I am doing the research for a comparative review for one of my favorite IT pubs this week. And the results so far are miserable. The ironic thing is that I haven’t yet started doing any actual testing of the products. I am talking about visiting a series of poor websites to get the basic information about the products. How do these companies stay in business?
For the most part in my review, I am looking at Web-based services that you don’t need to download anything. Some have free accounts, but you have to sign up with a credit card. Some have free accounts that you don’t need anything other than your email address, and you know that means you’ll be getting a follow-up call from their sales department asking how the trial is going. But several of the services don’t have anyway to get a free account, other than calling them (gasp) on the telephone. Some don’t even have phone numbers listed. I am not making this up.
One site even went so far as to put in phone numbers for a US and a European office. That was a nice touch I first thought, until I looked closer: The US phone wasn’t working, and was displayed with an odd spacing of digits and dashes (not 3-dash-three-dash-four pattern). That didn’t inspire confidence.
One site didn’t list any contact information. Another site had contact information of the kind firstname.lastname@example.org, and didn’t list their management by name. Are they afraid someone will call and try to track them down? One product is actually from a former consulting client. I thought that might be a leg up, but I still haven’t heard anything from them, days later. One firm had old info for their PR contact.
And my favorite: one site won’t reveal their prices. Sorry, no prices, no mention in the review. Let’s keep our strategy secret please. Mums the word. Fine by me.
To be kind, I have deliberately omitted the actual vendor names here.
Of course, there were some bright spots in this dismal swamp. One service is so transparent, you can try it out right there from the homepage: no credit card, no signup form, just click a link and you can use it and see for yourself how it works within seconds. And a pricing page that goes into tremendous detail. Wonderful! Too bad their competitors are still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to their services.
So I can’t believe it is 2012 and I am still writing about this. Forward this column to your boss if you need to (assuming your boss will read any emails), and then tell them to get with my program. Put individual email addresses of your key staff on your website and make sure that whomever gets these emails actually responds to them within a business day, or less. Have a way to demo your product easily online, especially if you have a Web service. Have your public relations contact listed explicitly on a page with your press releases, and keep that updated. Have your executives listed by name, and if you don’t want to publish their email address, then at the very, very least have someone who can field emails for them. Put your office postal address and phone someplace where your customers can find it, to prove that you really exist as a legit business. And don’t forget to list your prices too.
Make it easier to purchase your services, and you will get more business. Make it harder, and you won’t have any business in a few years or months. It’s that simple.