Friday, November 2, 2007

What does buying a car have to do with Storage?

Pam and I have been trying to buy a car for 3 weeks – she has driven her GMC into the ground at 160,000 – never complained, never asked for anything, just kept driving it until the wheels just about fell off. Gotta love that girl.

I cannot remember ever having this much trouble buying anything in my life. The effort involved and the hassles we have been put through made me think about what we as an industry are doing to our poor defenseless storage buyers.

There are about 57 cars for sale in America that fall into the “little SUV that sorta looks like a station wagon but isn’t really a station wagon” category. It is almost impossible to tell them apart by looking at them – just like storage arrays. Comparing features is about as useful. Come to find out the every car in the class has AWD now (at least in New England) – just like every array has RAID. So that doesn’t help. They are all about the same size – just like arrays. They all have navigation systems – just like every storage device has a GUI. Airbags (dual power supplies) check. Anti-lock brakes (hot swap components) check. Long warranties (long warranties) check. Sunroofs (I am running out of similes here, but you get the point) check. So how are you supposed to decide?

Pam and I set out to test drive them (evaluation test). That helped narrow it down a little. Some were too soggy, or too trucky, or just too something and we took them off the list.

Another factor – which I suspect the storage industry has in spades as well – was the effect of the sales person on our interest in the car. The Mazda guy was kind of down at heels, a bit sloppy, and his hair (and handshake) was a bit greasy. When I told him we did not love the car, he started to close me anyway, “What would I have to do to put this deal together today?” I slithered out of the showroom feeling like I needed a shower. We were so disheartened by the experience we gave up looking for a week (until the fuel pump died on the old Yukon).

The Mercedes guy was wearing a $1000 suit, Allen Edmunds shoes, and a Rolex. He was the epitome of refinement and knowledge. He sized us up, and presented a no-nonsense rational perspective on his wares. I felt a bit intimidated, but he was very polite and put no pressure on us at all. We left feeling as if the M class was a reasonable, expensive, and not particularly exciting option.

We then found ourselves at a Cadillac dealer – actually Pammy has always wanted a Hummer and the same dealer sold both. I do not see us as Cadillac customers, but we liked the Cadillac SRX. Seemed to fit the general goals of the search, so we took it for a ride. The salesman was polite, answered our questions, showed off the features of the car well, and I actually liked it a lot. We then drove the Hummer for fun, but even Pam had to admit she felt silly in it.

We retreated again to the comfort of the auto repair shop, replaced the fuel pump, and bided our time. We decided to take a whole day – without kids – and devote it to getting this decision over and done. We drove the Automile (Rte 1 for those in Boston) where there are about 57 different dealers. We started at one end and finally collapsed at the other to watch the rest of the Patriots game in a bar. We went to the Pontiac/GMC dealer. The salesman was (I kid you not) wearing ripped jeans, a tee shirt, and old running shoes – which looked pretty silly on a 50 year bald guy. We drove the Acadia and the Enclave. Decided the Acadia was a fall back – hated the Enclave ride. Salesrep clearly did not give a hoot; do not think he even acknowledged us leaving the showroom (which was a filthy pit). GMC out.

Then, we stopped, almost as an afterthought at the Acura dealer. Acura does not really do much branding as far as I can see (or they missed reaching me as a target audience member). Honestly, I think we stopped because Pam needed to use the lady’s room. A guy wearing business casual clothes came up, handed me his card told me he was more than happy to answer any questions (Pam asked for the location of the head), and then silently disappeared. Whoosh, gone. I poked around the MDX in the showroom, and kind of liked what I saw. When Pam came back, she thought she liked it too. So we went looking for our silent friend – found him in the back eating an egg roll. He came out; whipping his hands, answered some questions, and clearly knew his stuff. Acura has its product-marketing act together. Oh yeah, they knew us and knew what we wanted. I have never felt so grok’ed in my life. The car comes in a base model – which includes all the stuff we (their target audience) would have wanted. You do not have to order the superdy, duper, premium luxury package, the driver convenience group, and the safety kit. It comes with everything. You have two choices – navigation system (more on that later), and electronic ride control. If you want nav, they figure you want all the other gizmos and they throw them in. If you want ride control, they figure you are sporty and they upgrade your wheels. That is it. Two questions to configure the system for our needs. Easy.

We went out for a ride, in a decked out MDX. Could not tell when the ride control was on or off so we eliminated that option. Salesman was cool – pointed out stuff, talked about fuel economy, engine size, big brakes, yadda, yadda. We liked it. Then he did something extraordinary – he sent us to look at the other cars in the category. “Lexus is right down the street. Go drive the RX. Make sure you drive the SRX again. Then if you want, stop back and we can go out again in the MDX. Handed us another business card, a folio, and pretty much kicked us out of the showroom. (Remember what I said about making them come to you!)

