Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reflections on a Troubled Relationship with

Yet another frustrated post. It's a reminder of the level of frustration with, 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, 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, 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 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 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 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 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,, 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.

No comments: