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12 December, 2023

Are Test Tool Vendors Bringing About Their Own Demise?

Are test tool vendors digging their own graves

The test tools landscape has certainly evolved over the last two decades. Technology has developed, tools have matured, and licensing options have become more business-friendly. But this is not unique to test tools; all software has undergone staggering changes.

However, something more concerning has happened in the test tools market. Twenty years ago, it was a thriving sector, dominated by big players and teeming with innovation. It was normal for one tool to leapfrog over a competitor and then for that company to respond and do the same.

Fast forward to today, and the picture looks very different; the former test tool giants struggle to hold ground against alternatives.

I will explore a few reasons why I believe test tool vendors are not doing themselves any favours and are contributing to their declining status. I’ll also look at potential ways the big test tool companies can arrest this decline and recapture some of their former glory.

How Many People Use All The Features?

There’s still innovation in the test tools sector, but vendors struggle to sell the real value that these innovations bring.

At times, vendors seem to have just updated test tools for the sake of it, without providing any meaningful features for users. Or maybe a new feature has been added purely to meet the requirements of a single large customer.

Nowadays, software projects are racing to the bottom for lower costs. They are less concerned with bells and whistles and want to get the job done quickly and cheaply.

Features that simplify and save time are well received. Professional, enterprise-grade test tools do provide these features. Still, that message has been drowned out by the noise of experimental new features that people care less about or just don’t understand what benefit it will give them.

Instead, customers turn to open-source and bargain-basement options that are only known for being cheap. They confuse lower tool costs with lower overall costs when the body of evidence shows that, in most situations, this is just not true.

Marketing So Dull It’s Like Eating a Packet of Crackers

A simple definition of marketing is a company’s activities to deliver customer value by attracting new customers and keeping existing ones.

What happened to good marketing? Is marketing worse, or are our expectations just higher? Either way, I often lose focus when reviewing product marketing and work hard to stop my brain from going off on a tangent. So much of it is dull.

The solution: Focus on selling the value, not the features.

Competition is One Thing, But Attacking Each Other is Counterproductive

I know a competitive marketplace is important for many reasons, but I can’t help but think that back-biting from certain vendors paints the whole sector in a bad light.

I’ve heard first-hand from my customers the unsavoury things certain sales reps say about their rival products.

It’s not limited to behind-closed-doors conversations either. Increasingly, test tool vendors use aggressive marketing against competitors; for example, Tricentis has been openly aggressive in its pursuit of the OpenText user base and previously went after Micro Focus customers.

This approach often involves the spread of misinformation, which has tarnished the whole test tools sector.

It’s hard to establish trust when you’re so focused on besmirching your rivals rather than explaining how wonderful your innovative product is.

Meanwhile, customers are choosing less innovative and inefficient open-source tools that spend no money on marketing. We all know that open-source tools aren’t cheaper in the long run, when you factor in effort and complexity, so perhaps their neutrality is helping them to succeed.

The solution to this problem is to just concentrate on making and marketing great products and leave the competition to do their own thing.

Some Test Tools Are Perceived as Relics of the Past?

Historically, it was common for tool vendors to provide universities with educational licenses, seeding the future market with professionals versed in their tools.

This allowed undergraduates to experience different tools and see for themselves. It also allowed them to gain experience that employers would value.

However, as this practice has waned, fewer recent graduates have experienced these tools. Can a correlation be drawn between this and the market share reduction?

Instead of enterprise test tools, students are gaining familiarity with open-source solutions.

They can experiment with them for free, learn the ins and outs, and master the tools on individual projects and small team exercises. It is unsurprising that these graduates then look to base their first job on these tools or that employers will look to hire graduates with skills they can use from day one.

When these students graduate and see or hear about professional, enterprise-grade tools for the first time, they associate them with the previous out-of-date generation of software professionals. After all, from a grad’s perspective, 30-year-olds are so ancient as to be irrelevant, and their tech is probably redundant.

Unfortunately, the open-source that worked so well on their small projects aren’t as well suited for large enterprise projects, but old habits die hard.

As these graduates have become more established, they have carried their love of open-source tools with them.

The solution to this challenge seems straightforward: expose students to diverse tools, allowing them to gravitate towards those that deliver the most value in a real-world context. The current narrow approach is myopic and overlooks the long-term benefits of such exposure.

Test Tool Vendors Must Act Now to Protect Their Futures

If tool vendors don’t change their approach, they could find themselves on the losing side in the battle.

These battles happen constantly, and the better technology is not always the winner. Marketing and market share do count.

Just look at Betamax vs VHS, Windows vs OS/2, and Blu-Ray vs HD DVD. These format wars have one thing in common: the technically inferior solutions won.

In my opinion, tool vendors have lost their ability to assess the competition critically and are losing the marketing battle.

They focus on their perceived rivals, the other paid tool vendors, but the real competition is with open-source solutions. I have written about this many times.

Tools vendors must reengage with test professionals and get out of their comfort zone:

  • Speak to user of other tools, and find out why. This will provide great insight into why and also point them in the direction they need to go both technologically and for marketing.
  • Be open about product roadmaps and invite feedback. I know this will scare tools vendors, as they are reluctant to tip off the competition or to risk announcing something they may not deliver. However, if people can’t see the direction of the tool they may assume it has none.
  • Rejuvenate and modernise product marketing. Make it informative, interesting, accessible via multiple mediums – engaging articles, product sheets, and friendly videos.
  • Talk about ROI and value generated. Give real world examples and case studies showing the value generated by using their tools. All too often case studies are formulaic and lack real insight and meaning for the intended audience.
  • Create a buzz. Maybe a ‘bake-off’ where they set a challenge for professional testers to script an application that they make available and challenge people to use different tools to script. What a great way of either proving that their tool is the best or finding the delta that they need to address.

As they say…

Einstein Insanity
Stephen Davis
by Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis is the founder of Calleo Software, a OpenText (formerly Micro Focus) Gold Partner. His passion is to help test professionals improve the efficiency and effectiveness of software testing.

To view Stephen's LinkedIn profile and connect 

Stephen Davis LinkedIn profile

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