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Tell me what your company does (medium.com)
478 points by HappyKasper on Sept 4, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 189 comments

>  the more expensive the service a B2B company provides, the more incomprehensible its website

> I think the big companies do it to get you on the phone — so they can upsell.

I was thinking these things, and then BOOM, he says what I'm thinking haha.

These are sales oriented companies. By contrast, B2C is quantity oriented. They need more customers buying their mostly undifferentiated price tiers. Selling expensive pants vs regular pants isn't worth high touch sales. However, in B2B, selling "really really expensive enterprise plan" vs "regular enterprise plan" is definitely worth high touch sales. They want to do everything they can to get you "interested, but confused" and pick up the phone.

It's an answer that provides a possibly logical reason for the behavior but I don't buy it.

Firstly because inbound phone calls are incredibly rare. Maybe it's more common for people to pick up the phone in the states but in my three years selling B2B SaaS (enterprise and startup) I never received a hot inbound lead on the phone. It's a bit different if your market leader but most companies and products aren't so I don't think it's a valid strategy.

Secondly because if you are doing a proper inbound strategy you need to entice people with content, product demonstrations or trials (ie showing the product).

Finally, if you want to obfuscate your offering, you don't need to hide it behind a bunch of mumbo jumbo. People rarely understand exactly what your product does even if you give them full access to it for a month.

I think the reason is simpler. A mixture of incompetence - B2B companies don't have the marketing savvy of FMCGs - and the fact competitors don't do a much better job. It's harder to write a clear, concise and enticing description of what you do than just generating buzzwordy corporate bs. It looks marketingy, so the copy is going to be signed off by everyone. Besides, everyone else in the industry is throwing around the same buzzwords, so you get this bubble of nonsense speak and everyone just rolls with it.

B2B startups don't rely on inbound phone calls, they want you to leave your email, phone number, and company size in order to "receive a case study", "book a product demo", or "subscribe to a newsletter", and that's when the real sales process starts.

They put a lot of money and effort into sales and marketing, and you underestimate them by thinking that it's a sign of incompetence.

Bro, read my comment.

We're talking about why a lot of B2B tech companies have a lot buzzwordy nonsense instead of descriptions of what they can do for their customers (this is not unique to tech companies, I would say this goes for most B2B) and the theory put forward was that it's to get people to pickup the phone so they can understand what the fuck the product does. This is what I debunked.

I literally worked as a salesrep at a fairly big B2B marketing startup and one of the largest enterprise software companies.

What you refer to is content marketing to generate inbound leads. Those leads would then be put on a mailing list and and an outbound process would start. Except the "book a demo" (inbound lead) which I never recall leading to a good deal.

If you are a small stage startup with a small sales team you can probably get by on inbound but you have to go outbound to saturate the market. Even then, having poor description is going to hurt your Google fu so I don't buy the strategy.

If your the market leader, like salesforce in crm, you're going to see a lot of inbound but that's because people know your product and you're gartner quadrant status. Even then you'd still do maybe 50/50 inbound outbound.

In either case, the "it's shit because it works" argument still doesn't really hold up.

They put a lot of money into sales, they put a lot of money into going to conferences. They do not, however, seem to put really any money into a decent copywriter.

All very good points. I was just saying that in my opinion they might be intentionally abstract to make you feel like they can solve all your problems, and vague enough to convince you to leave your contact details to find out more, but the ultimate goal is to get you into the funnel. I think we agree on most points, I just think it's not necessarily a sign of incompetence.

That might be the case but vagueness doesn't sell.

I'm not saying the message should be an engineering manual of the ins and outs the product but it should be clear, concise and entice customers to give the product further attention.

Consider seo description field of HubSpot

>HubSpot is an inbound marketing and sales platform that helps companies attract visitors, convert leads, and close customers.

Vs. Optimizely

> Be brave, experiment everywhere, and transform your customer experience with Optimizely.

Seriously WTF

Last point is on the dot. I work to optimize websites and bring this issue with clients all the time. In the end, a mid-level in house marketing guru will convince his seniors that this is the way to go - after all how else will they justify their jobs?

Worth noting is I learnt jack shit about copywriting in my communications degree. You'd have to work in an agency, FMCG, media or similar industry to learn that stuff and in my experience, you don't often see that in tech.

I feel your pain. I just brought the Google fu aspect up in another comment.

B2B is kind of an odd place.

some B2Bs started out doing one thing and then end up doing all kinds other random crap that clients just decided they rather have one team managing a whole project rather than spread out over 200 vendors and contractors and managing it themselves. there's nothing wrong with that! some clients are fighting to keep their business afloat instead of spending all day individually managing their service vendors. and if the B2B gets paid for that kind of work, it's sometimes worth doing.

so if you're a B2B with experience herding 200 different vendors and contractors doing odd crap for a single project, why not advertise it? alas when you do it just sounds really generic like "enterprise solutions" or even "everything". i mean, these companies in the article probably started off doing data analytics then ended up being really good at hooking up internal systems with data collection and then also doing consulting and then marketing and every other thing because their clients must have asked for follow up on their products.

to the author of the medium article. if you see that these companies do everything, why not just give them a call and ask them if they can do that one specific thing? chances are, they've done it before, and even if they haven't, maybe they'll do it for you anyway?

Also, the more expensive your product, the higher up the ladder you have to sell because corporate budgets work that way. While people who will be using the product want to know what the product does, senior managers with budget approval want to know something more abstract, like will it improve their ROI by accelerating synergies or leverage their human capital to drive innovation. It can be more important to optimize the website for the people approving the budget.

I will second the website optimization for all audiences in general. When I come across a vendor website and I find I am spammed by "read our whitepapers" popups or stop-right-there page, I usually judt quit, unless I find the product interesting. I also prefer if vendor doesn't ask for an email address before letting me download. I get it is needed for marketing, but if I really do like your product, I will follow up.

Finally, usually sales end up with either director of engineering/whatever or VP/SVP, so do a really good presentstion...

I think intentional obscurity is probably rare. I think it's more of an evolutionary explanation. We don't get old age illnesses in old age because they're useful, preventing old age illness is just less useful than preventing prime age illness.

Clarity is difficult, and if it rarely makes a difference to businesses then it gets left out.

