tools, products, or service together.

    Those businesses that have upper management support for implementing CMII practices and tracking those expenses quickly recognize how poor (and expensive!) their existing practices were.

    Once a business drinks the CMII juice, they don’t want to reveal just how much savings or cost reductions they have gained (competitive advantage) as a result of properly tracking the corrective actions and rework and taking steps earlier in the design phases to eliminate or resolve those issues before they get further down stream (and costs multiply).

    I suspect managers that don’t support something like CMII methodologies either (blindly) think the processes they are familiar with have been tuned over time for maximum profitability, when there is nothing to support that concept (because they aren’t properly tracking the corrective actions and rework costs with the processes that necessitated them).

  • beyondplm

    Murray, thanks for your comment! Yes, I’m familiar with CMII. I think, it provides a useful framework of practices to follow. Some companies like you said happy to drink CMII kool-aid and some others don’t. In general, CMII practices can be helpful, but not every company is ready to comply. Also, there is a difficulties of vendors to go with compliancy tests. I just checked out the list of vendors compliant with CMII and results are a bit confusing. As you can see CMPRO has highest certification level from 2010 and it appears in the list from 2011-2015. I understand CMII is selling eduction and it most probably useful for people ready to get familiar with CMII practices.

  • Loïc Mouchard

    I am not sure people want to buy an ERP system either…

    If you make the parallel between ERP and PLM, my feeling is that an ERP systems are far messy, but you can do quite everything with it. Basically, it is a big (to uge) database.
    So as a customer you have buy some consultancy and customization services to get it run.

    In the other hand, PLM systems are trying to be accessible and sexy for lot of people with 3D viewing and other features. It seams to be more easy to use, but the devil is in details, and you can be frustrated after some use because of the complexity of the whole.

    It’s often explained that PLM revolutionizes the engineering field. Let’s face the truth and be more pragmatic… Actually, I’m quite surprised (and amuzed) with the gap between the excitements of PLM CEO at a product release, and the actual implementation at customer’s site.

    Bes, Loïc

  • Colin Bull

    Oleg, have to agree with the statements, if it aint broken then don’t fix it. If it is then use imporoved processes and if required IT enablement to fix the problem. The trouble with going in with you need PLM is like going in with an sledge hammer and asking for a nail to hit. Lets find the nail that needs hitting then employ an appropriate hammer to do the job.

  • beyondplm

    Loïc, thanks for your comment and sharing your insight!

    In general, people don’t like to buy enterprise software. This is what IT does. However, one size doesn’t fit all and therefore different enterprise software is sold differently. Yes, ERP is messy, but the general perception that from a specific company size MRP is must to have function. Still, there are many companies that have “home-grown” MRP/ERP system to manage inventories and procurement.

    PLM has deep historical roots in engineering and often sold together with CAD. It has pros and cons, but PLM was more complicated sale 5-10 years ago than today.

    Still PLM is still complex and my pain point of the article was to show that focus on “result” can help to make this sale easier.

    Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Colin, thanks for your comment! Yes, you’re right- very often “PLM message” is looking for the nail to hit. But, if you search for a problem, than it can be different. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen many users when “specific” problem focusing PLM use cases succeeded. On a broad scale is still about “getting data and processes under control” and “single point of truth” messages.