Donations for Haiti earthquake victims

Sincere request to all readers of this blog :

Unconfirmed reports in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake put the death toll at 50,000 and the suspicion is that 100,000 may have perished. The earthquake has affected more than 1 million people. This makes this earthquake a disaster of epic proportions.

I am making a request to all of you to make a donation towards rescue and relief efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. The two organizations that are well known for their disaster response and also for administration of their donations are the American Red Cross and Oxfam America.

If you already have made a donation, Thank You  and if you have not, can I count on you to make any donation that you can?

If you could let me know the donation amount you have pledged by leaving a comment to this post, I would sincerely appreciate it. My sincere thanks to all of you in advance and God Bless.

Biogen CEO James Mullen forgets to be human

This post has nothing to do with product management. Andrew Baron, founder of RocketBoom reported yesterday that his father Frederick Baron, is dying of multiple myeloma, a particularly nasty form of cancer. Last week doctors gave him days to live – as of this morning he’s still fighting.Sad story indeed and my heart goes out to the family. But this story has an even sadder twist.

In a blog post, Andrew says that the family was preparing for the worst. But then one of Frederick’s doctors discovered last week that a multiple sclerosis drug called Tysabri, produced by Biogen Idec, may cure the cancer. But Biogen CEO James Mullen has refused to authorize use of the experimental drug to save Fred’s life, in spite of pleas from former President Clinton, Senators Kennedy, Harkin and Kerry and Lance Armstrong. Why he says No is beyond Andrew and the readers. It is one thing to say No, but you at least have to explain why.

I feel so bad for Andrew and his family, but this is a case where corporate folks stop being human. Yes, we live in a litigious world, but can Biogen not have Andrew say that Biogen will not be sued in any event and save a life? When did a life stop being precious to a pharmaceutical company?

Companies ignore social media at their own peril

Last month, I slammed Infusionsoft when they started spamming me with email after I had downloaded an eBook from their website.

The very next day, CEO of Infusionsoft Clate Mask apologized via comments to that blog post. Here was his comment:

“Gopal–very fair point. We should have had the language on there that communicates we will send follow-up messages when you hit submit. My bad. We will change that. I complete agree with you about permission marketing. And I admit that sometimes we get going too fast and make mistakes that result in unwanted messages. But believe me: we do want to send value, build a relationship and become a trusted advisor to folks who want to know how to build their businesses more quickly and effectively. Thanks for your comment. It will cause me to examine things and see if we’ve been too heavy on promotion and light on valuable content to our prospects. BTW, I really appreciate your perspectives and am a little embarassed to be called out by you.”

I was impressed – a CEO was reading what was being said about his company on my blog and he took the time to admit the mistake, apologize and promise that the issue will be fixed. However, I was not going to be convinced until I saw that changes were made.

I went to their website last week to see if anything had changed and nothing had. Then I received another comment from Clate last night about this same issue.

Hi Gopal, I just want to thank you for your “criticism” a few weeks ago about our opt-in and follow-up marketing practices. Your post resulted in a meeting between me and our marketing director. We have already changed a couple of things in order to be more transparent to folks who opt in to my eBook and various white papers. And we are revising some other things we are doing–toning down the frequency of communications, etc. As our company has grown, I think we have gone a little overboard with the amount and frequency of email communications we send. Again, thanks for the nudge in a better direction.

Clate had kept his word, made the easy fix and is now working on fixing his messaging problem.

Think about it – how many CEOs or others in companies are paying attention to what is being said about their products/companies in the social media, how many of them take the time to correspond with this new media, admit that a mistake has been made and then make sure it gets fixed.

I have to applaud Clate for doing this. All of us make mistakes, what takes effort is the willingness to admit that it was wrong and then take the time to fix it. I am not a customer of InfusionSoft, but people who could be their customers may be reading my blog.

Clate – you are way ahead of your CEO peers. I have to say I am impressed.

Folks, if your organization is not paying attention to social media, you are digging a big hole for yourselves. Your existence is threatened and you should be worried.

