Is Software Pricing A Science Or An Art?

Mark Bartrick

I’ve been with Forrester for just over a month now. It’s great to be involved with our clients and communities and to be helping businesses across the world evaluate the quality of software suppliers' proposals from a commercial perspective (e.g., is this a great deal or can the supplier do better?). One of the best parts of being at Forrester now is seeing the continuation of the work I did prior to joining Forrester — advising businesses on software contract and pricing negotiations. One thing I noticed then, and continue to hear about now, is the reluctance of software suppliers like IBM, BMC, CA, and Compuware to publish meaningful list prices or to explain how their price book worked or how discounts had been determined. Time and again I had to ask suppliers to un-bundle prices and confirm the basis for the net prices they were proposing. Does anyone else agree with me that pricing should be clear and transparent and not a black art?  

Here’s an example of an “art” that should be science: list pricing. While it’s logical to think list pricing is the same foundation upon which all bids are built, that’s actually not the case. Often, I found that my clients were being quoted “list pricing” that was different. Isn’t list pricing supposed to be the same by definition? Which is why you may with good reason doubt the validity of a list price or the competitiveness of a discount that you’re being offered by a software supplier. It’s why I love my work, and why you should make sure you get third-party validation of your deals.

How you do validate your software vendors’ list pricing and proposed discounts?

Herculean Buyers, Lions, And Hydra — Do You Want One Throat To Choke, Or Reps That Understand The Products They’re Selling?

Duncan Jones

The proposed acquisitions of SuccessFactors by SAP, and of Emptoris by IBM got me thinking about the impact on buyers of market consolidation, in respect of the difference between dealing with independent specialists versus technology giants selling a large portfolio of products and services. Sourcing professionals talk about wanting “one throat to choke,” but personally I’ve never met one with hands big enough to get round the neck of a huge vendor such as IBM or Oracle. Moreover, many of the giants organize their sales teams by product line, to ensure they fully understand the product they are selling, rather than giving customers one account manager for the whole portfolio who may not understand any of it in sufficient depth. Our clients complain about having to deal with just as many reps as before the acquisitions. They all now have the same logo on their business card, but can’t fix problems outside their area, nor negotiate based on the complete relationship. It seems that buyers end up like Hercules, wrestling either with a Nemean lion   or with a Lernaean hydra.

The acquirers' press releases tend to take it for granted that customers will be better off with the one-stop shop. Bill McDermott, co-CEO of SAP, said, “Together, SAP and SuccessFactors will create tremendous business value for customers.” While Lars Dalgaard, founder and CEO of SuccessFactors, talks about “expanding relationships with SAP’s 176,000 customers.” Craig Hayman, general manager of industry solutions at IBM, said, “Adding Emptoris strengthens the comprehensive capabilities we deliver and enables IBM to meet the specific needs of chief procurement officers."

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The Next Three Weeks Are Very Important To Microsoft, And That Gives Buyers Leverage

Duncan Jones

A couple of months ago I was blogging from sunny Barcelona with the Red Sox 0-6. Now I'm in Barcelona again for our IT Forum, but this month its raining heavily here, while back in UK we officially have a drought. But the good news is that Boston is 6-0,  at least in Yankee Stadium. A lot can change in two months.

The same is true in IT.  Just now, Microsoft faces threats to its strong market position from many directions, and Steve Ballmer is under pressure, but strong results for its June fourth quarter could deflect the flak. That's one reason why sales teams will have greater incentives than ever to close Enterprise Agreement deals in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully if you're negotiating an EA right now, whether a new deal or a renewal, you've read my report Consider These Five Criteria When Choosing A Microsoft Volume Licensing Program and maybe even had an inquiry call with my colleage Christopher Voce or me. One common question we get is whether the stated deadline to accept an offer is real, or will the same deals be available in the last days of the quarter or even in the subsequent months? The short answers are Yes, it is, and no, they won't." Microsoft has its own deal approval processes that take time to complete, and though it won't want to reject Purchase Orders, it may have problems processing them if they arrive too late.  And the deals available almost certainly wont be as good next quarter because sales teams will still have 9 months remaining in which to recoup any shortfall.

