Call for a price on how to improve calls to call for pricing

My new employer, Simply Measured, offers free tools and an enterprise plan for large companies. Which means that if you want to know how much it would cost your business to use our excellent products, a conversation needs to occur.

Which is funny, because I’d always pretty much believed what Joel about this in an excellent piece on pricing:

Bad Idea #2: How Much Money Do You Have? Pricing.

This is the kind used by software startups founded by ex-Oracle salesmen where the price isn’t on the website anywhere. No matter how much you search to find the price, all you get is a form to provide your name, address, phone number, and fax number, for some reason, not that they’re ever going to fax you anything.

It’s pretty obvious here that the plan is to have a salesman call you up and figure out how much you’re worth, and then charge you that much.

Which cracks me up. In our case, to briefly attempt a defense of our company, is that because we’re not selling a widget, and instead we’re providing a massive number-crunching, data-heavy process, our costs per customer are high, recurring, and very hugely by what they’re asking for.

It’s fine if you don’t take my word for it.

The fascinating problem I’ve been having is that there’s essentially no widely available information on how the industry does this. At Expedia, when I was working on the package path and trying to figure out if making something clearer was going to help, and how much it could help, there was all kinds of great research into ecommerce websites, case studies, and I could talk to people I knew who worked at other companies.

I have no idea. Let’s say our conversion rate in the trial is 0%. Or 50%. Or 97%. The only comparison point I have to go on is that it’s not as high as I want it to be. We have to build our own metrics, benchmarks, and methods as we go.

In absolutely delicious irony, I have been able to find a ton of information on enterprise trial paths, people with good advice, and ways other huge companies have made improvements selling expensive things to other huge companies.

At consulting companies, who want me to call them to talk about pricing.

Shogun 300 Review

As a collector of vintage steel bikes, I was delighted to find a Shogun 300 at a bike swap. It had clearly spent the last twenty years in a basement or garage, but cleaned up okay.

What an unremarkable piece of shit. Only the main tubes are double-butted cro-moly (Tange 900 DB, seamed), the fork is a manganese monstrosity that produces a muddy road feel with lack of responsiveness while still managing to transmit road shocks directly to your shoulders. It doesn’t have forged dropouts either.

It has what I believe were at the time low-or-mid-range components which is part of why I’m sure this beast hasn’t been touched in twenty years, because no one who rode this wouldn’t spend the ten dollars to upgrade them.

I’m reluctant to slag on it too much. This was probably as good as they could do for their entry into that segment. But even if I was going to give this to someone as a light or entry bike, I would need all new components or I’d be plagued with guilt.

It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come. This isn’t junk… And it is steel… but an entry-level bike today is so much better. Progress! Of sorts.

It does descend like a brake less freight train coming down from Mt. Shasta, if you need more excitement in your life. Or your life insurance beneficiary is in dire financial straits.

Getting your relationship off to a rip-roaring start

The installer’s the first thing most users interact with. Before “what are they trying to use the app for?” or “how do I build the best interface?”

Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac has in the course of the purchase and install
– forced me to create a log in
– tried to get me to install some crapware
– sent me a weird email asking me to go back and register for a second site*
– blackmailed me into registering to get updates

And now we’re here:

So I’ve now created an account, and I’m being asked to give it again, plus sign up for a complimentary magazine subscription (I guess) and when I’m done with that, I’m supposed to do it a third time in case I ever need to file a support ticket.

If you hit that question mark, you go to a page that tells you “Parallels needs this information in order to provide our customers with the best software and service.”

Great. Let me know when you’re doing that. Because right now, I’m regretting purchasing your products.

* Parallels: “NOTE: Your account in Parallels Support Request Tracker system is different from ‘My Account’ option on site. Parallels Support Request Tracker ( is a web interface, that allows you to view and update your existing requests to Parallels Support and also submit new support requests on your own.”

Me: “First support request: why did this require me to create another account?”

A favorite poem, a favorite punk song

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
— Wilfred Owen

You’ve got to die
got to die
got die for your government
die for country
that’s shit.
— Anti-flag, 1996

Sony and the cool

I recommend this fine Brooks Review piece on how Sony’s lost their way (it was inspired, in turn, by this excellent Jeff Yang article in the Chronicle). When I was growing up, I loved, loved, loved Sony stuff. My dad owned a Walkman 2 (1981), and it fascinated me. Clunky controls: function over form, the weird selector buttons irregularly sized, paired with dials… and it broke music for me. Cassettes on headphones, with true stereo, and portable, it was a leap I couldn’t believe. I thought that thing was the coolest. For being so tiny, it took a remarkable amount of abuse and kept running. Twenty years later, writing this makes me want to go buy one.

wm-2_2 by nextartist

“wm-2_2 by nextartist, cc-licensed”

My parents bought my brother and I Discmen one Christmas. I feel the almost the same way about the Discman as the Walkman II: it’s a beautiful device, the sound quality was amazing, and I used it for years. I cracked the display in a car accident, but it took ten years of use without complaint. A year or so ago a stereo died on me and I ended up digging it out of my nerd box of components. Ran like a top. I wrote my dad a nice re-thank-you note.

I only bought Sony whenever I had a choice. When someone stole the deck out of the awful Mazda 626 I was driving, I bought the crappiest tape deck Target sold (features included “Auto-Stop”) and went back to using my Discman and an adapter.

I can’t point to where exactly I gave up on brand loyalty, but after being less and less happy with each of my purchases, I went to discontent: one of my receivers died just out of warranty, while on another the display doesn’t work unless you press on the faceplate just right, which is… yeah, it’s a loose connection somewhere that results in a terrible experience every time I need to read it. And then to open frustration: the Playstation 3’s user interface is one of the worst I’ve ever had to wrestle with (and I worked on back-end telecom systems in the 90s). Every time it sends me off to a different random corner of its nested menus, I want to grind my teeth and never have to use it again.