We went to the Lexus dealer – massive pompous building with 3 car washes (free for customers), a cappuccino bar, and a forest full of walnut paneling. I was uncomfortable and intimidated the minute I walked in – the girl at the front desk looked like a plant from the Ford Modeling Agency (remember what I said about too pretty). Her “Can I help you?” was cold and accusatory. Our response was apologetic, “Oh, sorry to bother you, we were hoping to look at an RX?” “Did you have an appointment?” (Seriously…). Finally, “I’ll see if anyone is free…”
Lost the sale before we took five steps into the building. I would not buy a Lexus from those a$$holes if it was the last mini-suv-that-doesn’t- really- look- like-a station-wagon on earth. Quick test drive with a newbie salesrep, quick exit. Lexus out.

Then, we stumbled into another Cadillac dealer – good gawd help us – this was a different dealer than the first experience with Caddy above. This time we got a former roofer turned Caddy salesman – ‘dems’ and ‘does’ to the max. He had a little flip pad and pencil in his hand and wrote down virtually everything we said – very unnerving. I told him we wanted a top of the line SRX with all the bells and whistles – to which he attempted to educate me. There are about 57 option packages to get a base SRX to the level of car we would have wanted. We were exhausted at that point and just could not follow the description of every bell and whistle that would need to be ordered separately. We went for another test drive – and the salesman asked us what else we were looking at – we honestly told him we liked the MDX. At which point, he did something pretty incredible when I think back on it. He started in on a pro-America jingoistic speech – about how we owed it to our country to buy American. I did not bother to argue, but looked over at Pam and winced. We drove into the dealership in an old Mercedes Benz; both our watches are from Switzerland. Our jeans (Wal-Mart) are from Vietnam. Shoes – Brazil I suppose. Talk about not groking your customer…. Cadillac Out

So we finally bought the MDX – which is reasonable, nice, well made, fairly priced, configured exactly as we wanted without any effort, and just fine thank you. But what a hassle.

Point is, are not we doing the same thing to storage customers every day. Not understanding them and their needs? Pretending to have what the other guys have just because the other guys say they have it? Trying to compete on nonsensical or even negative position points? Trying to shove square pegs into round holes? Is it any wonder that storage buyers are jaded and tired? I know Pam and I are…


BarryWhyte said...

First of all, glad you found a car that you both like afterall that!

Although I'm not hugely involved in the sales side of things over at IBM. I do get involved in the technical pre-sales, or deep dive technical discussions with customers. Especially so those in the UK that come to visit the labs at Hursley. Usually by this point they have expressed an interest in SVC so the initial sales calls I don't see. However at this point, and indeed throughput the process there is no shame in answering 'No' to a question. Making out your product can do something it can't or can do in a roundabout way is pointless. It will only come to bite you big time later on.

What I do find most useful from these meetings is new ideas and greater insight into what customers actually want from their systems. This has more impact on future plans than you'd imagine. Althought product marketing and program management get the final say in whats in and out of the roadmap, we do have a big say in what we should or should not be doing, and if something can be squeezed into a future release it will be.

This has to be the best way to implement new function - that is, at the request of end users, rather than 'because vendor X does it - we need to have it'

Anonymous said...

You know what they say about Great Minds?
I posted this on DrunkenData "Feel My Pain" June 26th, 2007.

I resisted commenting all day but the opportunity is too great to pass up.

“Good day, Sir. Could I help you with your automobile selection?”
“Yes. I’m looking for good, reliable transportation for 2 adults plus 2 pre-adolescent children. At a good price.”
“Well, here is our most popular, solid, family of 2+2 econoline model.”
“What price range are we talking about?”
“Well within your budget, Sir. This model was engineered to fit inside the budget for a 2+2 family seamlessly, transparently and unobtrusively. You won’t even know its there financially.”
“Great! Let’s talk bottom line price.”
“There are a wide range of options engineered to enhance and upgrade the model to suit your tastes and pocketbook.”
“Options? I don’t need no stinking options! Isn’t this baby ready to go?”
“Well, did you want tires with that model, Sir?”
“Of course. How much?”
“Well, did you want wheels for the tires too, Sir?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Of course, Sir. You might have some old wheels and tires left from your last model?”
“No, no I don’t.”
“Too bad, Sir. We have a wonderful upgrade allowance special running on this model.”
“Did you want windows with this model, Sir.”
“Don’t those come standard? I never saw one without windows?”
“Oh yes, Sir. The standard windows are unsigned, unrated, unbranded plexiglas equivalents. They do roll up and down manually. The power window option is not available except with the upgrade windows.”

I could do the same dialog about Storage products.
My memory of Storage products dealing is that all the “good ones” disappeared into some black hole and then the endless gamesmanship with the Storage “lawyers”. I wish I had video of every time I asked for something really useful to me and they fell down laughing.
“You want fries with that?”