One reason clarity is difficult is that it requires narrowing what you say. Measurable accountable and integrated business software solutions. From the outside this sounds pointless and meaningless. From the inside it sounds nice and wide, encompassing everything they do. Better too broad than too narrow.

People's CVs sometimes have the same problem, resistance to limiting language.

The reason it doesn't matter is the way they get business. In face-to-face sales, clarity is surprisingly unimportant. It can even hurt by allowing prospects to raise objections without the presence of a salesman. Basically, the company's marketing doesn't matter, so it sucks.

More likely that when you don't get it, that you're probably not the target audience. B2B companies typically have pretty narrow target personas, wither their very own set of needs and challenges. They need to get it. The rest does not really matter.

You may want to get them "confused" (or, to use a more positive phrase, excited), but crucially, you don't want them to get sticker shock. Most software is essentially free on the margin. You don't want to leave $20k on the table by scaring them with a $40k price tag, but you also don't want to charge someone who'd be happy to pay you $50k tens of thousands less, just because you felt called to put a number on your website.

That kind of pricing is bad in the long run, though, because that customer who paid $50k is eventually going to learn that their competitor only paid you $20k and then they're going to be pissed at you about it forever and ever.

In practice, the $50k customer will typically be getting something tangible that the $20k customer isn't. Perhaps they have a custom feature developed, perhaps they have special on-call/on-site support, perhaps they pay a much discounted unit-price, say $10/user (but for 5000 light users) where the other customer is paying $200/user for 100 heavy users.

If you're selling the exact same product ("exact" in the business-sense that includes stuff like support or long-term price commitments, not in the geek-sense where CentOS is the exact same as RedHat) for two vastly different price points, you should probably make sure those customers don't meet.

Um, will they? I've never heard of this happening.

Will they learn about it? Or will they be pissed about it? For the former point, people move jobs, people talk, word gets around. For the latter, that's just human nature.

Or it is just a case of the site contents not having a very big priority, because your contracts come from person to person sales anyway; and the need of never saying anything dangerous, because your sales people will tell all kinds of different stories to all kinds of people, and your site must contradict none.

Definitely could be this as well. The answer to "can the product do _____" may entirely depend on who's asking. If its a big enough customer at a high enough price, they may want the ability to say "yes".

I came across this recently:


Don't waste your time watching it. It's a promo video for yet another a very scammy looking ICO.

I watched through the entire 3 minute video, only because I found it increasingly amusing how long they were taking to "get to the point". As it turns out, this video is 3 minutes of stock videos of Dubai with a pseudo-inspirational voiceover about nothing in particular, followed by their logo being shown for a mere 10 seconds at the end.

I couldn't believe that this wasn't a parody (at least, I don't think it is), it's exactly like something out of HBO's Silicon Valley show.

"Life goes on" is rich coming from Gurbaksh Chahal, a guy that kicked his girlfriend 117 times.


A $500 fine for brutal assault?

I had to pay a larger fine for forgetting to pay a $40 ticket.

... This seems normal for the US system. Punishments aren't exactly reflective of the crime, partially stemming from some of the "tough on crime" pushes in the 90's.

That's why they call it "F--- You" money.

what a terrible human being.

"The First A.I. Big Data Marketing Cloud for BlockChain"

This is pure comedy.

OK granted it has AI, big data, cloud and blockchain, but is it social? That's what I wanna know. Never forget social, because that's what leads to viral. Also engine. We need an engine. If it was a viral AI bigdata social marketing cloud engine for blockchain, then you'd have something.

Call one of our solutioneers or successsmiths to arrange a Webex demo.

The AI drives the decisioning engine.

I feel like I'm getting left behind with all the wank words these days, I swear it was only yesterday that we were still giggling about 'clicks and mortar'.

I highly recommend a read through the "Learning Techniques" over at his other company's product page: https://gravity4.com/product/

You'll notice over there that you can "BELIMITLESS", if you like.

At least today this is making my world a better place.

It's cheesy. But the guy does have success in startups


Well, at least there's no "Uber/Airbnb for .." part

Missing AR/VR there.

and IoT.

I ignored your warning and tried to watch it. After about a minute and a half of non-sequitur platitudes, I couldn't take it anymore!

Edit: It's fascinating like a train wreck. Imagine using this as the script for a scene where someone is on the phone with their dad, who is in a room with a bomb that will detonate exactly 3 minutes and 6 seconds from now (but we compress it to 2 minutes because the actor will be saying the lines very fast) and the dad hurriedly and tearfully tries to deliver all the advice he can cram in. As he remembers things to say in pretty much random order, he blurts them out.

I guess it is like the nigerian posts full of grammar errors, they are designed to filter all but the most stupid marks.

By skipping the second half, you missed the push of "I've been on Oprah, therefore this company will be successful". Seriously, the last 20 seconds before the logo reveal starts is footage of him on Oprah.

> I watched through the entire 3 minute video, only because I found it increasingly amusing how long they were taking to "get to the point".

I think that's on purpose. They want you to invest time in it so that the sunk-cost-fallacy prevents you from admitting to yourself that it's a scam. It's the same reason that many courses start with a free video "but first, a little bit of history" or something.

Is this how guys like Ramit Sethi and other blogging self help guys get away with selling shoddy quality products? You basically read their free material and have invested insane amounts of time, that you might as well fork over $400 a month for slightly better material.

parishilton Looking forward to participating in the new #LydianCoin Token! #ThisIsNotAnAd #CryptoCurrency #BitCoin #ETH #BlockChain


I thought that was satire before I clicked.

That was amazingly vacuous.

Feels very scammy. Brought to you by Gurbaksh Chahal..

"Live in such a way, that if someone spoke badly of you, no one would even believe it".

What I can't believe is who the hell would watch this video and think anything other than "run away".

You sold that video short. I mean c'mon, they clearly state at the end that they are the first marketing cloud for blockchain. It doesn't get any clearer than that! /s

So glad this conversation is being had. I figured me not understanding how the new hype machine works was a function of me getting old and slowly slipping into senility.

It frustrates me so much especially when smaller companies are doing this.

My god... wow

So much this. Another perfect example: https://databricks.com

They just raised a $140m round of financing so apparently they have some good stuff going on. If you look at the website though:

The Unified Analytics Platform. Accelerate innovation by unifying data science, engineering, and business.

