Marketing and Sales

Product Naming and Unintended Consequences

Rhymes with FOPE


How would you pronounce this?

  1. As in "dope"
  2. As in "soapy"
  3. As in "floppy"
  4. With two syllables, the last one like "touche"

Answer?  I don't know.  I've heard it pronounced like #2 and #3 above and will no doubt encounter a pronunciation like #4 before long.

What It Does is What It Is

So what exactly is FOPE? Glad you asked.  FOPE stands for "Forefront Online Protection for Exchange."  It's a Microsoft service; you can read about it here.  In simpler terms, FOPE provides the anti-virus and anti-spam functions that are part of any good messaging system.

Let's dissect the name.

  1. Forefront: OK, this has a tinge of Marketing.  "Forefront" as in "out in front," which is where you want your anti-virus and anti-spam to be--helping you before a message is received, not afterwards.
  2. Online:  yes, this is an online (hosted "in the cloud") service, vs. software you install and run on your own server.
  3. Protection:  yes, this provides protection from viruses and spam and similar nastiness that assails the world of email.
  4. for Exchange:  ah, it's a service that works with Exchange, Microsoft's email service.  As far as I know, Microsoft is not in the anti-virus business the way Trend Micro or others are.  So their anti-virus and anti-spam service is built to run with Microsoft's product, period.

Forefront Online Protection for Exchange.  This is a classic case of naming a product based on what it does; the name says it all.  You often see names like this in companies that have a strong technical culture.

That would be fine, but there's a problem.  The name is a mouthful.  Imagine the poor sales represenative on a cold call.  He knows he's only got about ten seconds to engage the prospect, and he's going to burn two or three of those just getting the product name out.  He'd be much happier if the product were named "Blitz!" or some other monosyllabic word.

Of course, the sales rep isn't the only one who doesn't want to say "Forefront Online Protection for Exchange" over and over.  Hence, FOPE is born.

FOPE might be fine for internal use, but no one in Marketing or Sales is going to want to talk about a product that might rhyme with "dope".  It just sounds stupid.

Why It Is is What It Is

Now imagine a different name (we'll even anticipate the acronym):

Forefront Mail Protector

or FMP if you prefer.

What's the difference?  The emphasis here is on why it exists:  to protect your email from threats that arise from spam, phishing and viruses.  I can easily understand what a "protector" does for me.  And the great thing is, I don't have to know (or care) how it does its job.  I use Forefront (the likely short form of the name) and I'm protected.  Done.

Move from Description to Value

It's easy to end up with a name like FOPE.  Early in the project, people want to give the thing you're making a name and no one's thinking about its ultimate value.  They just want another reference besides "that thing."  So all eyes turn to the Product Manager, who blurts out something like "EasyLAN with Meridian Extension!" (no kidding--my first product name).

My advice: name the project using some arbitrary name... say, Cybele.  Make it obvious that this would never be the name of the product.  This will buy you some time to work with the Marketing and come up with a name that expresses how it benefits the customer, not just what it does.  Let the technical folks call it by some acronym that's convenient.  But get cracking on the ultimate market name, the one that Sales won't be inclined to mumble over or replace with a name of their own invention (lacking any direction from you).  Then let the techies make that into an acronym--hopefully one you've already planned to use.

In short, don't be a FOPE.



Product Managers on the Road, Hollywood Edition

I recently had to make an emergency visit to a customer in Los Angeles. They were having some messaging problems and we decided that it would be best to observe the issues first-hand so that we could resolve them. Here, in short form, are my highlights from this one-day trip.

