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re Mouth Wide Shut

Just a couple thoughts.

Another reason for not talking about upcoming improvements is giving a potential customer one or more reasons for saying no.

They may decide that they really need the feature (whether they actually do or not), and would rather wait until the feature is in production. As well, from this customers eyes, the new feature may have interface changes requiring retraining from the current product.

I've seen this happen in customer companies where the purchase decision is by committee. One or more "purchase scuttlers" will add the proposed feature to a list of requirements, making it difficult for others to demand purchasing now, instead of in six months when the new product is available. Sounds incredible, but I've seen it a few times now.

As well, the potential customer may determine that they are not interested in proposed features, and draw from this that they don't like the direction the product is taking regardless of how significant the features are.

I agree with most of Joel's points, and have found that it is usually detrimental to say anything that gives the customer a reason for delaying their purchase. It will be much more difficult to get back into their office (or thoughts) after the next product cycle. If they do suggest a new feature, a quick mention of engineering fees will usually get the discussion back to the available product, without appearing to be inflexible.

I can't believe I'm talking like a salesman (albiet a poor one). I signed up for development!

D Diggler
Friday, January 17, 2003

You're assuming you have a product in production, and you're not talking about new features. If you have no product at all, then delaying the purchasing decision of your potential customers may be a good thing.

Friday, January 17, 2003

For sales directly to users, providing no promises of upcoming products or features makes sense. However, in many industries, decisions about what vendor to choose are made far in advance of actual purchase. In those industries, the pressure to announce future plans may be irresistable.

For example, when designing industrial or medical electronics, vendor and parts decisions might be made two years before production. If significant amounts of money are involved, vendors will talk about future plans, since the issue is parts availability a year or two out, not today. Of course, the parts may be vaporware at the time of selection.

A purchaser can choose to select only existing parts, but that does not eliminate the risk. I've seen products developed for which manufacturing could not purchase key parts by the time it was released for production, because the parts were obsolete and had vanished from the market. There is actually a big business brokering obsolete electronic parts, but as a manufacturer, you don't want to depend on those brokers for parts for a new product.

The same pressure exists when negotiating between suppliers and distribution channels. A distributor may be unwilling to make the investment in the product line of a vendor unless the distributor sees a plan and sequence of products that go out several years.

Apple seems to sell primarily to end users, so their approach makes sense. A vendor that provides a line of products to corporate buyers has much greater pressure to provide early information and product plans to potential customers, even with all the costs involved. Corporate IT buyers looking to sign multi-year sourcing contracts want to have assurances that they are choosing a vendor with appropriate future plans.

I think the policies of most companies are related to the purchasing cycle in their market. If purchases are immediate, and future plans are not important, vendors are best off avoiding promises. If purchases are long-term and decisions made far in advance, vendors cannot avoid making promises about the future.

Dan Brown
Friday, January 17, 2003

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