Sorry, what? Click on "learn more about the platform":

DATABRICKS IS A TRULY UNIFIED APPROACH TO DATA ANALYTICS AT SCALE. Founded by the team who created Apache Spark, Databricks provides a Unified Analytics Platform that accelerates innovation by unifying data science, engineering, and business.

I still have no clue what exactly TF the product is but I sure got my weekly dose of BS buzzwords.

This is hilarious! I'm a paying customer of databricks, a useful service that can, and should, be described in a single medium length sentence.

You missed an opportunity here

How will you describe it?

Databricks provides a Unified Analytics Platform that accelerates innovation by unifying data science, engineering, and business.

... username checks out.


That sounds like a calendar + recipe aggregator idea.

It is the corporate support for Spark, a big data technology. Kinda like RedHat or Confluent.

I kind of disagree with you. Working in data science myself, I get that scientists, engineers and business people are not on the same page. Scientists like python hacks, engineers like big data architecture, business guys want reports. So to me databricks says it's an infrastructure that combines all of that.

Then there's a Learn More button right there, which explains all that in more details.

It's certainly complex and has a large ambition, but it's not like they're advertising that they're making the world a better place while selling todo lists.

I disagree, Databricks has an easy-to-understand pricing page: https://databricks.com/product/pricing

(It's a Hadoop distribution).

Not a Hadoop distribution as Databricks uses S3 and DBIO for storage not HDFS. It doesn't even use Yarn so it can't really be called Hadoop at all.

Basically the product is Spark Notebooks (think Juypter) on AWS that allow you to quickly create clusters and even do fancy stuff with spark streaming.

A key thing that people miss also is the the creator of Spark is the CTO of Databricks and Databricks to some extent controls the direction of Spark. This probably impacts its valuation.

The bait-sunk-cost approach = get em talking however you need to (including them asking what the hell you actually do) to tell you what they want and sell your solution as a possibility or the best approach.

I hate this transparent attempt to trick (me) the customer. IBM has done this to me when I'm drilling down into technical requirements like I'm some middle manager who doesn't know the actual needs. I always suspected that IBMs bread and butter is to move the sunk cost of contact into an actual sunk cost of technical debt, but I have firsthand experience now. The sign of a bad culture and lazy marketing.

Holy crap, this totally explains MongoDB's success.

My startup is focused on customer-oriented experiential personalized relationship-building solutions by leveraging distributed smart reactive coin offerings powered by unsupervised blockchain adversarial deep learning supported by containerized self-driving car clouds.

Investors plz line up, take a number, and contact me thru PM.

So, I'm confused. Is it the Uber of Facebooks, or the Facebook of Ubers?

It's the Uber of Initial Facebook Offering. I thought that was painfully clear.

cryptocurrency of ubers of facebook. Duh...

Sounds like new MySpace business plan.

My company is "a leading provider of business process services with expertise in transaction-intensive processing, analytics and automation. We serve as a trusted business partner in both the front office and back office, enabling personalized, seamless interactions on a massive scale that improve end-user experiences"

You had me at back office!

There are possibly a few things happening that explain this:

1. Fear of not communicating "everything" that you do. The fear is of being perceived as a very narrow solution when it does a lot more.

2. Advice that says "communicate the benefits" not "what you do". This advice could manifest itself in the wrong kind of (flowery) language. So instead of saying "export payroll reports for QuickBooks automatically" websites say "free up for time" [made up example]

3. Internal decision-making by committee.

4. Copying some website that you like - instead of thinking and reasoning from ground-up about 'what is it that I really want to say'.

5. Pretending to be a big/legit company when you are small

6. Big company with so many features that it would rather just show you the entire sales deck - the website is just there because it needs to be, but plays a tiny role in conversions. [why focus on something that doesn't add value - in this case, the website e.g. SAP.com]

This is a good article. Everyone who is running an online would benefit from thinking hard about this.

I suspect at least part of it is sites being sold to companies by contractors who use the same tricks as mediums: be generic, make vague statements that apply to anyone.

Contractors are the least well positioned people to know how to describe what a company does. So when the company calls them and asks them for a rockstar ninja site, they get generic stuff and execs go "oh yeah, that's such a perfect description of what we do" with no regard for those that might not already know.

Just to play devil's advocate:

Whenever I'm seriously considering purchasing an enterprise B2B product, I mostly know what they do before visiting their website. I've heard of them already, either through word of mouth, or by explicitly asking friends for recommendations. I suspect that I'm not too different from most purchasers.

If a company's targeting a landing page for someone like me, perhaps they shouldn't optimize for clarity; they should optimize for signaling reliability. So, the "Web 20.17 parallax-ed boots[t]rap-ed responsive home page" serves a purpose - it reminds me of all the other Web 20.17... B2B services I've happily used in the past.

I'm probably ascribing way too much significance to the semiotics of B2B homepages [1]. But I find it tough to believe that (e.g.) Optimizely hasn't, well, optimized their homepage for something.

[1] Also, take what I say with a huge grain of salt. My business' homepage needs a lot of work...

Agreed. Probably for some B2B companies, getting people talking about your product and then having a vague but fancy landing page makes sense. Landing pages need to be optimized to create sequences of actions that lead to "buy" decisions. So maybe: 1) Developer at company X hears good things about Y from Hackernews 2) Cost of product for X is high enough that it needs to be approved by senior people at the company 3) These senior decision makers may not be engineers, and they may just look at the landing page as a marker of how well capitalized the company is / if they give the impression that if customization is required, company Y will be willing to step outside the bounds of "shrink wrapped software" to accommodate company X's needs.

Here's a fun one, from our very own YCombinator:

> The Flex group uses technology to improve the range and fluidity of human expression. We invent new concepts and representations that amplify people’s ability to create, connect, and understand. We create tools that blur the line between using and creating, in order to provide a conversational medium for thinking and doing.

What they really do is make graphical programming tools. That's it.


That's not a company, that's a research group. Is that different? I think so. They're supposed to push the visionary envelope while a company is supposed to make money. Instant-noodle accessibility is critical to the latter.

(I love that you wrote "our very own YCombinator" though!)

