3/25/10

Open Letter to "New Lexis.com" - Learn from WestlawNext Mistakes

Dear "New Lexis.com",
I know that you are still in the gestation stage of your life, but I thought I'd write you a letter to help you enter the world on a better footing than your cousin WestlawNext did.  Let me start off by saying that we're all excited to see what you look like, and we're all hoping that your delivery goes without complications.  But we all know that most newborn legal research products can sometimes be extremely stressful on your parents, and you children aren't always as wonderful as your parents tell everyone you are.  Let's take your cousin WestlawNext (WLN) as an example and learn from what his parents did, so your parents don't make the same mistakes.
First of all, let everyone know exactly who you are, what you can do, and how much you are going to cost us.  Don't play with phrases like "modest premium" or "we're still working on the pricing" as you enter the world.  Come out with a price based on what all of us know.  We'd all love to have you as part of our families for no additional cost, but I'm sure your parents are extremely proud of you and like any good parent/manager, will want to get the best return on their investment by charging as much as they think they can get out of us.  If that is the case, then just come out and tell us.  Say something like, "To have my Lexis.com over at your house will cost you 5% (10%, 20%...) extra from what you're paying to have our older kids play at your place."  Just let me know a price and I'll let you know if I think that's reasonable enough to come play with my family of lawyers and researchers.  If you cost me too much, then tell your parents that they need to be willing to negotiate from that price. And, whatever you do, please, please, please, don't have your parents turn their sales force relatives loose on us with the directive to 'get as much as you can from all of them."  To be honest, we simply don't trust that they have our best interests at heart. We would all like to have you come over, but some of us just aren't willing to pay a high premium for the privilege.  No offense, of course, I'm sure you're a wonderful resource.
Second suggestion, tell your family to be nice... even if we sometimes say things that make them angry.  Whenever there is a change in the family dynamic, some of us can get a little... shall we say, cranky.  It doesn't mean that we think you are a terrible product, mainly it means that we're nervous about allowing a new member into our fold without knowing what we're getting into first.  Let me give you a simple example using your cousin WLN.  One of my friends, Lisa Solomon, was a little shocked that in order to have WLN over at her place, she'd have to pay an additional 68% premium for the privilege.  She'd had WLN's older brother over at her place for years along with some of his siblings, like "ResultsPlus" and she was quite fond of each of them.  But she knows that children grow up and go out on their own eventually and we'll need to replace them if we want to continue our relationship with their parents.  But, one of WLN's uncles got a little snarky when Lisa asked if the 68% premium was worth it.  Seems that Uncle Rick, who is WLN's Chief Technology Officer, is very proud of WLN, but apparently seems to think that WLN's brothers and sisters have just been "messing around" for years now and need to be kicked to the curb by anyone with a brain.  Here, let me show you the conversation:



So baby Lexis.com, let me give you a word of advice that you should tell your family.  No matter how snarky your customers get when they talk about baby Lexis.com, do not, under any circumstances, get snarky back.  It just doesn't do anyone any good to have grown-ups acting like children.  
Third word of advice, think creatively on how you want to compete for attention against your cousin WLN.  Family rivalries are bound to happen when you are competing for attention from the same group of people.  Some are going to say that WLN is their favorite, while I'm sure others will like baby Lexis.com better.  It's been that way between all your older siblings going all the way back to, God rest their souls, your terminal brothers and cousins.  Now that I think about it, I guess "terminal" was kind of a mean name to give them.... but, I digress.  
Since you know there's going to be some rivalry, you might as well play it up, and I've got a great suggestion for you.  How about you make a deal with some of the folks that want to have you over at their house by paying them to not play with your cousin?  Tell them that if they get rid of WLN and his sibs that you'll give them a "rebate" after a year of playing with only you?  Yes, I know that it sounds a little like bribery, but it won't hurt to ask them.  Here's what I suggest.  If they promise to only play with you and not let your cousin into their house, then you cut them a deal... say 'no increase in current subscription price.'  If they keep WLN out for a year, then you might want to give them a 2%-3% rebate on what they paid you for that year.  To sweeten the pot a little more, tell them that if you can advertise that they don't play with WLN and can use their name and image in magazine and web ads, you'll give them a 5% kick-back, er, 'rebate' at the end of the year.  You might be surprised at how many of your friends will jump at the chance to get rid of WLN if you sweeten the pot for them.  
Well, that's my advice for you at this time.  I'm hoping that you grow into all of the wonderful things that your parents have been bragging about.  Remember that a good first impression is important, so think long and hard about how you would like to present yourself to us for the first time.  Your cousin, WLN, gave us all a bit of a roller coaster ride in his first few months of life, and although he is impressive to look at, all that other baggage of uncertain pricing and mixed messages from his immediate family has left many of us a bit hesitant about inviting him into our homes.  Here's one last bit of advice for you.  If there is one thing we want from you and your cousin, it is 'certainty.'  We want to know what you do, why you are better and how much you will cost us.  Give us those three things right up front, and I'm sure we'll be friends for a long time.

