Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Messaging Ripple: A Salesforce Price Increase

Pricing strategy is a deep and complicated topic. You can find volumes of information on the web about pricing strategy. One interesting breakdown that I came across was in a white paper from Bessemer Venture Partners that's available for download from this page. One thing that I found particularly on point was this quote in the preview text:
Although the “flinch test” (keep raising the price and constraining the terms until the customer flinches) may have been an effective pricing art in the era of enterprise software, much more thoughtful strategies are needed for the modern models.
The flinch test. It has an uncomfortably familiar feel to it.

Upsetting the Status Quo
Imagine that pricing is a balance, a point of equilibrium between what the vendor would like to take from the relationship and a contrasting force of what the customer would like to spend in the relationship and how much they need in terms of service. In this model, a sales contract is reached based on a balancing of those two interests in at a point where both parties are satisfied. However, what constitutes a balance is never fixed, it's usually more of a range -- sort of like being on a see-saw and staying in balance as long as neither end touches the ground. With flinch test pricing, there is that idea of attempting to adjust pricing in favor of the vendor who, as an incumbent, maintains some entrenched leverage as it's hard to disconnect from the see-saw.

But with Salesforce, there's another aspect to their pricing model. Salesforce prices on a tiered pricing model. Here's an interesting excerpt from the Bessemer white paper:
The mindset of maintaining a long relationship with the customer supports having a tiered model. As the customer grows, its needs evolve. Part of the sales process is demonstrating that the customer’s needs can be met both in the present and in the future through higher tiers that it can “graduate into” over time. This also implies that sales cycles may be longer in order to prove out this value proposition over time...
The perception of growth on the part of customers is an important part of psychological pricing that compares favorably to the perception of “being charged more for a service level that I barely need.”
A fundamental component of Salesforce.com's tiered pricing structure is that you are "paying for things that you don't need." Some of these functional elements may be capabilities that you hope to "grow" into, while others may be things that simply don't fit your business process. Either way, there is a wealth of functionality that most likely sits idle, regardless of your business.

For customers, unless you've defined some specific measurable metrics, ROI can be seen as a Glass Half Empty / Glass Half Full sort of thing. Am I experiencing Value? Do I see the utility? Do I think we're taking advantage of all of the capabilities that the software offers? Half empty or half full is an easy state to remain in when everything is at equilibrium. But changing the cost equation can reactivate a need to scrutinize and measure -- and if there is not objective metric, it's easy to harmonize with the unused utility aspects.

The Uneasy Influence of Power in the SaaS Relationship
One of the things that makes a price increase so much more uncomfortable when you're dealing with a company like Salesforce.com is that, if you've deployed, the software has probably become entrenched in your business processes. This means that, if you are unhappy with the change in the vendor-customer relationship, you don't have many avenues for change. In this paper that I came across on Price Fairness, that kind of power magnifies the negative impact of a price increase.
Power affects the impact of different industries on price fairness judgments. When an industry is more powerful, as in the case of healthcare insurance, consumers are sensitized to fairness concerns. They are, however, reluctant to react because the alternatives are not good. The result may be capitulation: purchasing the product despite being angry as indicated by the dotted arrow. The result however, may also be explosive anger.
As with healthcare insurance, some may claim that there are many alternatives, but the reality is that that there aren't really that many viable ones.

In that context, even the threat of a price increase for a SaaS product like Salesforce.com can seem more like extortion than an acceptable business practice. The implication of the message is, "how entrenched is this software in your business processes?" And, as customers, your take-away understanding is more likely to be, "let me think twice about how I leverage this software in my organization. Is this new feature worth enabling another hook into my business or should I instead be looking at disconnecting dependencies?"

Personally, I would consider it an epic messaging blunder.

To end on a positive note, here's a little something in honor of the arrogance of the message and crazy seat licensing, here's a Bob Dylan song being performed by Tom Petty.

Monday, July 28, 2014

More Interesting Reading for Monday

Here are a few more interesting things that I've been thinking about this Monday morning. The first is courtesy of a link I came across on the PandoDaily site today. The link is actually to Lifehacker -- it's an interview with Ira Glass from This American Life. Here's the link. It's a really interesting breakdown of some of the editing and audio processing that they use. Cool stuff.