> push the visionary envelope

I smiled at that because "we push the visionary envelope" is destined to be someone's vapid b2b marketing tagline but then realised its been done:

Americus F. Callahan of Chicago, Illinois, in the United States, received the first patent for a windowed envelope on 10 June 1902. Originally called the "outlook envelop", the patent initially anticipated using thin rice paper as the transparent material forming the window, though this material has since been replaced by clear plastics. The design has otherwise remained nearly unchanged.


To be fair, those tools (videos and descriptions) are directly below that paragraph. Which makes it many times clearer and more direct than the majority of the websites discussed in the article.

To be fair, then, they should just get rid of that word salad paragraph and only show the videos and descriptions of the tools.

A good example of someone not knowing how to create a benefit.

Maybe this is the equivalent of the scammers claiming they are from Nigeria even if they are not. That's how scammers filter out automatically all those who are smart enough to see through the bullshit and only get the suckers to respond. These companies filter out those who see through the bullshit and only get the suckers, too?

Startup marketing is not necessarily geared for customers (end-users). They are just as much geared towards VCs who are courted and who are expected to bankroll the company. Some non-negligible number of startup founders jumped on the bandwagon with the goal not necessarily make a product, get customers, but really just to be CEOs and play "startup". That can be done by fooling a few angels. Depending on who these prospective VCs are the message and marketing can be adjusted to appeal to them. Just because someone has a lot of money doesn't mean they can't be fooled or taken advantage of. They probably hear and see all this startup activity, unicorns left and right so they are eager to play the game. And so they are matched up with just as eager "founders" who also want to play the startup game.

The last paragraph was from experience. The person fooled some older wealthy guys to invest in their silly idea. They burnt though millions in a few years renting an office in SV, hiring lots of workers, going to conferences, rewriting their thing with the latest frameworks. And yes eventually it all failed, because they had 0 paying customers. But it also didn't fail, because now they speak at conferences and put ex-SV CEO and founder on their title and so on.

The idea is, if you just dig a bit deeper, it is easy to see things a bit more clear.

I can understand avoiding clickbait, but it seems that HN has a policy of making sure titles are sufficiently boring. Originally this post's title matched the blog post's title:

> For the love of God, please tell me what your company does

Adds some flair. Expresses the sentiment of the article. Now it simply says:

> Tell me what your company does

On the other hand, HN is an impressively effective, open minded atmosphere for discussion. The bit of pruning that is done must be working. I wonder if this policy somehow leads to success overall.

I've been wondering the same thing. It does, sometimes, seem to come across a bit like the thought police...

I've seen people earnestly discuss climate skepticism here, which is a pretty taboo opinion to have these days, at least (let's say) in tech circles. So I don't think it's thought police. More like fun police.

I think the main problem is that people assume that in order to sell expensive products/services, the website needs to have 50 pages and feel like a complex entity. We sell a B2B UI Design service to web and mobile development companies, all we have is a simple one pager that doesn't do anything except explain in plain-english what the service is about. We have people buying/subscribing to our service sometimes as fast as a B2C product. I personally wouldn't want to be a slimly salesman on the phone, hide our prices and have complex copy on the website. The customers that do want that are not a fit for us. So the question is, what type of a customer are you trying to attract?

It all depends on what kind of business you are running. Your 2k design package might be great for someone on a budget but a large number of businesses want value and don't focus on price. Ironically you are attracting a certain kind of client yourself. You post about attracting 300 clients but do you talk about the quality of life of your employees? Do hey work minimum wage? Outsourced to India? I have no idea what kind of quality of life you create for your employees at your rates. Not to mention you are selling a commodity not a specialized service so to say that people are blissfully unaware of affordable companies like yours might be better achieved on junk showcase sites like dribbble - spew out a bunch of garbage and see what sticks.

I've been trying for several years to determine the company size at which we will be forced to turn our understandable site into marketing buzzwords and incomprehensible sentences. 50 people? $5 million/year in revenue? What is the turning point and who drops by to force us into incomprehensibility?

I don't know, but there are phrases on my company's website that literally don't mean anything to me, and I work on the product it's supposed to be referencing. We have about 100 employees.

Probably when actual "departments" become a thing (e.g. sales, marketing and engineering as separate tribes with separate incentives)

It's probably the point where what you're selling is so amorphous, customizable, and expensive that it's different for each customer and you want to be able to say "Yes, we solve that problem" to everything. Maybe 7 figures per sale?

I want to see this guy review the Tarsnap website. For all that some people don't like my web design, I'd like to think that it's very easy to figure out what Tarsnap is.

>Tarsnap: Online Backups for the Truly Paranoid

Oh, okay, that makes sense. Probably some super-secure online backup service...

>Encryption: Your data can only be accessed with your personal keys. We can't access your data even if we wanted to! >Source code: The client code is available. You don't need to trust us; you can check the encryption yourself! >Deduplication: Only the unique data between your current files and encrypted archives is uploaded.

Wow, that's... extremely clear. That's literally everything I wanted to know, save for maybe pricing...

>Storage: 250 picodollars / byte-month of encoded data >Bandwidth: 250 picodollars / byte of encoded data

...aha, it's something confusing!

>($0.25 / GB-month)

...never mind. This is extremely clear.

I could keep going, but as far as copy, this website is excellent. And even the design could be considered a plus given your target audience.

Though if Tarsnap ever gets a GUI, I would suggest giving the website one as well :)

I agree with your assessment of Tarsnap's website and had a quick look at my firm's website. Whilst we haven't sprouted web2arrhoea bootstrapped bollocks ... yet, I'll be having words with my marketing bods tomorrow.

Layout and copy seem fine to me (but I'm not the OP).

Since we're doing website critique, here's some CSS tweaking (no serious adjustments) that fixes most of my design complaints:

Before: http://i.imgur.com/yopLaY7.png

After: http://i.imgur.com/iANMrgp.png

CSS: https://gist.github.com/madebyollin/41e7aaf1d7604c2ccd54b8f3...

Nice improvements. Having a bit more space around the margins makes the content pop and become more readable. Nicely done.

The web design is indeed ugly, but at least it is functional.

Here are some easy to implement design suggestions: You should change the title of the first heading so it's not the same as the banner. I think "What is Tarsnap?" is a good choice. Speaking of the banner, vectorize it. Finally, please remove the bars from the asides.