Product Management lessons from the latest iPhone debacle

The media (social and real) is abuzz with how Apple botched the launch of the 3G iPhone last Friday. Yes, they could have done it a whole lot better but I don’t think it is going to make much of a dent on the how many of these phones Apple will sell.

Seth Godin in his blog writes about the concept of scarcity that is written around this misstep by Apple and AT&T. It is a very fascinating read and has a lot of lessons for product managers in how creating a product experience and how treating your higher spend customers differently is crucial to eventual success of a product. Apple is likely to get away with this misstep because their product truly has a great product experience and they have the world beating to their door and hence willing to give them a longer leash.

Permission Marketing gone astray – InfusionSoft

Couple of weeks back, I came across this company called InfusionSoft. I signed up to download something that looked interesting to me called “9 proven techniques to double sales”. To do this, I had to fill out the following form.

When you do this, they send you a link via an email to download the white paper. I was fine with it until this point.

Then the trouble started – there is nothing in the above dialog that gives them permission to send me anything other than the above white paper. Now I get daily emails from their CEO Clate Mask. Here are some of the titles of the emails and some of the content in the email.

Email 1: How one incredible number skyrockets your income

…… Just imagine being able to double your sales (even when businesses all around you are falling further and further into debt.) Think how great you’ll feel when customers are begging you to serve them AND you can stop wondering if you’ll be in business next month. ……

Email 2: 7 Magnetic Marketing Secrets To Explode Your Profits

……when you’re in harvesting mode, you’re working smart and scooping up sales left and right. You can spend your time at closings, on the phone with hot leads or out on the golf course because you know your prospects will call YOU when they’re ready to move forward. ….

Email 3: Double your sales with one powerful secret

and on and on it goes.

What? Customers coming begging to me to serve them? Go and play golf because prospects will call you? Am I living on the wrong planet or what?

Do you think I will ever buy anything from InfusionSoft? No, but I sure am writing about them so that I can save others from this experience.

The emails also say this – which I thought was even more hilarious

We value your privacy, we really hate spammers, and we’re not going to sell your info to spammers (or to anyone else). If you really want to read the boring details of the privacy policy, you can read them here.

We Product marketers should take note – Just because we allowed a customer/prospect to download something free from our website, it does NOT give us permission to send them stuff. If we want to engage with them, we need to do it using Permission Marketing, a term coined by Seth Godin. Ask for their permission and then send them useful stuff that will help them get better at what they do. We need to build a trusted relationship with them such that they will hopefully buy something from us in the future. It is not a guarantee, but if we help someone, they are bound to at least invite us to the “purchase” party if we indeed have what they want.

Permission marketing is NOT getting permission from the customer to spam them – this will absolutely kill any chance of getting any future business.

Yes, InfusionSoft does give me a way to unsubscribe from these emails, but it is work I have to do.

Clate, you will not be getting the phone call from me begging you to serve me while you are having a good time playing golf.

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Social media and impact on marketing?

Talk about social media is everywhere – it is being used by everyone and some don’t even understand what it means. Francois Gossieaux has a very interesting blog post titled “We don’t do marketing with social media – social media is what caused marketing game to change” – a very interesting 5 minute read.

To me, the game changer brought on by social media is putting the customer in charge and not the vendor. I don’t spend on anything that does not have “real user” reviews whether it is making a hotel reservation, buying an appliance etc. I don’t go to any vendor’s website to read how their product is the greatest thing since sliced bread – the only thing I do is google “<productname> reviews” and if nothing comes up, conclude that the product is not any good or does not have enough buyers and just move on finding another seller who can sell me the same or similar product.

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How would your future users behave?

Product Managers pay (or should pay) a lot of attention to finding out more about why people are NOT buying their product more than why people are buying their product. This can be framed based on the current population of users.

But we are at a tipping point in history where a large number of baby boomers are approaching retirement and their places are being taken by a wave of new entrants. Many of these new entrants are currently in colleges. So if you are planning to develop a long term roadmap, make sure you are taking into account the behavioral aspects of the new generation.