Another interesting one is something that I came across in the Pando Ticker last week. This is an interesting blog post about gender from a female presenter talking about how people seemed to think it was okay to provide unsolicited criticism of her presentation. Meanwhile, none of the male presenters experienced any presentation criticism. It's a good read; however, depending upon your gender and your experiences, you may find it unsurprising. Here's Lara Swanson's blog post.

Secrets of the Creative Brain

During the Friday commute home, I caught parts of this a story about creativity on NPR. Intrigued, I tracked down the article online and read through it on Saturday. It's quite interesting and definitely worth a read.

The piece is Secrets of the Creative Brain, A leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity shares her research on where genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQ -- and why it is so often accompanied by mental illness, by Nancy Andreasen. It's not a short read, but it is a pretty easy read nonetheless. And if you're into creativity -- understanding it, leveraging it, or just being around it -- I think it's a helpful read as well.

It reminded me a lot of Juice: The Creative Fuel That Drives World-Class Inventors, a book that I really enjoyed and would recommend. In her study, Andreasen dives into the associative part of the brain and it's relation to creativity. This harmonizes well with many of the ideas presented by Evan Schwartz in Juice. 

At the same time, one aspect of Andreasen's piece that I found amusing from the creative perspective is the idea that, within the mind of the creative person, the unusual (creative) associations seem so obvious that they tend to take them for granted. Put a different way, while some may see an unusual or creative idea, that creative person probably considers the association as normal. This can create a disconnect between a creative person and an audience that "just doesn't get it". And that can be a good thing to keep in mind when you're dealing with creatives -- or as a creative person looking out.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lessons from Streaming TV

Since moving from Mountain View last year, I have joined the cut-the-cord crowd. It wasn't just that I couldn't see giving Comcast $100 a month for hundreds of channels of crappy content. The worst part of having access to all of that crappy content is that it's easy to get sucked into watching it.

While I've maintained a relationship with Comcast for Internet, I have no TV. No TV as is, not just no cable TV box, but no TV. Since that time, most of my video experiences have been things that I found online or streamed through online services. If found a number of take-aways from the experience, so I thought I would share a few of them.

Netflix Streaming is Not Equal to Their Traditional Media Business
Netflix may offer one of the best streaming media experiences, but their service rides on an illusion that their library of streaming content is equivalent to their DVD media library. For a business that epitomized the Long Tail, Netflix vast library of DVDs available for rent was unparalleled. From new releases to virtually anything in the vault, if it is on DVD, Netflix rents it. But they don't necessarily stream it.

The library of what content is available for streaming is governed by different licensing rules. As a result, the content oligarchs still seem to be of the mind that if they just limit the availability of certain content -- say The Good Wife Season 5, that you'll run out and buy a DVD because unlimited free streaming is unavailable. And while all of the new release movies come out on DVD or Blue Ray -- even with the 'negotiated' delay between sales and rental -- you may never see some of them as a subscription streaming offering. And yes, you can 'rent' a streamed version of the movie from iTunes or Amazon, but don't expect all of the content that you want to watch to appear in the "all you can eat" streaming packages.

My Number One Complaint Against Amazon Prime
One of the things that I liked the most about when I had a Netflix subscription was that you could actually stream content over the cellular network to your phone. This meant that I could watch streaming content during lunch or if I found myself eating alone. While the phone isn't an ideal platform for watching TV and movies, sometimes it was better than no dining companion. 

Amazon Prime's streaming client seems similar to Netflix, but they've built a hard block against using the app on the cellular network. While that won't cause you any issues at home, it makes it unusable for my primary phone-based streaming video use case. As a result, I went for seven or eight months without watching any Amazon Prime streaming content.

