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In The IT Industry’s 95% Problem, Gartner Research VP Brian Prentice notes that an average user of a software uses only 5% of the product’s features. In other words, 95% of the features in a software create no value for the overall customer audience. While you could quibble about the exact percentages, no one will deny that a bulk of functionality of most software goes unused.


The 95% Problem Is There For A Good Reason

Unfortunately, this five percent varies from user to user and from one industry to another, so it’s impossible to find the 95% and just remove it.

Besides, the 95% is there for a good reason.

As veteran product and marketing managers know, software is an aspirational purchase. Customers buy a new software only if it supports enough “best practices” to take their companies to the “next level”. Features that are appealing before the sale are not always implemented after the sale. Customers rarely buy new software for slight improvements over their status quo.

Therefore, a certain degree of “bloat” – or excessive features – is inevitable in software.

In SaaS Will Change The Outcome Of The Bloatware Versus Light Apps Debate, we’d predicted that this would change in the emerging era of cloud computing. Four years after I wrote this post, alas, not much has changed.

If someone did a survey of B2B cloud software today, I’m quite sure that my aforementioned declaration about a bulk of functionality of most software going unused would still be valid.

I agree with Prentice that we have a serious product management problem if “a piece of software doesn’t have a majority of its capabilities being used by most of its users”.

How do we solve this problem?

Prentice recommends creating multiple products for different target markets. He takes the example of Mariner Software to elaborate the approach: “Mariner Software makes, amongst other things, word processors. Notice the use of the plural. They have a word processor specific for the needs of screenwriters (Montage). They have a word processor for novelists (StoryMill). They have a word processor for journalist/bloggers (MacJournal). And they have a bare bones word processor that gets the main typed stuff done that most people at home, or school, contend with (Write).”

While this strategy solves the basic problem, it introduces the following challenges:

  • High cost of developing and maintaining multiple codebases, one for each target segment of the market
  • Manifold increase in marketing costs due to multiplicity of products and their associated paraphernalia such as microsites, datasheets, brochures, canned demos, marketing campaigns, and so on.

These challenges can be surmounted if the multiplicity of products arising from this approach collectively expand the market. But they’re unlikely to do that. If you look at Mariner Software’s approach carefully, the firm is breaking up the market for word processor into multiple segments instead of expanding it. Therefore, it’s debatable whether its approach to product management would be sustainable. Since Mariner Software is a privately-held company, we don’t have enough data about its financials to make a calculated guess.

We propose an alternative approach to solving the 95% problem: Leave the core software software unchanged. Recast its frontend in the following manner:


  1. Change screen literals to match the lingo of the respective target segment e.g. Invoice screen for manufacturing target segment should use the label “item number” whereas the same screen for retail target segment should say “SKU”
  2. Draw 25% of the menu items from the top 5 most used features of the software across all target segments
  3. Draw 50% of the menu items from the top 5 most used features of the software within the specific target segment
  4. Draw the remaining 25% of the menu items from the top 5 most used features by the individual user
  5. Have a separate button that users can click to invoke the remaining features as and when they need them. This is like the double arrow appearing on the bottom of some Microsoft Office menus, as shown in the diagram on the right.

This approach will lead to multiple frontend versions, each providing better UI to its target segment compared to the bloated monolithic UI of the core product. For that reason, we’ll call this approach Multiply UI. By its very design, Multiply UI camouflages bloat and delivers lighter frontends. By exposing users only to the functionality regularly accessed by them, Multiply UI persuades them that most of the software’s capabilities are useful to them. Multiply UI accomplishes all this with a single codebase for the entire market.

95% problem solved! That too, without breaking the bank!! Thanks to Multiply UI!!!

Ketharaman Swaminathan On July - 1 - 2016


CX, IT Marketing, Product, Uncategorized


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