  • It's 4 AM and I'm getting up so I can leave at 4:45 AM for the airport… Why do Product Managers always get the sucky travel assignments?
  • 4:45 AM: "Hi I'm Josh, I'll be your driver." Thanks Josh. Don't think I'm rude as I try to get a little sleep on the way to San Jose airport.
  • In the security line. Some people carry an awful lot of gadgets with them.
  • The one redeeming virtue of traveling out of SJC this early is that I get to go to the Illy Espressamente coffee bar. My body needs that cup of coffee, even if it is decaffeinated (don't ask me how that works).
  • At 6:20 AM passengers are getting anxious, as the flight leaves in 15 minutes and there have been no boarding announcements. The Southwest gate agent comes on and announces that, as there are only 20 people on the flight, we will be boarding en masse. Looks like paying for that "go to the front of the line" privilege wasn't such a great idea.
  • We arrive at the customer's site a little before 8 AM. Perfect! Except that the receptionist isn't in yet, the company contact we thought we were meeting took the day off, and most of the people we want to meet will be in an all-morning meeting starting at 9 AM.
  • It's now about 4 PM and we need to get to Burbank airport. On my way out the door I see a sign above a printer: "This printer is named Bob Marley, because it's always jammin'!"
  • Now to find a taxi. News flash: this is LA, home of "if you don't have a car, you don't deserve to be here." Luckily, we're a short walk from Hollywood and Vine, and where there are tourists there will be taxis.
  • Our cabbie swears off taking the freeway to the airport (he can't be from around here)… Turns out, he knows what he's talking about: we get to the airport in half the time it took to go the other direction this morning.
  • Our cabbie likes to talk. A lot. We don't mind, because he seems to know where he's going (unlike cabbies in DC). And he punctuates stories he's particularly proud of by giving me a thumbs-up in the rear-view mirror. OK!
  • Among other topics of conversation in our cab:
    • His solution for handling Chinese drivers
    • What it takes to sell jewelry
    • Why he doesn't allow passengers to have sex in his cab
    • The joke about the white guy, the Jew and the Armenian
  • And—naturally—he's an agent for a singer. Check her out here.

Product Management may be many things, but "dull" is never one of them!

Why Social Media Matters

Check out this report from the McKinsey Global Institute.  It points out something Microsoft (with its purchase of Yammer) and other companies are begnning to understand:  that social media can improve productivity of enterprise employees.

We can all still enjoy LOLCats and all the other diversions that social media provides us as consumers.  But people are starting to "get" that we don't leave our social instincts at the door when we go to work... and that there's money to be made helping employees engage in meaningful ways to get work done.

Way to Go Caltrain

Maybe I picked the wrong organization to pick on.

Back in May I published a post discussing how organizations like Caltrain could learn about marketing and customer service by paying attention to companies like Staples.

Well, they must have listened! (Warning: statistical inference violation occurring.)

Actually, through no help from me it looks like Caltrain is doing great; read about it here.


Facebook, Prepare to be Disrupted

I took a sip of coffee yesterday as I sat on the train waiting for it to depart the Gilroy station. Since I had a few minutes and a good cellular signal, I thought I'd check Facebook using my Samsung Galaxy smartphone. After a few minutes of spinning wheels indicating that it was "working" I gave up. I could wait until later. I've had any number of experiences using the Facebook application for Android, and the result has always been disappointment. Sometimes only a few items will load. Often the text will load without any pictures. Most of the time, my phone goes back into sleep mode before anything has loaded.

OK, so maybe Facebook is a bit data-intensive for a smartphone with a cellular connection that varies in signal strength. I'll give it a whirl on my iPad, which (for me) uses Wi-Fi instead of cellular. And the results?

The good news is, Facebook content actually loads fairly quickly. The bad news? Those settings I had on Facebook-the-browser-version haven't carried over. Maybe they're available to be set, or maybe not. All I know is that the filters I had applied (no offense, but I'm not interested in what level of Bedazzled you've reached) aren't in place. So I get to scroll through pages of notifications about which friend has achieved what level with which game.

So why does any of this have to do with "disruption?" Simple. Facebook works best—and was originally designed for—stationary computers. It comes from a time (I hesitate to use the term "era" when it comes to anything involving the Internet) when most people sat down in front of a computer and interacted with a browser.

And what's happening today? Stop by any CalTrain station, coffee shop, checkout line, or movie intermission. What do you see? People on their phones. For many people the phone is their dominant source of social interaction. And you've heard or read about the reports that spending on mobile advertising is ready to jump through the roof. So if Facebook can't solve their (IMHO) cruddy mobile phone experience, they stand to lose that market to someone who does provide an elegant solution.

A burgeoning market, lots of (if I'm any indication) disaffected users, no clear dominant player in the space… sounds like an opportunity for disruption to me.

