The Truth is Comparisons are Awful

It really sucks that every other knowledge base software doesn’t suck. In a purely selfish way, I kind of wish it did. It would be so much easier if every other software provider failed to offer any real benefit to their users.

Because then I could do what everyone else does. I could highlight the shortcomings of our competitors in the vain attempt to come out on top and squeeze out one more user, without feeling any sense of guilt or questionable morality.

Ooooo Here’s an idea: How about I put together a spreadsheet listing software like Intercom Articles, Zendesk Guide, Help Scout Docs, Helpjuice, and all our other competitors, and only highlight the bits where we sort of do it better!

I know I sound really cynical, right now. It totally goes against my New Year’s resolution to “not be such a cynical bastard”. Hey ho, them’s the breaks! Maybe I need a lie-down!

I get that business is competitive. I also realize there are plenty who might read this and decry it with their standard ‘boo hoo, liberal snowflake’ responses. An attempt, I imagine, to reassert their toxic superiority complex and justify the shitty behavior they’ve no doubt undertaken.

Yes, I get that business is competitive, but I don’t get why people are actively willing and encouraging each other to fail. It’s pretty disgusting.

Jake posted a great thread along these lines a couple of weeks ago. I’ve noticed a recent trend of tweets from successful founders talking about succeeding in the face of such adversity, and essentially being shit on in the early days.

For Jake, the “adversity” took the form of an early commentator—and pretty prominent founder—purporting to offer advice. Instead, they took a steaming dump all over the idea for HelpDocs—figuratively speaking of course! 💩—telling Jake and Jarratt to quit and avoid wasting their time.

The thread continued to highlight how wrong that person was, and that now, less than 2 years later, we’re more profitable than they were when they told Jake to quit.

Fun-fact-meets-humblebrag: our growth rate is now higher than theirs was and ever has been, despite HelpDocs taking no funding, while they definitely did. 🙃

It would be fine if this was isolated, but it’s not. There are countless examples. This shit is rife!

And while it’s usually done as a personal “this is my opinion” kind of attack, there are other occasions where it takes the form of a more professional, kind of legitimized attack.

Yes, I’m talking about attack comparison blog posts!

The Premise

I started this post as a response to a scathing post between a couple of our competitors, where one had posted about why “X software is better than Y”.

I should point out HelpDocs is neither X or Y in this scenario! 😇

I could quite easily sit back and watch the companies tear into each other while trying to eke out one more user.

We don’t have any skin in the game here.

But it struck me how petty and, well, lazy it is. It confuses me how people feel justified to stoop so low, and yet it happens all the time.

I’m not naive. I know SaaS can be a brutal shit of an industry. I’ve worked with enough companies to experience veiled criticisms, backstabbing through smiles and rainbows, and passive-aggressive social media taunts. It’s all par for the course.

When it comes to proving your worth over your competitors via legitimized critical comparison blog posts, it seems like no holds are barred. And the cheap shots are always the first to be taken.

The Conflict

A good product comparison can be useful for customers. It’s why places like Capterra, TrustPilot, and G2Crowd are so popular.

In fact, I saw a recent suggestion that companies should leave comparisons to these supposedly impartial platforms.

For me, the issue with third-party review sites is many of the reviews are, well, of questionable origin. In many cases, the motivation behind them isn’t to share genuine experiences, but extreme ones.

Many, if not all reviews are solicited. Happy users of products are encouraged by the support/advocate/marketing teams to leave positive reviews. Others are solicited by the review platform themselves, in exchanged for perks like gift cards.

Neither of these gives a fair reflection of the performance of a platform. Like everything, they are cherry-picked or, oftentimes, just made up. We’ve found many HelpDocs reviews from people who’ve never actually signed up to our software. But we actively avoid asking people to review us, as it’s a preloaded request.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that third-party review sites highlight where reviewers have been compensated for their review, but it’s morally suspect to reward a dishonest review with a $10 gift card. It undermines the whole purpose of these review sites, rendering them untrustworthy.

But what can you do?

On the one hand, we allow third-party sites to pay for neutral reviews and decimate the perception of our software. On the other, we push for more reviews from our users. Should we leverage the happiest customers to give us rave reviews in a vain attempt to attain a 5-star rating?

I dunno. It seems dishonest.

Solicited reviews are biased. Third-party sites are untrustworthy. So, I guess the logical thing to do is post a comparison between us and our competitors, right?

You Can Handle the Truth!

We aren’t salespeople. Heck, we barely market anything anymore. Instead, our focus is on product fit. Nothing more, nothing less.

While it can sometimes be difficult to admit our shortcomings, educating a customer about where both we and our competitors excel and fall short can only set all parties up for success.

There’s no point in me telling you our text editor is a thousand times better than anyone else’s if what you’re looking for a feature we don’t support. Likewise, there’s no point in being ashamed of what we do well.

I think it all boils down to managing expectations and intending to add value across the board. An approach, rightly or wrongly, of honesty and transparency.

We know there are areas where both we and our competitors differ, so rather than saying “we do X better than this other software” or just criticizing our competitors, let’s be honest!