Your product is good, so transferring a little attention to its web presence is worth the effort.

It's not ugly, so much as unconventional. It's also aimed at developers rather than c-levels or the general public. As for 'what is tarsnap?', the very first block of regular text on the tells you, in bullet-point form. It's the first place a native English speaker looks to read something; I read the text in the box before I read the heading for the box.

I hope he doesn't listen to the folks saying he should follow the herd. Websites where you have to page down below the fold to get basic information on the product? We should be pointing them at Tarsnap. But flat design is king on mobile, so we won't be getting many of these website layouts anymore.

Ugly is subjective. I like it. It's actually readable and easy to navigate.

On small width device the menu will be on the bottom, so there's no duplication. (website seems to be responsive)

I like that the menu is on the bottom and not hidden behind a hamburger button.

Not just on small width devices! The navigation menu is at the bottom if you look at the website in lynx, too (with a link to it at the top).

The Tarsnap logo alone tells you more about what the product is than many entire websites I've seen.

picodollars - you've lost me, even though I'm tech.

I don't think this website should be made to "look better" i.e turned into some corporate garbage, but it could definitely look better... looks kinda like an open source programmers best shot at making something look good.

There's a middle ground between looking corporate (irrelevant) and looking unprofessional.

In your shoes I would be going for a style of "very plain, but very neat" looking. Aiming for perfectly spaced between elements, attractive font, minimal but matching colors. Function graphics only.

This kinda looks OK:


Regarding the picodollars it at least explains what it means on the very same line, same sentence even ($0.25 / GB-month)

Anytime I go onto a company's website and I either can't figure out what they do, or pricing information isn't available, I think "Right, their business model is to overcharge folks who have more money than sense" and I promptly leave.

I felt that way in my 20's too. I have since grown up and made a lot of money realizing I was wrong, but I still feel that way.

So... why is he wrong?

There are a number of reasons some websites do not list prices:

1. Pricing sets the wrong expectation for the true price you may actually pay once you get all the features you need and may not be aware of thus making the sale more difficult.

2. Pricing sets a transactional tone vs a mutually beneficial relationship

3. Pricing anchors your mind set to how much something costs vs how much value / ROI you get out of that product or service.

All of these do disservice to seeker and provider.

Yes - perhaps - but If I'm a small business looking for a thing that does X - I want to know if this is in the ballpark for me - or perhaps this is targeted at someone bigger. Price is a helpful way to determine that - because god knows, you can't figure that out from the marketing gobbledygook on the website anymore. The ROI doesn't matter if you can't afford the investment in the first place.

Then those websites are not targeting you and could care less what your needs are.

In other words, the provider's attempting to "look into your eyes," and determine how much value this is providing, thus how much you're able to pay, and base what they charge you off that.

It's called price discrimination. As Joel Spolsky says in his essay on the topic [1], "it pisses the heck off of people."

[1] https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2004/12/15/camels-and-rubber-...

My company squeezes juice out of bags. That was easy to explain, but didn't seem to help. Pretty sure we should have gone with "scalable antioxidant delivery systems."

Socially connected Intelligent nutrient extraction at you fingertips

Kind of related: Many sites have a footer with links like "About us", etc. which would seem like what people may want to check out right? Well, some of them also have infinite scroll, and the footer is not visible without scrolling, so you scroll down, see the footer for a brief moment, until more content is loaded and pushes the footer out of the view . Rince. Repeat. It's as if they don't want you to ever use that footer.

This inspired me to redo the landing page for my side project: https://formapi.io/

Would appreciate some feedback. Is the purpose clear enough? I know it won't make sense unless you're a developer, but it's a tool for developers.

It's just a rough draft, so it probably won't be that sparse when I launch. I need to add a proper pricing page, and a tab bar at the top. I'm also planning to add a demo API request that you can run, similar to mailgun.com.

I would use a bigger font, and probably another font face as well -- maybe Avenir (although it's paid). I'd also make the 3 bullet points bigger since they are the only textual representation of how to use your product.

Outside of that the website is pretty good and serves its purpose!

Thanks for the feedback! I love Avenir, and was using it until I realized it wasn't free. I might switch to Lato from Google Fonts, which is pretty similar, and I'll make the text bigger.

I've thought it was because they needed to fill up a large blank area with copy (words), otherwise the page will look weird.

It might be because the adage, "don't sell a product, sell an emotion," but taken to an inconceivable level.

Or maybe it's like legalese, it's not necessary, but looks good if you are billing at $500 an hour.

I thought Meltwater's flagship product was media monitoring, which their slogan kind of captures:

> Welcome to Outside Insight

> Billions of online conversations, freshly filtered.

The title of their landing page is even more to the point:

> Media Intelligence, Media Monitoring, and Social Monitoring

I thought Optimizely was an A/B testing tool, which makes their punchline OK:

> Optimizely lets you experiment on everything—from design choices to algorithms. That way the best ideas always win, and the best customer experiences get even better.

I suppose this only adds to his argument though, it's hard to tell what companies do.

You're right, Meltwater and Optimizely aren't as bad as it gets (84.51 definitely is). And after spending some time on those websites, you're able to get a pretty good sense for what they do.

My main point is that it shouldn't ever be difficult for a potential customer to quickly get to that understanding, and I do believe these sites could do a far better job at quickly and clearly explaining their companies' function... just like you did.

"Meltwater's flagship product is media monitoring". "Optimizely is a website A/B testing tool". Boom.

I think they want to be able to pivot and add new services without having to retract how they previously labeled themselves.

For instance, Optimizely has a website A/B testing tool. They also support smartphone app A/B testing, and I think some backend/server-side testing. If smart watches or VR take off, they'll probably try to support those as well.

They also recently added automated content generation: I know they can generate product and page recommendations, and there may be other options as well.

They're a relatively young company and probably aren't ready to be typecast as "website A/B testing," in case another offering really takes off.

I always assumed this is just the result of the people who design the site not knowing what the company does.

Designers have nothing to do with it. Most designers unless specifically hired to also write copy, use placeholder text. It's usually the inhouse marketing person who has marketing language fatigued drilled down from their bosses that can't think straight to get the right words out. I don't blame those people, I feel sorry for them.