What Caltrain Could Learn from Staples

One morning I looked out of my window and watched as a woman just missed the train. Experienced riders know that when they hear the "caution, the doors are about to close" announcement, it's already too late. The doors are closing, and unless you want to dive onto the train before they shut, you're out of luck. (And I wouldn't try the stick-your-arm-in-and-the-doors-will-reopen trick.)

This would-be rider looked like a new passenger, not one of the "regulars" who get on the train in Gilroy. And as we rolled away from the station I wondered, will she be back?

When a for-profit business sees that its customer base is in decline, its costs are up and its revenues are down, it faces a "code red" moment of decision:

  • Can we reverse these trends? At what cost?
  • Do we "double down" (I hate that phrase) and work to turn things around? Or do we determine that these trends cannot be reversed, and exit the business?

Notice that nowhere in this line of thinking does the business say, "hey! I have a right to exist!" or "but look at all the good I do!"

When a non-profit organization faces these same challenges of declining customers, growing costs and sliding revenues, the moment of decision often revolves around raising prices, cutting services, and asking for more subsidies.

I won't get into the discussion of whether organizations that provide a public good (like transit agencies) should be fully funded, fully self-supporting, or something in between. That's a discussion best left for others.

First You Commit, Then You Make it Work

My main point is that transit agencies, in this case CalTrain, need to think about the problem from their customer's point of view. Why do people ride the train? You could probably come up with a set of reasons.

  • It's cheaper than driving.
  • It's my only transportation option.
  • It's good for the environment.
  • It's less stressful than driving.

In most cases, few of these answers are valid justifications.

  • Given my commute, gas has to be priced above $4 per gallon before the gas-vs.-train ticket option tips in favor of the train ticket (lately, that's been the case).
  • Most people have transportation options, especially a car.
  • Riding the train is probably better for the environment that driving a car.
  • Riding the train is definitely less stressful than driving.

But it's also true that

  • Riding the train takes longer than driving… in my case it's about two hours each direction, when you include getting from the train station to/from work. Driving time can be anywhere from one to two+ hours depending on traffic conditions.
  • Riding the train means you have to work around the train schedule. You have certain windows of opportunity to catch the train. If (like many people) your day has undefined starting and (especially) ending points, you have to work to incorporate a fixed train schedule into your day.

My point is that the decision to ride the train, especially on a regular basis, is a lot less rationally based than you might think. Sure, if you happen to live and work near a CalTrain station you can just fall into the habit. But for everyone else, riding the train means making a commitment to it. You have to think about your work schedule, how you're going to get to/from the train station, arrange to purchase tickets and so on.

What Were Once Vices are Now Habits

Department of Obscure References

So when that woman missed the train, you have to wonder: how committed is she now that she was unable to take that first step? And what could CalTrain have done to make it easier for her to follow through on that idea of riding the train?

I remember when I figured out why the old book and record clubs were willing to sell you 10 books or CD's for a penny. It wasn't about marginal cost vs. marginal price. It was about the requirement that you buy a certain amount of product over a certain number of months. And that was about establishing a habit of purchasing. These companies knew that once they got you into the habit of at least considering a book or CD purchase each month, they were more likely to get you to buy.

Hitting the "Easy" Button

So here are some free tips for CalTrain, ones that would focus on encouraging the budding commitment of passengers to ride the train, and that would reinforce the decision for more established passengers.

Simplify Ticketing

Today you have three ticket options:

  1. Buy a ticket at one of the CalTrain vending machines.
  2. Buy an "8-ride" pass and use your Clipper card (a reloadable debit card) as your ticket.
  3. Buy a monthly pass and use your Clipper card as your ticket.

The first option is challenging because only a few stations have working ticket counters, and some of the ticket vending machines don't work. One of the two machines in Gilroy has been "temporarily unavailable" since at least 2007. Also, the vending machines sometimes will bill your card twice for a ticket, or fail to authorize your card for no clear reason. There's nothing like the pressure of trying to buy a ticket while the queue behind you builds and you're mentally counting down the seconds until the train is ready to leave.

Oh, and buying a ticket on the train? What do you think this is, 1990?

CalTrain has begun moving to a reloadable debit card, the "Clipper Card" as an alternative to ticketing machines. This is a good move, but is way behind the curve when it comes to simple, mobile payments. If you have less than $1.75 on the card, it gets screwed up (and the conductors think you're freeloading). If you try to use it to travel between other zones than the ones you specified when you charged it, the card is inoperable. You can load funds onto it automatically, but you have to wait up to three days for the funds to transfer and clear.

