Partnering with a vendor to supply a product that your company depends on is a high risk venture nowadays. You have probably felt the sting yourself. You find some piece of software that solves a big business problem, then the vendor is bought. They announce that they’re killing your product, but will port you to a product (for a fee) that you turned down during the assessment process when you chose your old product. You find a great source of widgets, but their stock takes a hit over some accounting scandal, and they fold. The stories are many, and so are the risks.
That being the case, how easy is it for your partners to get rid of you? If they were unhappy with your product, what would they have to do to change roads?
This sounds like a suicidal thought to consider. Why would you want it to be easy for customers to go to the competition?
Hear me out before you get the tar and feathers. Strong business relationships are built on trust and mutual advantage. Customer relationships are equally built on trust and mutual advantage. Both of these are reasons to make it easy for your customers/partners to walk away if they need to do so.
Not good enough? How about your reputation? If you want to scare away new customers, just let one horror story about how bad it is to migrate away from your product to get out. Never mind just getting out. In the current era of the ‘blogosphere’, one story can turn into 10,000 seperate articles and opinion pieces blossoming on the internet inside of a week. Nevermind that it’s all over five cases of a problem. When customers research you, they’re likely to do something like this:
1) Open web browser.
2) Go to google.
3) Type in your product name.
4) Hit enter.
5) Read an entire first page of hits from websites that sound like unhappy customers and/or bad reviews of your product.
6) Click an article at random.
7) Read a horror story about how your product is a nightmare to uninstall and/or get the customer’s data out of and how badly your product is engineered, complete with at least one link (probably to another blog) promising more horror stories.
8) Close browser and call your competitor.
Sound like a problem you should worry about now?
No one wants a customer to leave their product line. The fact is, though, that if a customer chooses to leave your product line, they will probably do so anyway. Someone else’s saleman is going to have sold them already on how easy it is to migrate to their products. When it’s not so easy to do, they’re going to blame your product and feel relieved that they left you. They will use this as justification for their decision, and thank the new vendor for saving them.
If you are compliant with the latest standards, have good export tools, and otherwise think through how to migrate away from your product if needed, then you insulate yourself from this. Maybe the customer trying to migrate might not understand, and maybe they’ll believe the competitor’s salesman, but once the story starts to float around, some experts are going to get ahold of your product and the exports, and they’re going to come to your defense. Ease of migration will become a reason to praise your product.
This is also a sell point for you. Fear of lock-in is a real problem for your sales force. Everyone’s bought at least one technology product that they hated. They also went through the pain of getting their data out of it. Fear of lock-in and painful migrations will keep them from buying. Being able to show your customer how to get themselves free if they are unhappy is a marvelous sell point. Demonstrate your migration tools, show them how you make them safe from you, and you will remove the number one ‘but’ against buying your product. This automatically puts you way ahead of the competition.
Third, this makes life easier for you over time. Need to overhaul your product line? Do the new features of your next product generation require a complete reinstall? Sticking with standards in migration tools keep your options, and the options you offer your customers on upgrading, more flexible. If your customers can get their information out easily, you can do more radical things if necessary to upgrade your product lines, and it will be easier for your customers to stick with you.
The ability to leave your product is in fact a strong trust-building tool. Trust and credibility sells in today’s economy. Don’t sabotage a terrific tool for yourself with your own fears about your customers’ plans.