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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Vista nightmare over the weekend

OK, this post is more about my first and nightmarish experience with Vista than a product management tip.

Over the weekend, my aunt visiting from New York asked me if I could figure out what was wrong with her PC. She said her problem was that she just could not surf to using IE, but could happily get there using Firefox (go figure!!). She could get to msn and then click on My MSN and log into hotmail, but the text of all messages was blank (who would want to read text of emails anyways – after all the from and to and subject lines is all one needs, right?).

I told her that I should be able to easily fix this by uninstalling IE and reinstalling it. Last wise words spoken by me. I figured this was going to be a ten minute job – wrong – thanks to Vista. Found out that you just cannot uninstall IE on Vista – nor could I find what version of IE was installed because trying to do that started giving a never ending script error.

So started googling for solutions – so what do I find – every other Tom, Dick and Harry has run into the same issue – IE7 wants to ask the user if he wants the phishing filter on and a bunch of other settings (runonce.aspx). It is supposed to ask only once, but it has a bug before it gets to ask you. So it thinks it has never asked you and always gives you a blank page.

After 3 hours of trying to grapple with this and trying everything from using restore points (which fails) and editing registry to add two dwords that MS recommends you manually add, I just gave up. I told my aunt to stick with Firefox. She dropped her laptop on her way out – she said it was an accident, but I am not sure if she dropped it in sheer frustration – I would if I were her.

MS wants to discontinue support for XP by Jan 2009 and start shoving Vista down everyone’s throat – they are doing it to consumers now and businesses are next. What a great customer service? I think their slogan now is “Do all evil”

Then I read this article – Vista’s big problem: 92 percent of developers ignoring it – what a surprise?

It is amazing how MS just does not get it anymore. I think Bill Gates was smart once again – he quickly got off this Titanic before it is headed for the iceberg.

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Goto Meeting – Free or not free? – Misleading free trial

The other day I was kinda ticked off that I had to reschedule two customer presentations because Webex just would not work for whatever reason. Webex customer support had all sorts of technical reasons as to why it does not work and what the customer should do (yah, great, it is all user’s fault). It sure turned out to be something on the customer’s end, but Webex gives no clue when it does not work – why and what could the customer or me ask the customer to do.

Having very good experience with GotoMeeting in my past job, I decided to try out their free 30 day trial. It said “FREE’ all over the place and so I started signing up.

Specified my personal information, created a password and then landed on the third page to see that a credit card was required – there was nothing in the earlier steps that told me that this was needed – everything was about this is easy – unlimited – takes only 2 minutes etc.

Then I saw the hyperlink which said “Why do you need my credit card?” Clicking on it told me why they need a credit card – but it is all about them – not me the customer.

I like the first sentence – but the second, I have no idea – if they want to restrict it to one trial per customer, why can they not do it using email accounts. Yes, there will be people who will try to get multiple accounts and try to get more than one trial, but how many – the majority? Or do you want to penalize everyone because there are a few that may be unscrupulous?

So what did I do – I walked away. Interestingly, they found out (I am assuming they are tracking this on their website) and I get this email the very next day.

So what happened to their cost proposition for the free service? They don’t have these costs anymore? They don’t want to restrict it to one free trial per customer?

I understand that there are many vendors that do require a credit card for a free trial – magazine subscriptions, NetFlix, credit card protection services, travel insurance etc – but these are more of transactional or consumer facing applications. Goto Meeting to me is a B2B application, so why not trust your prospects?

Believe me, GotoMeeting is the best web conferencing tool that I have used – it is so easy to use – so what do they have to hide? – I would invite the world to do a drive thru of their awesome product – the hardware costs that they have to bear is nothing more than a marketing expense. I would rather spend on this (you have a much more qualified prospect you could try to convert because you have a great product) as opposed to spending the same money on SEO, ads etc. whose sole purpose is to attract someone to your site – but I am already on your site, way down the funnel and you threw me out.

To me this is an example of poor marketing execution of an awesome product. GotoMeeting, are you listening?

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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.

Five guidelines to prioritize feature requests

As a product manager, you are very likely to have more feature requests than what you can put out in a given release. In my case, a good product manager’s job at release planning is figuring out what to eliminate from consideration – you have to make hard decisions – that is what you are paid to do.

Please note that my background is working on products that have mass market appeal and did not have to deal with things like customer funded development – where a customer throws money at you to get a feature that only they will use.