Imagine how much easier it would be if you just loaded a specific dollar amount onto your Clipper Card, and then had it deduct the right amount depending on the length of your train ride. And if you want to offer discounts for multi-ride sales, just offer a flat percentage discount.

Maybe the architecture of the Clipper Card makes it hard to deliver a more flexible payment experience. But here in the heart of Silicon Valley, many CalTrain riders carry smartphones, and there are any number of mobile payment companies—startup's and established companies. So why not partner with someone to offer a smartphone-based payment option?

Convert Unticketed Passengers to Paying Customers

As I mentioned earlier, you can't just walk onto CalTrain and buy a ticket. CalTrain is a "proof of payment" system, meaning you have to be able to prove you've purchased a ticket or face the possibility of a large fine.

In all the time I've been riding CalTrain, I can't recall an interaction with an unticketed passenger that was the result of someone trying to get a free ride. Inevitably, the offending person had a problem getting a proper ticket, got frustrated/confused, and boarded the train anyway. Then there's a discussion (sometimes tearful) between the train conductor and the passenger. The conductor has to play the "heavy" (a role they don't enjoy) and threaten to write a ticket, but they don't have an incentive to do this as they're busy checking everyone else's tickets and making sure the train runs on time.

A much better solution would be to have a way of selling a ticket to the ticketless passenger. CalTrain could make the ticket very expensive as a disincentive to relying on this method for buying tickets. Companies like Square offer very simple card-reader capabilities that work with a smartphone to process payments.

Partner with Large Employers

Remember the "80-20 Rule"? How about partnering with large employers, like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Lockheed and so on? Give these companies some incentive to encourage ridership among their employees—special shuttles, discounts, etc. Getting a few of these companies lined up gets you to a large portion of the potential ridership.

Make it Hip

Department of Obscure References

How about giving people a reason to feel good about riding the train? Some of the riders who bring their bikes are making a statement about avoiding oil consumption and the like. How about letting people know how much CO2 emissions they've avoided by riding the train?

Focus on Your Customers, and the Funding Will Follow

Maybe agencies like CalTrain focus on making sure they can serve all constituents equally. For instance, perhaps the idea of paying via smartphone was rejected because not everyone has a smartphone. I'm in favor of making sure that everyone has access to public transportation. But implementing programs that require everyone to be served equally doesn't work. Or it works too well—everyone is served equally poorly. It makes much more sense to provide a great experience to those riders that are choosing to ride, and let their ridership subsidize those that are riding the train out of necessity.

If you're a non-profit or other ortganization dependent on goverment funds as well as paying customers to survice, how do you want to succeed? Do you want to convince the public and your funders that y ou deserve to exist? Or do you want to make people feel like they can't live without you, that it's easy to say "yes"?

Social Media: DVR Killer?

I remember (from my visits using The Wayback Machine) when certain hit shows like MASH and Friends had their final episode, and people would gather at someone's house to watch together.

Then along came the DVR—Digital Video Recorder, the collective noun version of TiVO—and forevermore we were "time shifting"… recording shows and watching them whenever we wanted, as opposed to when the networks wanted. Media people wrung their hands and worried that this was the end of television advertising, since viewers now had the opportunity to fast-forward past the commercials.

Fast forward to the world of social media. People at an event are "live-tweeting", meaning you're getting a stream of messages that are directly or indirectly telling you what's happening at the event. So for instance, you didn't have to be watching or listening to know how the Stanford-Oklahoma State football game was going… Cheer, groan, cheer, etc.

And if they're not tweeting, they're using Facebook. Or texting. Or using any of a number of other commenting and sharing services. What's happening here is that the community that at one time would have gathered in someone's house, or a bar, or at the event itself, is now gathering in a virtual way. We're all watching, and social media gives us a way of staying connected and sharing the experience.

And here's where the traditional media people should pay attention. The trick is, you can only connect and share as the event is happening. If you recorded the Stanford-Oklahoma State game for later viewing, all this sharing is going to ruin the ending. And if you want to connect and share, you have to do it live. Which means you have to watch the commercials.

