Are datasheets useful?

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DISCLAIMER: Datasheets is a very broadly used term. This post is in context of software industry.
There were days where data sheets or product sheets were important (and sufficient). They were a one or two page description of your product/offering and were made publicly available on your website for a prospect, customer or any random visitor to download and get herself familiar with your offering. They were on the radar of every product manager and marketing personnel in your company. Even today data sheets are still very much in use in the sales community.
However, they are no longer deemed sufficient.
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If your customer or prospect is asking for your product’s information and you share the data sheet, most likely you are not fulfilling her request. And in many instances the requesting party is going to shoot back at you asking for more detailed information. And in instances where they do not, you have lost an opportunity to educate your customer about your offering.

So why is it that data sheets or product sheets are less relevant than before?

  • Information is already consumed. There is a very high probability that the information included in the data sheet is already known to the prospect. The data sheet usually is publicly available on your company’s website. And therefore easy to consume. If someone googles for your company or the particular offering, it is quite likely that the link to your data sheet will be in the top 5 results of that search.
  • Information is not detailed. Information included in a data sheet tends to be high level. Obviously you have only couple of pages to work with. And if the offering is even moderately complex, the data sheet is meant to touch on key high level areas without sharing any details. It is more focused on the Whats rather than Hows. And even then it is high level.
  • Credibility is an issue. In today’s world where information is easily available, prospects are wary of inaccurate information. And the very nature of a data sheet does not lend itself to be credible source of information. Your data sheet may say your offering is the fastest in the market place or has feature A or B, but until there is more detail to back it up, the stated claim does not register a positive note in the reader’s mind.
  • Me-Too. It is quite likely that there is not any material difference between the content of your offering’s data sheet and your competitor’s offering’s data sheet. You and your competitor are highlighting similar points in your respective data sheets. This further diminishes the value of your data sheet to your prospect.
  • Does not teach. A data sheet is not something where you expect the reader to learn something new that they don’t already know. Seldom a reader will experience an aha moment after reading your offering’s data sheet.

Data sheets are effective as a short, very high level, primer for your offering. Almost like a 20 second YouTube movie teaser. But you should be prepared to share something more comprehensive and detailed as a follow up.