When I could beg the Walkman II off my dad and the batteries ran out, all I could think of was how to get a new set, or milk another five minutes out of another set that wasn’t quite dead. I wanted to use it. Now Sony makes electronics I hate to use.

I miss Sony.

Postcript: fittingly, Sony’s abandoned their “Sony History” pages, which now 404.

Interviewing: so, have you used our product?

Why answering “no” is almost a certain no-hire.

An interview loop is a full day of your time. And the company you’re interviewing at is burning at least six hours of their people’s time not developing features, or answering phones, or building a production infrastructure, to talk to you. Now, I know that not everyone on the loop reads the resume before they go in, but unless I’m tagged in at the last minute (which happens too often, certainly) I’ve spent 10-15m just reading your resume, and after we talk I’ll spend another 10-20m writing up interview feedback. Multiply that by six… You can spend 15 minutes to prepare.

If you’re considering taking a job with a company, you should know why. It can be as simple as “I need a job”. I’m fine with that. But why at the company you’re interviewing at, and not another? Or why do you think you’d be content working on this particular widget, and not another? If you have no interest in where you work, and I really care about what I work on and who I work with, well… it’s going to be hard to bridge that.

If you haven’t used the product… fire up the web site and look around. Download a demo version of the product and play with it. It says a lot of good things about you to say “yes!” and have thoughts about what features you’d add, or an issue you encountered:
– you’re curious and interested
– you’ve given the product some thought
– you can talk about the product
– there’s a reason you’re applying for this particular job

And better still if you can talk about the product compared to others, for instance.

By contrast, the immediate doubt that comes in if you say “no” is that you’ll find the work not to your liking and no one’ll be happy. Or you’ll toil away and leave when you find something you are interested in.

Not having taken a couple minutes to prepare before the loop is akin to showing up in sweats, or being late, in that they all give the people who are taking time out of their day the impression that at best you don’t really care about the interviews, and probably don’t care much about whether you get the job or not. It’s operating at an enormous disadvantage compared to other candidates, too — they’re almost certainly going in prepared and interested.

Do you have any questions about Expedia?

I love interviewing. As much as anything else we do, it’s the chance to help pick the people who determine what the job’s going to be like, and the direction of the company. I’ll volunteer for any loop, I’ll substitute for anyone who is sick or working on a production issue, whatever. So I’m going to write about that for a couple of days.

When I interview people at Expedia, I only get an hour, and I’m pretty good about reserving at least half of it for the candidate’s questions. I want to answer questions about culture, what the roles are like, what we’re working on, and all of that, because
a) I think the answers to those questions provide as a far better argument for why people should work there than the job description or the salary offer or anything else
b) I’m curious what people will ask

One of the most common questions is “what do you like about working at Expedia?” and my answer depends a little about things have been going, but almost every time, I’ll say
a) huge problems to work on
b) my peers are tremendous people

Tomorrow I’m on two interview loops. And on both of them there are at least two other people that I’ve worked with, respect, and would love to have on any project I’m on. I love that I get to say, “the next three people you meet are just awesome”. Which isn’t to say that the people I don’t know aren’t great… I just haven’t worked with them.

As someone on the other side, I’ve found that part of the conversation’s great — I once got all the way through a loop and when I asked a simple question about the group’s culture, discovered there was no way I’d be a fit… and equally, I talked about sense of humor once and the detailed, thoughtful answer made me desperately want to work there.

A lot of candidates don’t have any questions. I don’t hold it against them, especially if I’m interviewer 5 of 6 that day. But I have to wonder — taking a new job’s a huge life change. What are you concerned about? What would make the job more attractive to you, or less, and how do you ask that in a reasonable way?

For instance, think about:
What’s the culture like at ____?
What did you work on yesterday?
What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing as a team? As a company?
What do you like about working here?
What’s interesting about your job?
Why do you work here, and not, say, your competitor?
I’m really interested in ____. Does your company have non-business DLs? Are they active?
I saw you launched feature X. Why did you do Y and not Z?

I can tell you a lot you want to know in thirty minutes if you ask the right questions. Ask! Ask!

How the iPad wants to be used

I saw this by Fraser Speirs excerpted at Daring Fireball:

The iPad is an intensely personal device. In its design intent it is, truly, much more like a “big iPhone” than a “small laptop”. The iPad isn’t something you pass around. It’s not really designed to be a “resource” that many people take advantage of. It’s designed to be owned, configured to your taste, invested in and curated.

Everyone’s experience will vary, sure, but for me, “something you pass around” has been one of the best use cases of the ipad. I do this at least once a day. In meetings where we’re talking about design and how the live site looks, I pull it up and hand the ipad over so someone can look at it. We use a web-based project management program, and when we do our daily huddle I have the day’s tasks in front of me and can show people what they’ve pulled down and should update us on.

I find the ipad’s a far more social device than a laptop, that the barrier to handing it to someone else is so much lower. And I know that it’s not that far off from the size factor of a netbook, and yet if I was using a netbook and had something up, the expectation if I pulled up a web page would be that other people would move their chairs over to me, or I’d project.

I agree entirely that the ipad’s an intensely personal device. Yet there’s also something about the same things that make it personal, from the form factor, the size, the beautiful display, the speed of interactions, that also makes me want to share it. I know that I can hand it to someone and they’ll get it, and be able to look at the design, or the view of the day’s tasks, and use them immediately.