So if the traditional media people are on their game, they'll be creating all kinds of opportunities to share their shows, games, tournaments and so on as events.

Fast-forward that.

Road Show Road Kill

I'm doing some consulting these days, and one of my assignments is to help a small managed service provider transition into selling cloud-based services. It's fun work, as it puts me at the intersection of sales and product.

As part of this work, I attended a "road show" put on by one of the (very large) companies whose products/services we currently sell. The focus was on their "cloud" service offerings, and the audience was schmo's like me looking to figure out how to sell these kinds of services… without drowning in a sea of collateral and sales documents available on the company's web site.

I'm well-acquainted with the "road show," at least from the presenter's side. You barnstorm through a bunch of cities, pitching your particular product/service to the audience of customers or salespeople that have been assembled and coerced into staying by the free food and the prize given out at the end of the event. The days are long, the travel numbing, the presentations become increasingly difficult to do with enthusiasm. On the other hand, you're bonding with co-workers and drinks are on the house.

This was one of my first opportunities to experience a road show from the audience side. The free food was fine, a little light on the fruit and vegetable side. The give-away at the end (a video game console) was also fine, though it didn't hold my interest. And some of the presentations were really well done: focused on the needs of the audience, simple but still informative, and delivered with enthusiasm and humor.

But the presentation that stood out, of course, was the one that seemed to break every rule of presenting—in seemingly sequential order.

  • The presenter started with an apology, having to do with not having the usual technical support person available to handle the really tough questions. She may as well have started by saying, "you're not going to get much out of this, but it's not my fault".
    • Don't EVER start with an apology. You immediately take yourself out of the "driver's seat" and undermine your own credibility. Better to wait until you actually have something to apologize for.
  • The presenter's slides had WAY too much information on them. And apparently much of the information wasn't that important, because the presenter made no attempt to communicate it.
    • I've harped about presentations elsewhere, but here's the main point: do you want people listening to you? Or reading your slides? And by the way, are you saying anything interesting that's not already covered on those slides?
  • The presenter said, in so many words, that "Version 1" of the product sucked.
    • NEVER bad-mouth your own product. I've seen presenters do this, thinking it's their way of bonding with the audience. All it does is make the audience wonder, "What kind of a loser would want to work for a company that put out such awful products?"
  • The presenter went on to say (again, I'm paraphrasing), "Eventually, we'll be best in class." So, am I supposed to check back when you actually have something worth selling? It turns out that what she meant to say was that the cloud-based product would eventually offer the same features as the locally-hosted product. But that's not what I heard.
    • It's OK to have a better product later. But don't imply that your product is bad right now.
  • The presenter talked about the product's "agility" and in the next breath discussed six-month (!) release cycles. I'll admit this is more of a nit, as "agile" has special meaning to those in the product development world. And it's true that this product's release cycles are much faster than the locally hosted version's cycles. But most people looking to do "Agile" product development are planning for weekly release cycles, not half-yearly ones.
    • Be careful with your language. You don't want to claim you're something (e.g., "Agile") when the evidence isn't there to support it.
  • The presentation (slides and spoken words) was filled with company-specific jargon and acronyms. Your TLA's are your own. I no more want to adopt them than I want to order a "Venti" sized coffee.
    • Circle every acronym and piece of jargon on your slides and ask yourself, "Do I really need the audience to use this term or know what it means?"

If you don't want this to be you, pay attention to your presentation: its message, focus, and delivery. Or you could make sure I'm not invited to your show.

How Not to Get the Sale

This happened to me on Saturday. I had just stepped out of my house and was walking down the street when I saw what I took to be a new neighbor, standing outside of his house, smoking a cigarette. After Jerry and I shook hands and said hello, we had this conversation:

Jerry: Do you need any yard work or gardening done? I could do that and I don’t charge much.

Me: No, I’m renting my house and they already have a gardener.

Jerry: How about hauling or other work? You might need that, being old and everything.

Me (smiling): No Thanks. But ask my neighbors, they own their houses so maybe they could use your help.

Jerry: OK, well let them know, OK?

If you’re going to attempt to sell something to me, make sure your selling point isn’t something I’d find insulting or at the least not true.

And if I offer you help in identifying sales prospects, don’t thank me by asking me to do more work for you.