Selling snake oil

29 April 2008

Something came up today with regard to the wishes of a potential customer, and I felt it important enough that I blogged about it. Plus, it's non-technical, therefore I don't have to research it and can instead just talk. Smile

The issue was this. Joe — not his real name but I need to hang a label on him — was very interested in a particular ASP.NET control we have. Very interested. So interested in fact, he was ready to invoke a money-back guarantee on a competitor's product, and use the refunded money towards our product.

There was a fly in the ointment, however. Joe wanted a couple of features that were in the competitor's product, but weren't in ours. In fact, these features were going to be instrumental in the application he was writing. Sounds simple enough, eh? Promise him we'll put 'em in, and grab his money. Mmm.

As it happens, a couple of minutes sifting through the todo list for 2008.2 showed me that at least one of those items was likely to be done but I couldn't spot anything that was similar to the other. So, even simpler now?

Heck, we have our own money-back guarantee. 60 days, no questions asked. (Well, OK, we may ask why, but we don't expect or require an answer. Knowing why just might help us make the product or our service better. It certainly doesn't affect whether you get your money back.) So Joe could just buy the product and, if we don't do what he wanted in two months, he could get the money back. Still simpler? But surely that's the situation he's in right now with the competitor's product? It would be a little ridiculous to move him into the same scenario, just two months further down the line.

I don't want to appear holier-than-thou, but I couldn't do it. In fact, we couldn't do it. There's no way we can promise features that might appear in our products in the future just so we can get the money now. I'm a firm believer in the premise that when you buy a DevExpress product, you are buying what's in there now, not what might be in there in the future.

This was one of the arguments we had about the roadmap the first time we drew one up. Not only would we be telling the world, including our competitors, what we were thinking of doing that year, but people may decide that they'd buy our product because they want feature X, knowing full well that feature X doesn't exist yet but is mentioned in the roadmap.

So I told Joe that, based on my reading of the todo list, it was likely that at least one of his requirements would be coming in the next major version, but that the other may or may not be there. I could push for it, but there was just no guarantee of when these features would appear. I therefore recommended that he keep with the product he already had.

I'm reminded of this with other things we do as well. Sometimes, we all have high hopes about what we may be able to accomplish over the short term, or our goals over the long term. We're optimists. Yes, we'll be able to complete the project on time; yes, we can paint the entire downstairs in a weekend (don't ask); yes, I'll make sure I put enough money in before-tax securities. For me, it came home to roost this week that I've failed to maintain my initial momentum to blog about using XAF, despite my promises early on. No real biggie in the larger tapestry of life, but it's a promise that wasn't kept.

So if you're looking at a DevExpress product to buy and use, my recommendation is this: Download, compare, decide. Download the current evaluation version, compare and make your decision based on the current features and only those features. If the product is what you need, but you want to be reassured that we're still developing it, read our roadmap to see if it's mentioned. Ask us about it — my email address is, by the way. Perhaps read up on it in the forums and on these blogs to see what we and others are saying about it. But, in the end, buy it because it does what you want to do now.

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