Also, PUT THE PRICES ON THERE. Even more infuriating than a company that won't tell you what they do is a company that tells you what they do and then demands you contact them to be salespersoned at before they'll tell you the price. Fuck you, no.

You don't understand anything about business do you?

I understand they aren't getting my business without prices listed. I don't get to make any multi-million dollar decisions (except maybe in the extreme long term) but several times I've been tasked with research problems where commercial software or external services may be part of the solution. The ones with no prices get taken out of the evaluation process because I can't evaluate if they're feasible or not.

I feel sorry for your employer then.

If by "business" you mean "manipulative sales tactics," I understand them and choose to not patronize people who use them.

I blame A/B testing actually. Too many folks run experiments without choosing which metric to optimize carefully. Here, marketers probably monitor click-through rates of their main homepage buttons. And unfortunately, if you change the landing page text from a few actually descriptive sentences to the BS described in this article, you probably end up with higher click through rates on your buttons.

Most of the B2B companies I've worked for don't have enough traffic to perform an A/B test in anything short of 6 months.

I run a/b tests and this is the furthest from the truth. A good tester works with professional copywriters who create clarity not add to confusion.

[[pro tip- a lot of startup companies actually do not do anything]]

This is some Silicon-Valley-the-HBO-show-grade stuff. I wonder whether the people designing these website still think they're being hip or they just have to cater to some blissfully unaware managers.

Yep, this is the end-game of "customers buy benefits, not features" marketing writing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm fully on board with the idea of marketing your benefits, not features, but so very much of the marketing writing you see out there now takes the concept to this unhelpful extreme.

I ride my bike past a shop every few days that's called something like "Shelter Solutions," but in smaller print they say "We rent equipment for commercial and residential roofing need". Boom, done, that's what I care about.

Or some lady who gave me a fistful of business cards at a networking event (she apparently has five thriving gigs, eyeroll), one of which was "telecommunications solutions consultant"--talking to her, she has some cell phone MLM program she's a part of.

Customers buy benefits, but if you're not telling them what the features are, you've failed at writing clear copy. Most people do.

I sometimes feel like I'm an alien on this planet. I can't imagine how "customers buy benefits, not features" could possibly work.

What I mean is this - I'm not going to buy a product that I don't understand, period. Be it a piece of software (from kitten photo apps to CAD software) or an appliance, I only buy (and ever imagine buying) things for which I at least clearly understand what inputs and outputs are. I can use this software to upload JPGs to friends. I put dirty dishes in this appliance, add some consumables, and clean dishes pop out. Those are "features", not "benefits".

On the other hand, when I see people selling on "benefits", I immediately assume they're dishonest and steer away. The listed benefits usually are, at best, a serious abuse of some cherry-picked words, and at worst outright lies. It's one of the strongest negative signals for me when evaluating companies (especially when I don't have third-party information on their actual products).

Do most people really live their lives looking for something to buy that will make their lives "connected", or their company "full of streamlined cloud synergy" or something?

Given how the sales and marketing people at my place of employment respond to corporate announcements... they'll probably do anything to arrange words and phrases into something that triggers a "sounds like a corporate executive" response from their superiors.

This is exactly what happens in enterprise software companies. I've been part of a team that built a $100m ACV SaaS service from 2010 to today. Recently our sales have been taking a big dip and I've been trying to workout what is going on.

What I discovered resonates with this blog post...

1. I compared powerpoint decks from 2010 to 2017. The pictures got better but the fluff and high level descriptions got further and further away from what our product actually does! I think this is due to multiple marketing leaders taking over and putting their veneer on the marketing message rather than sticking with the current message in order to justify their role.

2. Current sales reps are taught the high level benefits and problem the solution solves but they had no idea of the basics. So again when they speak to potential customers they sound like a Deloitte consultant using words that are so far away from the basic issue a customer is trying to solve.

3. R&D also became focused on the high level benefits and forgot that we sell technology and features DO actually matter they just shouldn't be the only focus of a sales/marketing team.

Its interesting to see that most sales strategies today imbue this idea but I think what happened is most of us have gone so far off the map that we end up with Meltwater problems.

There are two ways to tell people what a company does:

1. Explain the value of what you do 2. Explain how it's implemented

The Optimizely example in this article is the former, though the headline is not great. The subhead is pretty decent.

Optimizely could easily say "we're an application for testing different versions of your app", which is true and explains what they literally do.

In my experience, if you care about conversions, "explain the value" wins. People who believe they need experimentation don't mind digging for implementation. But they want to know you'll make them more money, or do something else to improve their lives.

This is weird for people like me, I'd usually rather read the README version of a product. But I'm not the one making buying decisions for Optimizely or an agency.

There's a good reason for this, and it's not (directly) to get you on the phone & up-sell you.

These landing pages are optimised for conversion, which means they're targeted at the niche who are most likely to convert already - and for bigger, specialist firms, that niche quite likely already knows the essence of what the company does.

Because these users are also likely evaluating competitors at the same time, the pressure is on the company to differentiate - and one way to do that is to tout your high level values.

"We're not just an X, we are an X which gets your need for Y unlike $competitor"

All of this isn't to say that incomprehensible websites are good, of course. There are ways to express how you're way up maslow's heirarchy without being completely confusing.

The amusing thing is when a web site for a company that does real stuff ends up looking like one of those. I mentioned Continental in a self-driving car discussion. Here's their web site.[1] Someone commented that it looked like a fake company. The rearing-horse logo, "The future in motion" as a slogan, and the vague name looked suspicious. The pictures look like clip art. The top of the home page rotates through four large banners - "Making Mobility a Great Place to Live", "Let your Ideas Shape the Future", "Continental Pledges Support in Response to Hurricane Harvey", and "First 48V drive for electric bikes". The last at least mentions a product. The entire initial screen does look vague.

(Continental is one of the world's largest auto parts makers, over a century old, based in Germany, and with over 200,000 employees. They make everything from tires to self-driving car sensor integration units. Not a fly-by-night startup.)

Look at General Electric.[2] Their home page has "The Digital Industry Company - Imagination at Work", clip art of some enormous piece of machinery, and a search box. Of course, GE probably made that enormous piece of machinery. But there's no indication of what they do. For that, you have to use the "GE Businesses" drop-down menu. It may take a while to find out that GE is prepared to sell you a jet engine or a locomotive.