Content Differences Between Netflix and Amazon Prime
As you would probably imagine, there is a lot of content available that overlaps across the two services. The same movies, the same TV shows. But there are differences. Netflix seems to have a larger library of streaming content available, so you might be more likely to find something there than on Amazon. At the same time, Amazon recently obtained an exclusive license to stream many HBO series. This means access to old seasons of True Blood, The Wire, Band of Brothers, the Sopranos, and more.

iTunes Outdated Content Licensing Approach
There is no unlimited video content streaming available in iTunes. Instead, when it comes to video content, iTunes operates more like Blockbuster than Netflix -- happy to rent or sell content on a per piece basis. While that matches the rest of the market for new release content, it leaves a gaping hole when it comes to the rest of the content library. This means that, even though we use Apple devices like the iPhone, iPad, Macbook and Apple TV, we seldom watch video using iTunes. It's kind of funny when you think about it.

In fact, over the past couple of years, the only time that Apple got money from me for streaming video content was when I bought seasons of Misfits and, even then, it was because the DVDs were unavailable here in the states. And then, as the last season of Misfits was airing, Apple applied geographic restrictions to the show so that it was only available in the UK version of iTunes. No content for me, no money for them. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The History Lesson that Foursquare Missed

Remember back when the next big thing was check-ins? It was back around 2010, there were multiple applications for checking in, and there was so much imagined potential for space. Even Facebook and Yelp decided to try and scoop up some of the action. And one-by-one, from the Foursquare competitors to Facebook places, they've disappeared.

For whatever reason, be it user interface, brand loyalty, or just the way things go, Foursqure held out. They held out as people tried other platforms but didn't switch. They held out through the time when the big dog, the 800lb gorilla of Facebook tried to use its giant user base to muscle them out of the space. They held out as location and recommendation engine Yelp parroted their concepts of Mayor with Duke and Duchess of check-ins.

Through it all, Foursquare was still "the Check-in app".

Until Foursquare decided to do what none of their competitors could do -- move check-ins into a competitive app (Swarm) and get Foursquare out of the check-in business.

It's so mind blowing, it almost seems comic, like a scene from a Marx Brothers movie. "The plane is carrying too much weight, we're going to crash. Find something to throw overboard... How about this engine? Too much weight, get rid of it." Of course, that whole scene would still resolve with a happy, funny ending.

The Alliance: The Best Business Book I've Read in Several Years

On Tuesday, KQED's Forum program featured LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman talking about his new book, The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age. After listening to part of the program -- I had to get into a meeting -- I found that I was interested enough to head straight to Amazon to find out more about the book. One Prime membership and two days later, the book arrived this morning. I finished it by lunchtime.

Without a doubt, this is one of the best business books that I've come across in a long time. I highly recommend it.

The basic premise of the book is a redefining of the employer-employee relationship, designed to address the modern business environment. Gone are the days of lifetime employment, but we still carry residual assumptions that corrupt aspects of the employer-employee relationship. The Alliance provides for a better social contract, defining a framework for dealing with employment periods as tours of duty with goals for advancing both the company and the employee's interests.

The Problem with Most Business Books
It's not unusual to come across a business book that catches my attention. An interesting idea or an insightful look into a technology or trend -- if it's wrapped in a good story -- can usually spark my thinking, sometimes enough to buy the book. At the same time, for as many books as I've bought in the past couple of years, I've actually finished few of them. Mostly, that's because, once you work your way through the core premise and you understand the framework, the other content is typically provided as supporting information and it's rather tedious to work through. Usually, after a couple of days of hacking through a few pages here and there, I find myself drawn into other projects, then I stop carrying the book, and soon it's collecting dust on the cabinet.

The Alliance was far more successful. It's well documented, with anecdotes and examples from a variety of businesses. The examples used are typically brief, not more than a page or two, sometimes as short as a casual reference. The flow is fast, the chapters are short and it moves with the pace of a tight presentation deck. But it gets better:
  • More than just presenting a concept, the book provides a rough framework for implementing an approach. It's like reading a manual with exercises and example. There is some good take-away material here.
  • While it maps out the framework, it doesn't get bogged down in process details. It's almost more of an executive overview of a policy handbook, rather than a tedious policy handbook.
  • At the end of each chapter, the book provides links to a web site where you can get more content online. This is the way modern book publishing should be.
  • Even the appendices include example documents that help provide inside into the process and the strategy. 
In the end, this is one you definitely should read. It even provides a great context for how the social network should fit into the culture of the business -- but you could probably see that coming from the Linked In folks.