I thought that the survery results shown below (Source: eMarketer.com) was very interesting in understanding the adoption of the latest technology by age (Low adoption of RSS feeds in the younger age group was a surprise to me). It is important that we pay attention to this because these represent the future users of our products.

The full article is titled Baby Boomers and Social Networking and is worth a read. Pay equal attention to some of the similarities called out in the full article.

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Product Review – Service Magic rocks

Last week, I had to get a tree cut in the yard and then my garage door broke down with the door bent and the rollers popped out. Not knowing who to call, I checked out ServiceMagic. What an awesome experience that turned out to.

Within minutes, they send me names of three pros rated very high by their customers. I called the pro, got a quote, scheduled the job and got both of these issues taken care of in a hurry. Their customer service is outstanding – they called me to find out how the project was going, they send me thank you notes via email after I had rated the pros – they did not have to do any of this.

This is one of the rare occasions in the recent past where I could say that I have received just an excellent service. We hear all the time about service is being shortchanged by companies due to the current tough economic times, but here is a company that has figured out how to use technology to the hilt to provide such a great service – their website is awesome with easy navigation, customer ratings and reviews of their pros, the results of their 10 point screening etc. They use email communication very well and as a result take many of the pain points involved in finding/hiring a contractor off their customer’s chests. Think about the effort it takes to make sure that the contractors you want to hire have the necessary license, insurance etc. to do the work? All this is done by ServiceMagic for you. Dealing with contractors has never been easy and they seem to have made this easy.

ServiceMagic sets the benchmark against which other service companies should be considered. If you have not used them, I would strongly recommend that you give them a try.

Their success is because they have thought through the entire user experience from the usability of their website through every touch point with the customer either via email or phone. Plus, their service is absolutely free for consumers, they make their money from the pros who get referrals.

Thank you ServiceMagic.

First experience on a US long distance train

I have been living in the US for the last 18 years and I have never traveled on a train over a long distance. This week, I had to travel to New York and decided to take the Acela Express. What a remarkable experience – I don’t think I will ever fly to New York from Boston.

So what constituted to a great product experience:

1) No security lines

2) Cheap parking – $10 a day compared to $22 a day at Logan plus tolls

3) Parking right outside the station – 2 minute walk compared to Logan’s long walks to terminals plus traffic hassles

4) Awesome, wide comfortable reclining seats

5) On time arrival and departure

6) Cheap taxi ride to the hotel (as opposed to expensive ride from La Guardia) – though we were ripped off by a capitalistic van driver.

7) Quiet car where you are refrained from talking and using the cell phone – I tried the next car and was in midst of so many sales guys chattering over the phone – I quickly made my way to the quiet car and had such a great ride.

Total travel time on the train – 3 hours, 25 minutes compares to probably the same on the flight given how early I need to get to the airport, battle security lines, delays etc.

Plus, above all of this, I contributed to reducing the carbon footprint – hey, I drive a hybrid too.

Truly, a great product experience.

Email and 7%

I happened to come across the notes taken during the Effective Networking seminar (run by Diane Darling) that I attended a year back. One of the things that was mentioned was that communication power is based on:

  • 55% body language
  • 38% voice/tone
  • 7% words
This means, whenever you send an email, you have just thrown out 93% of your communication power. If you pick up the phone instead, you get 45% of it back. And what are we so used to doing these days – sending emails. Is the world now full of lousy communicators? BTW, I learnt a lot in the above seminar and would highly recommend it and I have no vested interests in making this recommendation.

Love the customers who hate you

I have been a big proponent of online communities and social media – I have written at least two blog posts on this. So when the latest Business Week arrived with the main section titled “Consumer vigilantes” I could not put it down. The most interesting article among many dealing with social media was titled Love the customers who hate you. This is a must read. The net net of the article is captured in “…… Now don’t get mad at these people. Instead, help them get even with you. These angry customers are doing you a great favor. They care enough about your product or service to tell you exactly what went wrong. Other customers may just desert you and head to the competition. But these are telling you what to fix. Listen to them. Help them. Respond to them. Ask their advice—and they’ll give it to you.” – Enjoy reading.