What seems to be happening is that startups are emulating big-company sites. Badly.

[1] https://www.continental-corporation.com/en [2] https://www.ge.com/

When companies get this big they usually can't just say what they do on their website with two sentences, so IMO, this is the case where these artsy vague landing pages are passable.

I mean, GE was formed by Thomas Edison himself, they have everything from jet engines to self-driving cars. I suppose if you are the person responsible for shopping around for jet engines for your company you are not going to ge.com for specs.

Considering their size, I'd expect them to try to lure individuals(career and jobs) through their website instead of potential customers.

Marketing is hard. Writing compelling advertising copy is hard. Figuring out what people want and need to know about your product is hard.

Getting some designer with a great visual portfolio to make your website isn't the same thing as having a marketing plan or a marketing strategy, but it's a whole lot faster and cheaper and unfortunately most people don't know the difference.

Oh, and as awesome as Simon Sinek's Ted talk[0] is, you're not Apple and potential customers actually do care whether your product is useful for people like them.

[0] https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA

I think a pretty good example of how to describe what you do on your site is http://verily.com (owned by Alphabet/Google).

'We create tools that put health data into action' hits you right in the face when you visit the page. Then you scroll down and see good descriptions of their products.

As someone who visited their site after looking through similar sites filled with marketing crap, I found it a relief to see something so simple. Use this as a startup website template instead!

Some other reasons why B2B sites are incomprehensible, along with “get them on the phone at all costs”:

- What you do is totally opaque and requires a massive amount of context to explain. Yes, it’s 5 sentences, but only after both you and the user are in the same context trying to solve the same problem. Try to explain a randomly-selected B2B company’s model to your grandma. Impossible. Instead let’s focus on company branding and positive sounding platitudes.

- Once you’re selling to businesses, you’re selling to VPs and C-level executives. They don’t care about the problem you solve. You're solving some lower-level employee’s problem, or a systemic problem nobody experiences directly. Since the buyer (the VP) isn’t feeling any of the pain, the only way to justify the purchase is to focus exclusively on the high-level benefits of your service. They’re in charge of marketing. promise them perfect marketing. They’re in sales. Promise them better sales. Focus on the outcomes, not the “how”, at all costs.

- A lesser factor might be that companies love to align workers with an affirmation that the work these employees do 40+ hours a week is making the world better. B2B organizations have an especially hard time proving this because there’s no clear evidence their business does make the world better. No consumers who sing your praises or products that solve a problem the worker can empathize with. I suspect the large amount of mental gymnastics needed to justify “our company is a net good in the world” sometimes leaks into to marketing material which leads to weird-sounding empty affirmations that are more suited to internal employee “values” documents than actual marketing content. (“We make people’s lives easier”, for instance.)

It reminds me of Gavin Volure (Steve Martin) on 30 Rock. After getting busted as a fraud he says "It's not a real company. You watch our commercials, we never actually say what we did." and then it cuts to this beautiful corporate-speak ad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlymNLAAzUM

I feel like I've hit that company 50-odd times in my life while searching for vendors.

I think the non-obvious difference here is bottoms-up vs top-down adoption.

If you're going bottoms-up, your deal size is smaller, and you want people to start using you by themselves. Think consumer startups like Uber, Airbnb, and enterprise startups like Github. The decision-makers here are ordinary people, and they want to know exactly what they're buying so they can make an informed decision.

If you're going top-down, your deal size is larger, and your goal is to get a few high-paying customers. You want to maximize the # of people who you can talk to (and convince) over the phone, as well as extract the highest $ value out of. So you filter for the people who are a) serious about the problem, and b) can make the decision. As a developer or engineer, your discretionary budget probably isn't high enough for these companies to care about you. In fact, they probably don't even want to talk to you!

So companies that mostly rely on top-down sales have very vague landing pages. Their goal is to find specifically the people who have so much pain that they're willing to take a 25-minute sales call. And if you're willing to spend 25 minutes, it probably means that you have the budget that they care about.

[edit: removed stuff about my own startup]

If I have to get on a "sales call" just to see what the product is or demo it, I am not interested. Let me try it for free, and tell me what it does... I really don't have time or patience for sales calls.

Then you're probably not the right customer for us! Do you have problems with internal tooling that you'd pay thousands of $ / month to have solved?

For now, that's who we're looking for. And a "request a demo" is a pretty good way of finding exactly those people.

At least in my company the people who have the actual budgets love sales calls. Even if the engineers tell them that the product is not good they will still buy it from a good sales rep.

I see what you are saying, and I think you are right in that you have to target decision makers who can sign a check, not engineers who might be the people who use the product.

But I would at least expect a landing page that showed the benefits to an executive, even if it came off as too vague to an engineer type.

The examples here simply don't communicate anything at all.

You forget the people in a) who don't have the time to deal with bulshit calls. That's where you're losing leads.

We cost thousands of $ / month. If you had a problem that you'd pay thousands to have solved, it's probably worth you talking on the phone for 20 minutes.

So it's a good filter for us, for now. Once we bring the price point down, you're absolutely right -- we want to have a descriptive landing page that makes people think "wow, that's exactly my problem!".

Are you the only company offering solutions? If so you can probably get away with it, but if not then it's not just 20 minutes it's 20m * n companies. 20 minutes is generous too, if your website is vague and your sales guys are clueless then it's much more than 20 minutes.

If even one of the competitors has a sticker price and publicly available documentation then I'd be evaluating them closely before even considering you.

If you can't spend 25 minutes looking for a good fit solution then you are not likely the type of customer anyone wants to deal with in the first place.


Front page of the Camel website:

Camel empowers you to define routing and mediation rules in a variety of domain-specific languages, including a Java-based Fluent API, Spring or Blueprint XML Configuration files, and a Scala DSL.

This means you get smart completion of routing rules in your IDE, whether in a Java, Scala or XML editor.

Apache Camel uses URIs to work directly with any kind of Transport or messaging model such as HTTP, ActiveMQ, JMS, JBI, SCA, MINA or CXF, as well as pluggable Components and Data Format options. Apache Camel is a small library with minimal dependencies for easy embedding in any Java application. Apache Camel lets you work with the same API regardless which kind of Transport is used - so learn the API once and you can interact with all the Components provided out-of-box.