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Spring Training For Microsoft Negotiators

Duncan Jones

It’s a beautiful sunny day here in England, the first snowdrops have appeared in my garden and at least one of my pet hens has restarted laying – yes, Spring is on the way. Meanwhile, in the US the main harbinger of the changing season is the migration of baseball teams to Florida and Arizona for their annual pre-season ritual known as ‘Spring Training’. In the software sourcing world, the rites of Spring often include major negotiations with Oracle and Microsoft ahead of their fiscal year ends of May and June respectively. That’s why this is a perfect time of year to get some spring training of your own, at one of our ever-popular Microsoft Negotiation workshops.1 Anyone considering a major purchase or renewal with the Redmond Sluggers between now and the World Series should come along to Amsterdam on February 16 or Dallas on March 2 to hear why they may have extra leverage this year, and how to use it to get the best possible deal.

Microsoft had very high sales revenue for its December quarter, particularly the business division, but that didn’t come from the multi-year Enterprise Agreement (EA) and Software Assurance (SA) deals that the direct sales teams need. Microsoft’s revenue boost came from one-off purchases of its just-released Office 2010 product through its retail and small business programs. EA/ SA deals would initially appear in the accounts as unearned revenue in the balance sheet, and that was at the same level as two years earlier.2 So these results are consistent with our research that predicts that Microsoft’s direct sales teams will struggle to meet their tough EA bookings targets this year, and that will strengthen prospective buyers’ negotiating position.

We can’t promise warm weather or adoring fans, but our spring training session will help you with:

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What Does Oracle's Court Victory Mean For IT Sourcing Professionals? Not Much, Actually.

Duncan Jones

Yesterday, Oracle got a surprisingly high award from an Oakland jury in its case against SAP, in respect of its now defunct TomorrowNow subsidiary.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-23/sap-must-pay-oracle-1-3-billion-over-unit-s-downloads.html

Photo of Oakland Raiders Fans

The Oakland Jury, pictured after the verdict.

As my colleague Paul Hamerman blogs here (http://blogs.forrester.com/paul_hamerman/10-11-23-oracle_wins_13_billion_award_over_sap  ) SAP wasn't able to test the validity of the 3rd party support model, so this case has no bearing on the separate case between Oracle and Rimini Street.  I've stated previously that IT sourcing managers should not be put off by that dispute: Don't Let Oracle's Lawsuit Dissuade You From Considering 3SPs, But Recognize The Risks.

SAP customers shouldn't worry about the financial hit. SAP can pay the damages without having to rein back R&D. The pain may also stimulate it to greater competition with Oracle, both commercially and technologically, which will be beneficial for IT buyers. 

Was the award fair? Well, IANAL, so I can't answer that. But my question is, if the basis of the award was "if you take something from someone and you use it, you have to pay", as the juror said, does that mean SAP gets to keep the licenses for which the court is forcing it to pay?

Lots Of Talk About Chatter At Salesforce’s UK Customer Event

Duncan Jones

Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com, gave a typically energetic performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall yesterday, both in the main-stage keynote and the private lunch for press and analysts. In addition to some humorous digs at Oracle, SAP, and pretty much any company that wants to run its own data center, Benioff described his vision for enterprise applications in the world of social computing, which he calls Cloud 2. Key to this vision is salesforce.com’s own Chatter application, which is . . .  er, well actually it's not really clear what it is. Various spokespeople described it as an internal Facebook, a collaboration engine, Twitter but secure, but to me it still seems to be a user interface in search of an application.

The demonstration reminded me forcibly of the scene in Bruce Almighty in which Morgan Freeman lets Jim Carrey hear all the prayers being made at that instant by the citizens of Chicago. The user gets a stream of tweets, discussion threads, notifications, and alerts from feeder applications, messages from colleagues to each other, general questions, etc. My question, which no-one could answer adequately was “how is this different from email?” The features they cite — filtering, highlighting, threading, categorizing, etc. — are all in Outlook if you care to use them.

The main difference, apart from the fashionable user interface with the sender’s photo next to each message, is the switch from emailers deciding who they want to read their message, to readers deciding whose chats they want to see. Benioff’s description of his own Chatter feed puts him as the omniscient Bruce, watching every sales process, customer service problem resolution, product design collaboration, and invoice approval throughout his organization.

