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December 2008
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February 2009

False Choices: The Challenges for the Product Manager

I was going to write about implementing a CRM system, but listening to the President talk about "false choices" got me thinking about those false choices we run into as a product manager.  My favorite is "To be competitive, you have to outsource as much as possible".

False

The false choice here is between not being competitive and sending work where there is cheap labor.   I call it just being lazy.    Instead, focus on design of your products and processes.   I have done it twice in two high tech companies.  Production and support were all domestically based.   And we were competitive in both price and margins.

How?  One huge advantage of being domestic is the ability to quickly change your product and service.  Providing, of course, the processes and design is correct.  By doing this you actually have an advantage over your competitors.   Not to mention happier customers.


Alternatives to Salesforce.com

I used salesforce.com in my last company and liked it a lot.   Lots of community activity for help and some very nice features.   So of course when we needed a CRM for a new company I talked to them.   The version you want is about $50 / month per user ($600 per year).   With a sales force of 70 people, I gulped.  And don't forget, no matter what you have, you have to spend a lot of quality time setting it up and training.  Otherwise it's nothing more than a glorified contact manager.

I also remember using Sugarcrm in the past, so installed the free system on my hosted server.   It was pretty ill behaved during installation (especially figuring out chmod access rights) but I got it installed.   Took me a couple of days and some php tinkering.  But a pretty sophisticated system when done.  Problem was, when you run it, it's kind of a pig and pretty slow response time.

update:  There is a new version of Sugarcrm.  I hosted it on TMDhosting for $46 / year.  And it's fast.  They install it for you in an hour or two.

Aa Then I found a derivative of sugarcrm called vTiger.   Took me literally 5 minutes to install on a hosting site including setting up a MySql server instance.   And it's fast.  However you do lose even a little more functionality in some areas, but really nice modules for thunderbird, outlook, word and even a webform which automatically populates leads.  

To save time and performance, do a web search of "web hosting sugarcrm" and you will find companies which will run (and even setup) your entire system for $70 a year, for all your users.   And if then can run sugarcrm they can run vTiger. 

But like I said, the big thing is setting up your system.  No matter what your CRM, you have many business decisions to make.  More on that later.


Sprint and Customer Retention

My two year contract was up and Sprint sent me a few reminders and "incentives" to renew.   Aa So I did a lot of research on plans, phones and competitors and was really perplexed.   I like my small flip Katana because it fits in my Levis change pocket and (living in the West) also had analogue.  

What to do?

All the offers expired soon so I called customer service.   And they spent forty minutes with me going over the different plans.  Turns out we both agreed the current plan was pretty good for what I needed.  So she offered to shave 18% off my monthly plan, give me a credit to use if I ever wanted to upgrade my phone and one month credit.

I signed.

And this is smart.   I'm happy and this is so much better and cheaper than trying to acquire a new customer.   Know your customer acquisition costs, and you'll find it pays to keep your current customers happy.