Not that they're reading my blog, but a hat tip to Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh. This is an exceptional book you've put together here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Fundamental Foursquare Rebranding Question

The strategy behind this whole Foursquare shift just keeps buzzing around in my head. I was reading Sarah Lacy's Pando post on Foursquare after I published the previous one and I came across this quote from Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley in a previous Pando piece (emphasis added by me).
The press, God bless you guys, puts successful tech companies through a hazing period,” he said. He had to learn to ignore the haters because he believed that his vision — to turn check-in data into world’s best local search engine — would have value beyond check-ins and badges.
So here's the fundamental question:
You really believe in this idea of a local search engine and have all of this brand equity in your check-in app that drives the data for your search engine. Why would break the brand and identity connection between your check-in app and check-ins and replace it with your location discovery/search functionality that wasn't identified with your brand?

Why wouldn't you make the discovery/search functionality the second app?

Because two dead ducks are better than one dead one and one very strong one that doesn't know where to go?

More on the Death of Foursquare

It's feels like a constant reminder whenever I visit a restaurant. I look at my phone. In my brain, there's a Pavlovian bell, "you should check in". And then, the rational part of my brain switches over and reminds me that I don't check in. Foursquare is dead to me.

After so many years of being wired to this behavior, it feels like such a loss.

But I'm not the only one. I came across this great open letter to Foursquare in this post on Pando. It echos a lot of my sentiments, but I didn't bother to download Swarm. And I won't bother. Nor have I opened the Foursquare app since they disabled check-ins. I don't really need a location discovery app.

As you look around the web at the passionate dissatisfaction with what the way that they've killed check-ins, you have to wonder -- if they'd moved location discovery to a different app, would their have been the same level of vocal complaints? While I'm not internal and I don't know user numbers or demographic size, I would be surprised if there was a "passionate location discovery user base" in the Foursquare community.

Like Michael Jordan deciding he should quit basketball to play baseball
This feels more like one of those internally driven decisions, the kind focused on answering a deluded team of managers or MBAs that are convinced that Foursquare should be something more than a check-in app, "if we were this location discovery space, we would be awesome." It's the kind of decision doesn't understand the real value that Pavlovian habit.

Meanwhile, back in the new location discovery app, "this place is popular with people who used to check in frequently..."

One day, Foursquare will be a great case study.

Reflections on a Troubled Relationship with Salesforce.com

Yet another frustrated Salesforce.com post. It's a reminder of the level of frustration with Salesforce.com, simmering beneath the surface. Perhaps the best indication of a problem in a relationship is when you exploring your options. It's one thing to think about alternatives, it's another thing to begin exploring alternatives.

Customer Churn
Enterprise software is not quite the same as your cell phone carrier. Despite the illusory promise of being able to take all of your data in Salesforce at any time, changing the business processes that you've built and the workflows that have been established isn't as simple as a data export. You don't just port your number -- switching to a new platform takes time and implementation efforts. And so, if you're an established customer with a company like Salesforce.com, extracting yourself isn't a decision that you make off the cuff -- and the people that work in enterprise software know this.

Unfortunately, there's a certain arrogance that comes with those "switching" challenges. Often, what this means is that businesses take their customers for granted. Look at Oracle, SAP or a variety of enterprise products -- it's one of the things that frustrate people the most about dealing with companies like this.

In the past, Salesforce has purported to be different. It's pushed aspects of its business model that emphasize their customer focus, like their old tag line about being focused on making their customer's successful. The idea that you can just pack up your data and go is supposed to embody that difference.

So when you find yourself looking at competitive solutions -- like SugarCRM and Oracle OnDemand -- in order to see how feasible it would be to switch, you know that a threshold has been reached. The company has lost your loyalty. Like working in a job that you're not happy in, if the right opportunity presents itself, you'll switch. This is the blow-back that comes with the arrogance of an entrenched solution.