Yours truly,
Greg


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13 comments:

Carey said...

Nice post - seems very difficult to provide the "next generation" web service, yet offer it without the required transparent pricing we now expect. Hopefully Lexis will learn from others' mistakes.

Anonymous said...

Greg...I'm a little shocked by your comment "to be honest, we simply don't trust that they have our best interests at heart." Did you ever think that any legal publisher had your best interest at heart or mind...or at all?

Greg Lambert said...

Anonymous,

I've actually had some really good relationships with some of my legal publisher providers in the past. In fact, there are a few that I consider close personal friends and still stay in contact with even though I'm no longer in their sales region. These folks were honest when they answered my questions, and didn't try to "hide the ball" on me during negotiations.

One of my favorite conversations with my former Loislaw, then Lexis (and now happens to be a Westlaw) rep went like this. I would start all negotiations with "My position in this negotiation is this - I want everything you have in your product, and want it for free. You want to sell me a small slice of your product and have me pay full-price or more. Now that we understand each others position, let's sit down and find some middle ground."

We'd laugh, and then start finding that middle ground. In the end, we usually found a way that both of us walked away from the table satisfied with what we came up with.

Rickking101 said...

You guys are right; my comment was ill-advised. As CTO, I’m really proud of the technology - my intent was to shine a light on how quickly WestlawNext can get you to the right information, not inadvertently disparage either your work or Westlaw.

Anonymous said...

Greg...having a personal relationship with a vendor is a great thing, most of them are really nice people and are a part of the legal profession. Perhaps your reps truly were "honest", but I doubt that you would really know whether they were or not.

Think about it this way, the rep only makes money in a very, very specific manner. The compensation plans of these companies aren't contained in a paragraph, they are upwards of 50 pages long. If the rep doesn't make his/her plan, they are fired. Doesn't really matter if you are a satisfied customer.

Do you think that your rep had much, if anything, to say about the contract you ended up with? I would suggest you ask your friend about the finance group that he/she works with on a daily basis. Those are the people that actually approve/disapprove the contracts, and they don't know a darned thing about you, your firm or your research needs.

Greg Lambert said...

I guess I'm a little "Pollyannaish" on the subject.

Of course, distrust like this is why many of us go out and recruit consultants to help make sure we're not "totally screwed over" by "those people" in Eagan or Dayton.

I'm well aware of many of the tricks of the trade that sales reps have to do in order to make their quotas, and what they do and do not get paid for on any new or renegotiated contract. Knowledge of these things is power... so the more you know about how that particular vendor sets the pay to their reps, the more you can work out a deal that works for you, the rep and the vendor. I'm sure that someone walks away from the deal feeling like they've been had... but very rarely has it been me.

Again... just call me Pollyanna if you think I've been fooled all these years. It won't bother me a bit.

Lisa Solomon said...

The compensation system for sales representatives - and the need to pay sales reps in the first place - is one reason why the Wexis pricing system is broken.

If Lexis and Westlaw give consumers more information about the prices of plan components on the front end, customers can more quickly cut to the chase with sales reps. Since sales reps will spend less time closing each deal, each rep will be able to service more customers. This means that Wexis can trim their payroll. At the same time, consumers will be more satisfied: after all, I've never heard a consumer complain about pricing that's *too* transparent.

Here's another thing for Wexis to chew on: even though many lawyers may not be the best businesspeople, they're used to negotiating on behalf of their clients. Transactional lawyers make deals, litigators settle cases. Can you imagine a lawyer feeling comfortable going into a negotiation on behalf of a client armed with as little information as Wexis shares with its customers? The Wexis approach makes lawyers feel very powerless and therefore distrustful.