Passion vs. decibels – How to manage vociferous customers

In my product management career, I have always had some users who were more vociferous than most of the others. Their decibel level when they asked for new enhancements or yelled at you for the bugs in the software was orders of magnitude higher than majority of the users. The vast majority of these users were loud because they cared, they were passionate about your product. Hence, don’t discount these users – listen to them, allow them to vent and take action to fix their problems if appropriate.

However, you as a product manager need to do a fine balancing act you – some of the feature requests from these vociferous users could be for functionality that applies just to them, because of what they use your product for or the unique way in which they do a common task. You have to listen to them, but also be willing to say No with a justifiable reason. All of us ask for more, but not everyone expects to get everything they ask for (if you don’t ask, you don’t get – so there is not much downside to asking). As long as you tell them why you would not do something, they will understand – getting back to them tells them you care.

I remember an instance where I was reading through the enhancement requests we had received when I came across a tirade from a user. It was an email bomb filled with expletives how our product sucked and how he thought we were all a bunch of idiots. I picked up the phone and called the user. I introduced myself and told him that I was calling him about the enhancement request he had send in. First thing he said was a sincere apology for having writing such a tirade (I don’t know if he thought I was going to sue him) and said he was having a bad day and the software was not working the way he wanted to get his job done. I asked him not to be apologetic and asked him to help me understand the deficiency in the software. We spend a good 20 minutes on the phone understanding the issue.

Guess what likely happened after the call – I created a passionate user for our product because I took time to read what he had written (however unpleasant),  call him and discuss the issue to see how we could improve our product so that he can be successful with what he does. Do you think he would have shared this experience with his colleagues or other users in his community? I absolutely think he would have. What happens if he encounters someone else who has a similar gripe – he is going to tell them we care and to talk to us. I created another big proponent who is going to spread the word about our product and about us as a company.

Creating passionate users and listening to them is one of the most important parts of your job as a product manager. After all, the answer is not in the building – it is very important for all of us to get out of our busy schedule of internal meetings and take the time to talk to real users.  After all, they are the ones who buy our product.

Help your customers buy …

I bought a new car last week. I was very clear what I needed – a Toyota Camry Hybrid and knew the exact options I needed. I did all my research on the web in reading user generated reviews, dealer invoice prices and so on. After spending about 3 hours doing all this, I was ready to buy. I wanted the car in a day because my previous car was giving me trouble.

I started making phone calls to Toyota dealers. I told them right upfront:

1) Here is the exact car I need – color, options etc.

2) I don’t have time to haggle

3) I am shopping around calling dealers

4) I am looking to buy tomorrow.

The sales person at the three dealers I called listened and they told me their best price and they had the car – they asked me if I would like to come in to test drive the car – no pressure, here is what you need, here is what we want – none of the traditional pressure tactics that auto dealers are well known for.

I ended up buying the car from Bernardi Toyota because they not only had the lowest  price but they also worked with me respecting my intelligence to come up with a win-win situation regarding my trade in. So what two lessons did I learn as a product manager from this personal experience?

1) Get real users to write reviews about your product. This is much more reliable than what you as a vendor can put out there. I went to the Toyota website only to look at the specs, colors, options etc. I did all my research on sites such as edmunds.com. Organizations always worry about user reviews because they fear bad things will be said about their products and that the competition will get hold off these reviews. Think about it, by promoting candid feedback from your user base, you are actually raising the bar for your competition. Everyone has skeletons in their closets – you are forcing the competition’s hand to do the same. My advice – forget about the competition – be more concerned about what your customers have to say – if they have bad things to say, you should be the first one to know because you are in a position to fix the problem. No matter what you put out, you cannot satisfy everyone – there will be someone who will say something bad about your product. If all you get are bad reviews about your product and you choose to ignore it, you are only buying time before the inevitable happens.

2) Teach your sales people to listen to the customer’s needs and to respect the customer as an intelligent human being. Help the customers buy what they want rather than trying to sell to them. We all love to buy and don’t want to be sold to.