The Product Is Not The Problem
As marketers, we sometimes find ourselves in the unpleasant situation of having to find a positive message for a shitty product or feature. With Salesforce.com, nine times out of ten, the product is not the problem -- it's the other aspects of business outside of software. From WTF Pricing to the erosion of their customer support, I've had my frustrations with their approach to business. But if I were to describe my overall experience with the Salesforce.com brand, I would summarize is like this:
  • Really great software product with a shifty, used car salesman business wrapper. Try to keep one hand on your wallet at all times and read everything twice before you sign. 
Perhaps that sounds harsh. Don't get me wrong, I think that the majority of vendors in the enterprise software space are similar. I remember my first encounter with Salesforce.com sales back in 2004, two guys in sports coats, overdressed for the company and the industry that we were in, looking like sales guy hipsters getting ready to try to hustle us.

To be fair, that isn't my only experience with Salesforce.com people I've encountered over the years, but hovers like a dark shadow over most experiences with the business portion of the business. In contrast, most of the actual software and product people seem to be genuine, nice, and technically skilled at one they do -- this is one of the upsides of the Dreamforce experience, when you can encounter the people behind the business wrapper who are actually involved in crafting the product.

The pricing portion of dealing with Salesforce.com is probably one of the worst aspects of dealing with the company. While many aspects of the "you just pay this per month and you get access to all of this" pricing model seems straightforward enough, it's a landscape of add-ons and extras that become increasing segmented and monetized as they work to wring more revenue from their customer base in order to wow their shareholders. And so they highlight new features in the key note presentations, "wouldn't it be great if you can look at your customer and know everything about them from their Linked In profile"? It would, only that feature will cost you $10 per month for each of your users. How about record de-duplication -- pretty cool right? That's another $15 per month. Wouldn't it be great if you could access all of the information about your prospective customer's business? We have it right here in the business we acquired, Data.com, and it's yours to access for $25 per month. And you've got to have floor mats, right?

It's like your playing three card monte with a hustler. "See here, this card is the value proposition, the ROI for the game. Keep your eye on that card and you can't lose. Oh, look at that. You almost had it. But wait, don't quit now." And this goes on and on while they shake you down.  

And this is one aspect of dealing with the business that makes it so insufferable. As you deal with the sales guys and the account managers, not only do you get these pricing messages, you also often get the, "this is not me, this is coming down from the top" message. And that's not just a one-off. The "business" of the way that Salesforce does business is entwined in their brand.

And this is why the ugly reality of Salesforce is that, it's often better if you don't have to deal with the company, don't have to engage with the business. When you can simply work with the software, it's a strong product.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Messaging FAIL: Spinning a Salesforce.com Price Increase

Here's a marketing guy quick tip for your sales staff, brought to you courtesy of a recent meeting with Salesforce.com regarding a price increase that they have decided to drop on our account.

If your business develops messaging to explain a price increase and that messaging doesn't land well with your customers, arguing with them in an effort to "help" them to accept your messaging will not make things better.

Balancing the Churn Equation
The bottom line with a price increase on an enterprise SaaS product is that it's an effort to manipulate the existing balance between mining equity from the business (for shareholders) against the retention equity of the customers. The big question underlying the whole equation is the availability of competitive alternatives and the cost to switch.

But there is an invisible part of the scale, hidden from the immediate balance. It's the place where the little things accumulate. Maybe it's dropped calls and disconnects for your cell phone carrier. Or that time at the restaurant when they got your order wrong. It's the little moments that begin adding up -- yet another brick in the wall -- building toward an opportunity to switch.

It makes for an interesting question. If there was a direct competitor to Salesforce.com with none of the traditional baggage of a company like Oracle or SAP -- say if Workday did CRM -- what do you think the landscape would look like? Would you switch?

While the 'viable alternative' question is a little hazy, one thing is clear. With many of it's business practices, Salesforce.com is very efficient at moving bricks into the desire to change side of the opportunity-to-switch equation.

I've going to write more about this whole price-increase thing in the next couple of days. This is just one brick.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Great Customer Service: The North Face

Some time ago -- I'm not sure how long it's been -- I got a new backpack for carrying my laptop. For many of us that travel, luggage and laptop bags can be a big deal. Part of the reason is that, while there are many mediocre designs, it can be a challenge to find all of the features that really fit your style and travel requirements.