Believe it or not, despite my vociferous recent criticism of WestlawNext pricing, I've actually been extremely pleased with the service my sales reps have provided to me in the past. For example, when it was time to sign a new contract a few years ago, I told my rep that I really wanted to add Results Plus to my plan, but didn't want to increase my overall Westlaw spend. After reviewing my usage records, he suggested that, because I hadn't used my ALR subscription much, I could drop that to save money (and he also noted that I'd still get access to relevant ALR annotations through Results Plus). This is a perfect example of the kind of relationship that Greg discusses in his comment above.

Jill said...

A few suggestions I'd like to offer the parents (Lexis), immediate family (sales force & Library Relations team) of "baby Lexis":

PARENTS: Please make sure that your sales force and Library Relations team are FULLY familiar with all of the features and pricing structures BEFORE launching the new addition to your family. They are your best advocates and introduce baby Lexis without giving them the tools and materials they need to effectively serve customers does everyone a huge disservice.

SALES FORCE / LIBRARY RELATIONS TEAM: Please be as proactive as possible in getting information directly to customers. While I think giving bloggers a preview is great and even encouraged, you need to know everything there is to know about baby Lexis BEFORE anyone else.

OVER RATHER THAN UNDER COMMUNICATE: With blogs, tweets and other social media it can be hard to get your message to stand out. That said, communicating all the essential facts, figures and features of your new addition is the parents' and family's responsibility. I read the blogs, etc. for insight and some information but I want to get my facts from you.

BE HONEST about what you do and don't know as well as about any mistakes made, even if they weren't your fault. We don't expect perfection but do want you to try your best and not simply make excuses when things don't go as planned. This kind of honesty earns trust and gains more good customer relations than ANYTHING else.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous-

The fact is sales reps are employed to negotiate on the behalf of their employer. And as someone who negotiates contracts it is my duty to have my firm's interest at the forefront. Too many times I've heard "...this is a special offer that will end at the end of the month..." only to have the rep. give us the offer at a later time. Thus, I'm skeptical about how "honest" reps really are...they represent their employer. And, if the rep. can't give straight answers to their clients, they should urge their clients to write supervisors-those higher up the ladder...

And, come on it does matter if we're satisfied customers, the person you're intimately working with is your gate keeper to getting proposals read and signed by senior partners/executives...ultimately helping the rep "...make his/her plan..." and not getting fired.

Jill said...

Anonymous,

Yes, it should matter that we are satisfied customers - this is the best marketing ammunition of all. But having been in sales, I understand that reps aren't always given the information they need and are often caught in the middle. As Greg and Lisa have noted previously, the best reps understand that a good relationship based primarily on hard work, trust and open communication leads to success on both sides

I also agree that time-limited special offers are annoying. They have everything to do with the vendor's needs to make a profit and nothing to do with my needs as a customer. I understand why vendors use them but think they would gain more customers by backing off such high-pressure techniques. After all, we're not buying cars here but sophisticated legal research tools that help our firms to do business.

Fred Z > said...

As a former LN product consultant who was responsible for feature/function (anyone remember "Xchange Research", 1997-2000) interesting that this discussion is all about $$$ and not at all about the feature/function that I spent all MY time on. Sigh.

Greg Lambert said...

Fred,

The reason for all the $$$ talk is that all WLN is discussing is the technology and features. We have been inundated with how great the new product is (and it is impressive!!), but there is so much confusion on what this thing is going to cost. So, for those of us that have budgets to manage, it is a big issue, and one that we're just not getting clear answers.
As for someone that worked on XChange Research, you must recall that one of the enhancements added to the service was a cost recovery tool. So, even then, you know that we are very focused on the $$$ for pretty much all services we bring into our budgets.

Fred Z > said...

Greg -- I do remember adding client validation. It was early in the long list of legacy features that were moved to the Web during my tenure.

On a purely personal note, I can tell you that as far as the feature/function product managers were concerned everything connected with the billing system had two major attributes: a) almost impossible to change anything because of the huge inertia of the legacy software b) boring. ;-)

Cheers,

Fred

 

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