Apache Camel provides support for Bean Binding and seamless integration with popular frameworks such as CDI, Spring, Blueprint and Guice. Camel also has extensive support for unit testing your routes.

I have looked at this website for a long time, my colleagues have looked at it, friends have looked at it, and we still can't figure out what they do.


From the sound of it, they don't know either:


"it is up to you to browse the site and create your own interpretation of it"

They give out free T-shirts, duh! On a more serious note, it looks like some sort of social media website.

This is hilarious, thank you. For the record, I couldn't figure it out either.

This also applies to far too many non-companies as well. Free software projects are notorious for this.

For both I generally prefer Wikipedia to their own webssites.

My own similar rant, as an HN comment, remains among my more popular contributions here. "Please forward to marketing".


If I visit a site and they can't manage to tell me - clearly - what they do, I presume they don't know either. I quicky move on.

The whole "it's free to try" routine is tiring at best. It's your product...communicate to me why I should care. If you don't know why that might be, it's not my job to figure it out for you (or for me).

The problem is, such tactics (artificially) inflate the new users KPI. Retention? Actually using the product? Ha! Who cares!! No one ever asks about that.

This also applies to some open source projects, like Apache Karaf ( http://karaf.apache.org/ ):

Upgrade to the Enterprise class platform.

Karaf provides dual polymorphic container and application bootstrapping paradigms to the Enterprise. Focus on your business code and application, Karaf deals with the rest

Ugh, here we go again...

If you're complaining that the copy on a successful tech company is not speaking to you, then it's likely that you aren't the intended audience.

I suspect this happens when companies forget what they do!

Anybody remember when the Infiniti car brand launched in the US, and all of their ads were nonsensical and had no apparent relation to cars?

Best I can find: http://articles.latimes.com/1989-08-26/business/fi-897_1_ad-...

> Yet for a few thousand dollars a year, Meltwater will give you reporters’ emails and phone numbers

It's quite hard to describe their business model without using the words "verified emails"; which is closely related to spam marketing I guess. A few thousand dollars a year also sounds very expensive for those email addresses/phone numbers

If you want to learn how to do it better, I can't recommend this book enough, "So What?" by Mark Magnacca.


Spend the $10 and become a better communicator.

Websites like that are "websites for the record". There are certain markets who think it's weird that a company doesn't have a website, but don't really care about the content or how it looks.

A lot of the text seems to be placeholder/written by a designer who asked about what the company wanted for the content and never got a response.

Most websites don't sell anything directly. They don't need to be understandable.

To take the previous examples, continentals and general electrics websites have nothing to sell to you whatsoever. The website is used to publish general company information online like: financial reports, global news, official contacts and addresses, job offers.

Hrm... and checking out our brand new site:


We're pretty close, but there's nothing there saying "this is a mailing list product" as such. I'll go see what can be done about that without ruining the pretty story.

a coworker left my company to go work at pega-systems. They've been around for a while as a company but I visited their website to figure out what they do. Its a little better now, but...

"Pegasystems Inc. is the leader in software for customer engagement and operational excellence. Pega’s adaptive, cloud-architected software – built on its unified Pega® Platform – empowers people to rapidly deploy, and easily extend and change applications to meet strategic business needs. Over its 30-year history, Pega has delivered award-winning capabilities in CRM and BPM, powered by advanced artificial intelligence and robotic automation, to help the world’s leading brands achieve breakthrough business results."


So, um, what do they actually do? The only words in that that make any sense are CRM (customer relationship management) and CPM (business process management), and those are also hopelessly waffly business bingo buzzwords.

I'm still not entirely sure. I think they just make business software for businesses. Seems like something abstracted way too much..

I once did an in house mobile timekeeping app that interfaced with a big company accounting system that we could only talk to with xml directly. (Javascript on blackberry oddly...) It should have been so simple, but we had to do a lot of weird things because the accounting system was very obtuse. Reminds me of that.

Contrast that with a site like this:


It tells you exactly what it does in one sentence, and that sentence is the only one on the page. Despite that, it's probably not as popular as the vague sites being complained about here.

Another frustrating trend is landing pages without sign in links. Optimizing for the acquisition/activation funnel is fine, but at least put in this one element for existing paying customers. Tooo often I find myself googling for "<name> login"

SV/tech sector narcissism and associated managerial credulity is going to provide fodder for much epic and wonderful satire. Which is admittedly minor compensation for this vast waste of human and other resources at a time when we are facing so many genuine challenges.

My take is these companies are elusive in their descriptions because they sell data and/or harvest data. So they are worried about privacy people getting on their backs. So they try to not be direct and to get their through word of mouth or through their sales channels.

Off-topic: since when did Medium ask readers to "sign in to get the full experience" with a giant modal? Is anyone else getting this, or are they A/B testing?

I hope they don't go down a route of blocking non-subscribers from reading their content like Quora.

I'm not getting it.

One-liners are hard.

One problem is people trying to pack ALL the features and ideas into that summary. So in the pursuit of wanting everyone to get the entire vision, the "what you offer right now" is lost.

As a company's product offerings expand into many, this gets even harder.

marketing is a god damned religion

This is typical of the "Enterprise" B2B sales approach, as apposed to selling to small and medium sized businesses and startups.

Enterprise sales has developed its own absurd language and culture that is now indistinguishable from parody.

I think that in the world of B2B, the website isn't meant to sell product; it's meant to start a conversation/look legitimate. Sounding like your competitors == legitimacy.

All of the real sales and marketing is done offline

My theory is that if you can possibly do it, have no "explainer page", instead just BOOM you are now using the software.

Or maybe have an explainer page offered to the user as a dialogue when they first go to the website.

Here is my take on what SendGrid does: Sending an email is pretty easy. Sending a metric butt ton is hard and so is hooking it into your app. So, we help you with that because screwing that up could be very bad.

Bezos was infamous for jealously controlling every pixel on the Amazon landing page. You could easily imagine a better design but at least you knew what to do.

Is this one of those? http://cameraiq.co/

Strange how it can be so hard to briefly describe what a company does.

It's often more obvious from the outside.

Most nerds aren't good at communicating.

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