This laptop backpack, the most amazing laptop backpack that I've owned, is made by The North Face and, apparently, sold exclusively through REI. It's called the Overhaul 40. It's got a huge carrying capacity -- easily capable of carrying multiple laptops (as is sometimes a requirement). It also features some great luggage features like a side carrying handle and the sleeved back that allows you to put it over the handle on luggage. But best of all, it's a really great backpack, with good padding, a good hip belt, and a great balance on your back. It's designed like it was made by a company that makes gear for trekking. Even heavily loaded, it feels well balanced.

So a couple of weeks ago, I was bummed when I accidentally closed the car trunk on the hip belt buckle. At first, I didn't think anything bad happened. Then later, as the hip belt buckle just fell off, I realized that the cross connector had broken.

I was really bummed, but figured that with some looking, I could probably get a replacement plastic buckle at REI. And that was my plan until I was talking to one of my colleagues who does a lot of outdoor stuff. He suggested contacting The North Face, commenting that brands like The North Face and Patagonia have really strong warranties.

A quick search on the Internet, an email to customer service, and within two days, they are shipping me a replacement buckle! As a customer, I am wowed. One more reason why I love my pack. I've become a bigger fan of The North Face than I was previously.

It's a great example of what great customer service can do for your business. Contrast that with the many horror stories that I've written about. The North Face -- I would recommend them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

10 Reasons I Can Skip Dreamforce This Year

I never wind up registering early for Dreamforce because I'm always a mix of one part skeptical that I'll go, one part skeptical as to who (if anybody) will attend with me, one part skeptical that I'll still be working with the platform in the same capacity, and two or three parts soured on the entire experience (adjust to taste).

Now, as the conference approaches, it's not too hard for me to find more reasons why it may not be worth me attending this year.
  • Considering that I was already researching hotels several months ago, I know that there isn't any available hotel space. That means commuting to the city and I now live 30 minutes further from San Francisco after moving out of Mountain View last year.
  • I've already been reminded of their loyalty to me as a customer when I was recently contacted by the phone sales guy offering me a 10% discount. The same sales guy told me that they still have access to great nearby hotels, and with shuttles, it shouldn't be a problem. Sales guys, Salesforce.com sales guys, or people telling me things that I know are miss-information -- I'm not sure which is worse.
  • I just got the email announcing the band for the Gala this year, and it's Bruno Mars. I saw his act during the Superbowl Halftime show and that was more than enough for me. At least if I do go to Dreamforce this year, I know one night I won't feel compelled to stay late.
I know that this is only three reasons, but it's three reasons that speak loudly to me when I wake up to find the Bruno Mars announcement in my inbox. Three big loud reasons not to go. And it makes me grumpy. Not feeling positive about the platform or about being a customer. Grumpy.

Add to all of that contract renegotiation, threats of price increases, and I'm not really feeling the love from Salesforce. Instead, I'm wondering how I would design an exit path from Salesforce for the company.

Then again, I didn't get the tele-sales guy's Dreamforce ROI calculator. That probably would have solved everything.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Personal Values and Your Consumer Behavior

How much do your values impact your own personal consumer behavior? Take the Supreme Court ruling on Hobby Lobby versus providing contraception to their employees as an example. Would you consider yourself more or less likely to shop at the place based on the business participation in this legal battle? Regardless of the specific side of the issue you find yourself on, the root question is more about whether, by participating in this legal battle over "values" issues affects your decision to engage in a relationship with the business.

Perhaps it's the circles that I run in, but my friends consumer activities have long been shaped by many of these issues. Back in the nineties, many of my friends used to avoid buying Exxon gas. These days, even as Chick-fil-A restaurants have began popping up all around the south bay, we haven't been to a single one. There are no Hobby Lobby stores here, but if there were, I guarantee you that I, for one, would not be a customer.

Back when I lived in the bible-belt south, I once worked for a music store that, essentially, has a religious test for employment. After I quit working there, they eventually got to a point where they held mandatory prayer meetings with their employees. The idea that, as an employee you might have to participate in a mandatory prayer meeting offended me to the core -- I didn't want to pray, I just wanted to be employed in the music business. For the owners, perhaps it was a moral issue, but for many of the people that worked there, it was more about them exerting their power over employees than it was about shared values. The acceptance of practices like that is one of the reasons why I left the region and found myself much happier here in California where that type of business behavior wasn't tolerated.