Here are the five guidelines I have used effectively ….

1) How MANY customers will ever USE it?

We held a strong line on this – if the feature was meant just for the selected few (no matter how much money these customers had), we said No to the customer. You may say – no way, it will not work in my case. My reply – have you tried – Have you told your customer No and told him why? – if not try it.

I will give you an example – we had a very well known consumer company in Japan as a customer – they had bought a few licenses but had the promise of buying a whole lot more licenses – they had a lot of money. We visited them in Japan, they visited us here, met with our executives etc. – they tried to push their agenda hard on us and they had all sort of ideas as to how the software needs to work. We questioned them hard to get to the bottom of their underlying problems – why, why, why do you need to do something. They had some great ideas and some that applied only to them – we readily agreed to do the former and rejected the latter with solid business reasons why we won’t do it – not enough customers have the need.

They respected us at the end – their feedback was that we were the first vendor to have grilled them on their requests and were bold enough to turn them down, as opposed to other vendors who were ready to do whatever they wanted. They realized that we were a company that knew what we were doing and our willingness to grill them, told them that we wanted to make sure we were solving their problems the right way.

2) How OFTEN will customers USE it?

Is this something a customer will use once a year, once a month or something they would use everyday. Why does this matter? Remember the phrase “death by thousand cuts” – if something that needs to be used everyday is not supported or is very inefficient to do, it kills user productivity. This may not be something that will make a press release when you launch a new release or in your product demo, but this is something that will get you a standing ovation from your existing customers. Believe me, I have experienced this multiple times where the smallest change scored the highest in customer satisfaction. Stuff such as choosing the right default values, remembering the last used options fall into this category.

Taking how MANY customers would use it and multiplying it by how OFTEN they will use it, you get what I define as Velocity of a new feature.

VELOCITY = How MANY customers will use X How OFTEN they will use

Features with highest velocity should be serious contenders to make into your new release.

3) Will this open up new markets?

It could be something that could be asked by your smallest customer – but it could be this brilliant idea that could change the rules of the game and open up a completely new market for you. You as a product manager need to make this call.

I have been asked in the past if we implemented feature requests only from large customers with lots of licenses – my response always has been – size does not matter, quality of the idea does. This is what product managers get paid to do – take such ideas and make a business out of it.

4) Is this considered table stakes by the market?

There could be features you would need to compete in the market – if you don’t have these basic things, you are not even considered a player. These ones should be obvious if you know your market. For example, pivot tables or charting are considered table stakes for a serious spreadsheet application.

But tread this one with caution – this is where sales can take you for a ride. They will say “we cannot compete because we don’t have this X, Y and Z” and the list could be endless. For those being raised by sales, ask them to put you in touch with customers who would not buy without this feature – then from the customers get to the real problem that is solved by the feature – for all you know, you may have an innovative way to do it, or can come up with one that might change the rules of the game.

5) Is the feature a building block to the real thing?

This could be something determined by R&D (architectural changes) or some other user facing feature that is needed to support the final feature.

If you consistently use these guidelines, you end up making a business case why you want to turn down a feature request – this even works with executives because it is now based on facts and not opinions. After all this, if some higher up overrides your decision, it is not in your hands, but you know you did your analysis.

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.

Product Integration – Usability killer?

I used to own (until it was stolen:-( ) a Magellan Roadmate 700 series portable GPS system. The system was so simple to use – it did one thing – GPS and it did it very well. The controls were very easy to use and programming it for a trip was a breeze.

Magellan Roadmate GPS

On my new Toyota Camry, I now have the built-in navigation system.

The system controls not only the GPS, but also my bluetooth telephone via speed dial, phonebook etc, the four disc CD changer and a bunch of other things. Operating it is probably as complicated as a 747 cockpit – you have so many options and one wrong click you end up starting over. The other day my wife was going to Boston for dinner. If she had followed the GPS, she would have taken the longest route possible and got there an hour and a half later for what normally takes 45 minutes.

So what has probably happened here – Toyota had to create this one product that integrates the GPS, CD changer, the blue tooth telephone, the trip information and the other 15 things I have not discovered yet. It probably started as one component, which then had to be reworked to integrate the second component and so on. When everything was said and done, we have what I get to use now. It sure does meet all product functionality requirements that it was set to achieve, but it falls well short of usability requriements – thanks to product integrations. Do your products suffer from this same problem?