Based on this very positive experience, I recommended Bernardi Toyota to my friend who was also looking to buy a new car and he is buying from them today. “Word of mouth” pays.

Apple customer service complaints!!

My previous post was about the horrible customer experience at the Apple store. I find out that I am not alone – there are more and more stories on the internet how their customer service is bad. Here is a recent post on San Jose Mercury News – very much along the lines of my experience.

Apple’s So-Called Geniuses Can Do Better: In order to fix my daughter’s iPod, a staffer at an Apple store wanted me to request an appointment with one of their ‘geniuses’ — their word, not mine – San Jose Mercury News 10/15/07

Consumer in charge? – Great Video

Here is a great video that I came across produced by Geert Desager of Microsoft – watch for yourself, it is fun !!

Wonderful customer experience – Fallon Clinic

My previous post was about how product managers should think more about customer experiences. I had mentioned about how I have had the most memorable product experiences when I bought my iPod and my iMac. Here is another one that is service related that has truly been enjoyable. For the last one year, we have been seeing doctors who are associated with Fallon Clinic. I am truly impressed by their service because of the attention they have paid to details. Everytime, I show up for my appointment, they print a page of labels with all the pertinent information – my name, my phone number, my address etc. on these labels. The doctor then uses the labels on all the forms, prescriptions that he writes. Not a big deal you think until you show up at the pharmacy or at the labs. I no longer have to repeat all this information over and over. I use the pharmacy drive thru, hand off the prescription and off I go – nothing else said – the label has all the information the pharmacy needs.

This is a classic example of walking thru the entire customer experience and then designing a solution. Fallon Clinic did not have to do this, they could have easily dropped this feature and put the onus on me – after all by showing up for the appointment, the clinic get its money. Instead, they chose to make my life easier – net result they have won a long term customer who is now spreading the word.

Customer experience – how often do you think about it?

Not often !! Think back to all the products that you have bought in your life – for how many of them has the buying/first usage experience been so good that you have remembered it. In my case – exactly two – iPod and iMac. In fact, I was so impressed with my iMac packaging, I took pictures while I was opening the package (see below). Setting up the machine was so much fun that I did not want it to end.

img_5973.JPGimg_5975.JPGimg_5977.JPGimg_5981.JPGimg_5982.JPG

Horrible first use experience permeates both hardware products and also computer software. I think before any new products are released to the market, the executive management and product managers should watch some real people (not designers, not developers) try to use their product the first time. That should stop claims every marketing department loves to make – easy to use, easy to deploy (my foot !!).

Steve Johnson of Pragmatic Marketing in his blog post On buying and using describes his horrendous first user experience with a JBL portable player for his iPod. Such examples are everywhere – so why do great companies like Apple get it right – they take the time and give it the right amount of priority during design. They are not necessarily smarter than the rest of us, they just know that their products are going to be used by people who are very different from them and hence take the time to think how best to design the product to make it easy.

Steve points out how product packaging gets shoe horned into a one size fits all approach for all sales channels because one of the channels exhibits high incidence of product theft. Companies should start paying more attention to how customers buy if they want to make differentiation especially in product areas where all products are starting to look like. After all, good looks sell. Otherwise, you will have people like Steve and me openly writing about our horrendous experiences with products on our blogs for the rest of the world to read. Welcome to the new world of bad PR !!

2.0 Mania?

By the way this is Gopal Shenoy 2.0 writing this blog? I felt that if I don’t have a 2.0 next to my name, I am going to be considered old. There is a 2.0 behind everything these days – Web 2.0, Marketing 2.0, Where 2.0, Business 2.0, PR 2.0, XYZ 2.0, you name it. Brings back memories of late 90’s. Was’nt this when we experienced a similar craze of .com and we all know how that one went.

I am a big proponent of Web 2.0 principles, but this 2.0 behind everything is driving me crazy. 2.0 by itself anything is not going to get us anywhere. 2.0 behind inefficient processes is not going to be a magic wand. But it sure feels that way – “2.0” has surely become a buzzword now. Customers have not changed their needs overnight from the 1.0 days to the present 2.0 day. Yes, they have new needs, but there are certain things that have not changed.