Our everyday choices are governed by our own values.

In all, the silent embargo against businesses who cross your moral threshold may not significantly impact their bottom line. But, as a consumer, you have a choice, and when businesses engage in polarizing public activities, they should expect to see a cost associated with that. When I don't buy Exxon gas or Chick-fil-A sandwiches, there is no analytic that measures that. There is no survey that says, I didn't come in because your business behavior and my political views don't match. But I represent a percentage of potential business that is lost because of that.

But this isn't completely a this-side-that-side kind of situation. There are business behaviors that are apolitically positive. Compare the Hobby Lobby case to Starbucks recent announcement that it would pay for college for all of it's employees. It's hard to imagine an opposition to their position. It's an example of a business doing something more for employees, versus fighting to do less. So which public activity makes you feel better about doing business with the company?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How Foursquare lost me as a user

Anyone who has been to lunch with me in the past couple of years knows that I have a regular ritual. One of the first things that I do when I get to a restaurant is check in on Foursquare. Recently, as the try to find the sweet spot for engaging with their users and making money, Foursquare split their app into two, launching "Swarm". Swarm is designed for the people that use Foursquare to gather and find their friends. Meanwhile, Foursquare has been relegated to more map exploration functionality.

From one I've read, Foursquare believes that their user base falls into two very distinct camps, the ones that are all about gathering with their friends and the map explorers. Me, I have all of about five friends on Foursquare, and most of them don't use it very much -- if at all. So when I first learned about Swarm, it was pretty clear to me that I was not the target audience. Not something I was planning to download -- despite the pop-ups that started appearing in the Foursquare app.

But then, about a week or so ago, when I went to check in at a restaurant, the Foursquare app told me that there was no more check-ins in Foursquare. That feature had been disabled. The funny thing was, I didn't think of it much the first time I came across it, but the second time I tried to check in a couple of days later, it kind of pissed me off. That check-in process, with all of it's associated historical metrics, had become a data set that I found interesting. And it was gone.

I emailed Foursquare, but they eventually contacted me and suggested that I use Swarm. They might has well have suggested that I use Yelp. Something about the "change this process" that I'm just not willing to do. Almost like, if Levis suddenly quit making pants in my size and suggest instead that I take the next size up and wear a belt. Something in that message is basically saying, "we're done."

Monday, July 7, 2014

Salesforce.com Dreamforce Sales FAIL: A Comedy of Discounts

So I just got a call from a telesales guy at Salesforce. He wanted to see if we were interested in going to Dreamforce this year. I told him that we were considering it, but I still had my reservations and complaints from last year.

He then proceeded to offer me discount codes. It was near the end of the call by the time I got around to asking how much the discount was for -- 10% off the current price. Not exactly a mind blowing discount, but he was excited. In fact, he seemed a bit surprised that I wasn't more excited.

"Just 10%?," I asked.
"It's 10% off the current price, but we can give you more of a discount if you send more than five people," he responded.

I tried to convey my disappointment. As a long time customer that's been to five or so Dreamforce conferences and participated in several rounds of surveys, I actually felt a little insulted. "Is this the best you guys can do," I asked? "Perhaps I should just wait for someone to provide a better discount code."

At that point, he told me he would also send me their ROI calculator to help me better determine the ROI on the experience.

Why Some Sales Experiences Suck
Sometimes, as a sales guy, your job with the customer should be to do no harm. In this case, the experience actually reminded me of the ways that Salesforce.com has really been pissing me off lately. To start with, if you're going to take the time and effort of a direct sales call to my cell phone, you'd better have something exciting and meaningful that you're offering. It had better be special.

Those "special contact" touch points are limited access for a reason. When you turn it into a crappy sales call, you're not winning the hearts and minds of your customers.

The "sending me the ROI calculator" response to the "is that your best discount" question reeks of an un-empowered phone sales agent who isn't really allowed to go off script. In short, he has only one or two tools in his tool bag and doesn't seem to have any direction on when to refer problem calls up the management chain.

Yup, there's nothing like being a long-standing customer that's dropped into a customer service pool that treats you like statistical digit. Perhaps you may want to tweak your algorithm to include time served.

Customer touchpoint FAIL.