Steve Johnson (blog nauseam) harks from the other side of the Australian continent and sometimes those from ‘over there’ think we Easterners don’t listen, think or care about them; causing them to talk of secession – not too seriously I hope because they are great people and have a great state – to visit
There are areas Steve and I agree on and it would appear having customer questions answered is one such area.
A number of questions were asked of Callan Carpenter (Autodesk) and his appreciated response didn’t seem to really answer any of the questions and a subsequent prompt has done little to redress the situation. So this episode is another example of what I have experienced when dealing with Autodesk staff. Ask them what day it is or what products they sell and you will probably get an answer. Ask them a really important question, one about licencing, one about the ‘independence’ of a report or simply one about the numbers they quote and your chances of getting an answer is probably nil.
Steve asked his readers, “Readers, am I being too harsh here?” One responded suggesting there was no point in publicly beating up on Callan. Steve replied politely and his politeness has not been reciprocated; from Autodesk employees though we should never expect anything better than to be ignored when we pose questions of substance and importance, and Callan, it would appear, is no different. These are well paid people quite prepared to demonstrate their absolute contempt for their customers, with no regard to the effect their actions have on our daily lives.
Deelip said – “Try asking yourself what answers you would offer if you were in his position.”. Yes it is always a good idea to think about what a person may answer before asking the question but what is Deelip actually suggesting here? Steve didn’t want to substitute his answers – sensible so – but I thought I might ask my mate, Callan the Carpenter, to tell me what he would chisel into a timber slate as answers to the same questions.
Questions to Callan Carpenter – hereafter to be written ‘?CC’.
Answers will be shown thus ‘AbCtC’ = Answers by Callan the Carpenter.
?CC - Please clarify in as much detail as possible exactly how you arrive at your figures.
AbCtC - Guess work would be the greatest amount of detail I can provide. There exists no need to look for or use any real data because you and your readers would not be able to check and validate, anything I say – so why bother.
?CC - A percentage is derived by dividing one number by another; what exactly are you dividing by what to come up with 1.5%?
AbCtC - Yes, dividing one number by another and then multiplying the decimal by 100 is a common way to calculate a percentage. Though the number I chose – 1.5% - was selected using the proven method outlined in the first question.
?CC - Please explain why your statements appear to contradict Autodesk’s own published figures.
AbCtC - Contradictions are a standard tool used by most VPs to ensure they are noticed (the VP that is, not the comment. The later should be ignored; that is the comment should be ignored not the VP – I think). Not to contradict could have the effect of making my job appear redundant; after all why would the CEO and Board pay a VP that simply regurgitated a company line like our bloggers do?
?CC - How large is Autodesk’s total installed base?
AbCtC - Well I didn’t answer this question originally because in the passed really big numbers have been used to describe just how many customers we have hammered. You know 4 to 6 mil. has been bandied around and I have a lot of trouble getting my head around numbers of that size. What do you think I should use the same 4/6 mil. or should I use a larger number, say, around 10 mil. Even if I could get my head around big numbers, it is a very difficult answer to determine with the current level of technology I have available. I am sure you know our data base is a mess, using it to determine numbers of customers is pretty much the same process as for question one. One final point, on customer numbers, if I may. A problem with releasing customers numbers (if we had them, and I’m not saying we have), if you think about it, it would be the equivalent of giving our competitors very sensitive company confidential data. Importantly it would also give them an opportunity to publicly dispute my numbers and ridicule Autodesk and me in the market place. I don’t think I could handle criticism of me using big numbers.
Points of dispute
?CC - Because Autodesk made Subscription cheaper than upgrading, it is no surprise that upgrading became less popular. This doesn’t indicate that customers prefer doing business in that way, merely that Autodesk made it the cheapest alternative.
AbCtC - I know what I said originally about customers leveraging the Subscription program but it is also important to say, repeating the question asked as an answer is a stalling tactic. The how to, why and when to (stall that is) is outlined in the publication ‘VP Interview Responses for Dummies’ – a MUST read for all VPs.
The truthful answer is, of course, Subscription appears cheaper only because we chose to make it look cheaper, we could have made it look more expensive. Customer preference is not important enough to consider when you realize subscription has the advantage (to Autodesk) of being a customer trap so we thought it was more important to make it look cheaper to foil the customer. We know our customers are not too bright so it also seemed logical (to us) that if we used a smaller number for the Subscription then the customer would gravitate towards it just as I do. Big numbers are difficult to work with; I think I covered why in an earlier question.
?CC - If the idea of Subscription is such an attractive proposition, why do you need to sweeten the deal with tools that you don’t allow upgraders to have?
AbCtC - Again I needed to stall in my original reply: but now I can answer the question truthfully. Subscription is an attractive proposition because it looks cheaper. But just looking cheaper I did not think was enough to trap (all) customers. So, to increase the number of customers tricked it was decided we should use a method of deception similar to that which is employed in nature – sugar. I really like pitcher plants and the deception they use and, I also see a similarity between customers and the insects the plants catch. Customers are like ants crawling all over us (at Autodesk) with hard to answer questions and high expectations so we decided to sugar coat the thresh hold of the (Subscription) trap and as the customer follows the sugar they soon find there is no way back. I really don’t think our customer are smart enough to see in advance what is going to happen to them; just like flies and other pesky insects don’t realize what the pitcher plant is doing. Don’t want to let the ‘cat out of the bag’ but this is also important for our cumulus future.
?CC - Your assertion that the 12-month cycle is driven by the product teams is incorrect. It was chosen for business reasons and the product cycle was forced to fit the Subscription model.
AbCtC - Yes you are is correct; it was purely a business decision. We did it to make sure our staff feel like they are doing something for the customers and it gives our paid cheer squad (evangelists and bloggers) something to spruik about. It also keeps many sensible customers off balance trying to keep up with those stupidly loyally customers who have to have our latest software whether it makes commercial sense or not. It is also important to catch customers off guard; our (Autodesk’s) cumulus future relies on customers accepting software changes just happen, constantly, and for no reason, just like cell division. To be part of our success customers should see it as a privilege to write cheques (to Autodesk) each year, for those changes, whether or not anything useful is supplied. When, we believe, they have become use to this process it is going to be much easier to ‘shift’ them to pay by the month/minute. I cannot say why we are going to, er, might be going to do this – cause we might not – but probably will – well maybe. I think it is also important customers understand my job is to ensure customers keep spending (sending us) money, whether they are making money (using our products) or not, is not my problem. Details of that role, of mine, are also outlined in the Dummies manual for VPs.
In closing, Callan (Autodesk) pretty much wasted the time he did spend replying to Steve and there will be those who say Callan the Carpenter has done the same. But Aussie tradies love to poke fun at politicians and business people they see as being a 'waste of space'. In the case of Autodesk, a company that appears to be run like a government/public service and so full of people who have simply lost the plot (also like our government and its public service) it is surprising to some that they keep running at all (and they can't be voted out). But my mate Callan the Carpenter has an answer for this too. He says, "the problem is Autodesk’s customers are just too lazy and gutless for their own good"; he continues, "they should stop taking the crap being dished out by Autodesk management and stand up for themselves". He recons we are jerks if we don’t and he wants to know, and will be watching to see if the bloke he has just taken the mickey out of is game enough to do what he should have done properly in the first place. I think I agree with him – do you?