1) Customers are still looking for products that solve their needs the right way.

2) Businesses have to be profitable to have long term success. (Ok, youtube did not make one cent before they got bought out by Google for a zillion dollars, same thing with flickr. I could list similar acquisitions during the .com craze too and hence I am not going to use these successes as the new way of doing business)

3) Customers are still looking for companies that will treat them with respect, listen to their new needs and solve them.

4) Businesses need to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the competition.

None of these fundamentals of doing business have changed. “2.0” to me is a new way of doing business, new way of reaching out to customers, new way of empowering customers (wikis, blogs, forums etc.) and a new way of listening to the authentic opinions of customers. Doing all this requires a fundamental cultural shift in companies. Unless this shift happens, no “2.0” or “100.0” methodology is going to make one bit of a difference. In fact, failing to make this cultural shift will leave companies behind.

One of the larger shifts “2.0” has brought to the table is that consumers are now in control of what word gets spread about a product. Vendors can no longer control what gets said about their products. Consumers are now looking for authentic user opinions on products, avoiding vendor websites where rosy pictures of products are presented. Unless companies are willing to embrace this feedback, listen to it and take immediate action to fix the issues, they will fail. This is a lot more of a cultural and less of a technology shift and hence is a lot harder for some companies to digest and change.

As a consumer, I love it. As a marketer, I need to be ready to make the shift myself. Embracing 2.0 without a game plan to quickly fix what annoys consumers will not work. “2.0” has given consumers the biggest megaphone they could ever hope for and companies better embrace and act quickly or be fearful of being left behind. Products need to work as advertised, your service needs to be courteous, timely, otherwise the whole world will soon know.

“2.0” principles are solid, but I sure hope this mania will not end the same way as the .com mania.

Handling social media – Authenticity is the key

Social media – no matter what you read, you are bound to hear this term. It is the popular “phrase of the current times” – is it a buzzword though? I do not think so. Given how blogs, user reviews have influenced my purchasing decisions over the last couple of years, I am true believer that is indeed a trend that is beneficial to the consumer. I do not buy products without reading user reviews (not company’s product review or some expert analyst’s review) on multiple sites. If a product does not have a real user generated review, I am skeptical about how good the product is.

Given this trend, now companies have got into the act as well by using social media to their advantage. Press releases are issued with search engines in mind, employee blogs are on the increase, CEO’s are starting to write blogs…. But if this is not done right, this will backfire. Companies cannot do all of this with their marketing agendas in mind – “authenticity” is the key. Consumers can sniff out “marketing agendas” in no time. The right way to do this is by empowering the users to get started and then sitting back and be willing to listen to good and more importantly the bad news. If there is something “bad” that is mentioned about your company or products, quickly take action to fix the issue and then report back to the user community. This will buy you tremendous credibility because you now have the social media as a large “megaphone” to broadcast to the entire world that you listened, took action and fixed the issue.

Unless companies are willing to embrace the “authenticity” in social media, they cannot expect to use this to their advantage. Rules have changed, users now control your marketing and PR, it is no longer in the hands of your marketing or PR departments. Come to terms with this, embrace it and turn it into a competitive differentiator and you shall succeed.

Word of Mouth – #1 influencer in B2B purchasing decisions

Keller Fay Group last week released the results of a study on influencers in B2B purchasing decisions. The study was based on an online interviews with 700 executives in the US and UK conducted between March and April, 2007. The results indicated that the #1 influencer in B2B purchasing decisions was Word of Mouth (surprise, surprise).

What surprised me most was that 75% of these “word of mouth” recommendations among executives was happening “offline” as opposed to the digital world. Emails only contributed 3% and blogs just 1%.

The study also calculated the net advocacy scores (% of positive recommendations – % of negative or mixed recommendations) for some major product categories such as Financial products and services, Computer hardware and software, wireless hardware, telecom providers and cable companies, automotive and healthcare.

The lowest advocacy score was for computer software (score of 3) and the highest was for financial investments (52).

More details can be found at Jack Morton’s website.

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