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SAP’s European Leaders Describe Its More Customer-Centric Approach

Duncan Jones

I joined an impressively large crowd at SAP’s World Tour event in Birmingham,UK, last week and was able to spend an hour with Tim Noble, head of SAP’s UK and Ireland business unit, and Chris McLain, who leads SAP’s team focusing on its 150 largest accounts in EMEA. I'm writing an update of my 2007 report "Effective SAP Pricing And Licensing Negotiation" and wanted to know what they thought about the clash between traditional deal-based sales incentives and Forrester’s clients’ need for commercial flexibility and more recognition, by their key software providers, of the wider relationship. It’s a topic I’ve raised before (http://blogs.forrester.com/duncan_jones/10-03-19-open_letter_season_sap), and I was very pleased to hear some things that SAP is doing to reduce this conflict.

I explained why, from my research, software vendors’ insatiable craving for recognizable license revenue at the expense of creating shared incentives for success is damaging to customers and to the vendor. Both Tim and Chris clearly understand the problem. Tim keeps reps on the same accounts for several years and rewards them for metrics such as customer satisfaction to avoid the revolving door sell-and-run approach that characterized software selling before the advent of SaaS. Chris has a team of Global Account Directors that works with local sales, pre-sales, and delivery teams to provide the holistic view that Forrester clients want and struggle to get from SAP’s competitors.

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SAP’s Co-CEO Answers Forrester’s Questions At Sapphire

Duncan Jones

Here at the European half of SAP’s global customer event, I had a chance to ask some questions of one of SAP’s co-CEOs, Jim Hagemann Snabe. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to ask for some advice to my country’s leaders on how to manage a two-party government, because it seems like he and Bill McDermott are very happy with their own coalition.

It's very encouraging that Hagemann Snabe, along with other SAP executives I’ve met here, acknowledge that SAP has made missteps over the last year or so, although they are still very confident that they know how to fix the company’s problems. There’s a thin line between positive spin and misplaced over-confidence, so hopefully, in private, he recognizes the challenges he faces. Still, I’d like to see more willingness to accept that SAP doesn’t have all the answers and to get advice from outside the organisation, to help it become customer-centric instead of sales-transaction-centric

Both CEOs want to talk only about new revenue opportunities: increasing SAP’s addressable market, the potential of new on demand products including Business ByDesign, and mobile solutions based on the proposed Sybase acquisition. I asked Hagemann Snabe to explain how he’d improve the value for money that existing customers will get for their maintenance revenue. He mentioned the introduction of customer choice between the Enterprise and Standard support offerings, although that isn’t much of a choice since CPI increases on the latter make it cost almost as much as the former. He also stressed the importance of the ‘Innovation without disruption’ enhancement pack system, which will now be delivered in one simultaneous release each year, across all product lines. 

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“If You’re Not Getting Shot At, You’re Not Doing Your Job."

Duncan Jones

Source: Maggie Gyllenhaal, as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight, © Warner Brothers, 2008

Recently two large software companies separately complained that I was biased against them in the other one’s favour, which was sufficiently ironic to amuse my British sense of humour. “Biased” is one of the worst accusations you can throw at an analyst, because we strive to be scrupulously fair, and ensure that what we write and say is balanced, and evidence-based. So it started me thinking about fairness, and prejudice versus analysis.

I hear a lot of horror stories from clients about outrageous treatment by software sales reps, so one might think that software marketing execs would be shame-faced and contrite. But, actually, they love their companies and believe that analysts are merely stoking up resentment that wouldn’t exist without us, or that it’s the other guys giving their industry a bad name. “You only hear from the minority of unhappy customers,” they say. “Clients don’t ring you up when they are delighted with us.” This is true, but I speak with hundreds of clients every year, so I think I’d have found more evidence of a silent majority of delighted buyers, if it existed. The problem is that the good corporate intentions don't always translate into sales' behavior, when it's a question of spiff or rif.

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Microsoft Select Agreements Due For Renewal? Convert Them To Select Plus

Duncan Jones

Microsoft announced on Friday that it will stop selling new Select licenses from 1 July, 2011. Customers with existing agreements can renew them for another 36 months, as per their agreements, but the replacement Select Plus program is likely to be a better option. Microsoft launched Select Plus on 1 July 2008, and I wrote at the time that it was an improvement on the basic Select structure: Microsoft Simplifies Its Volume Licensing.

However, Microsoft's pricing team struggled to persuade its LARs to promote Select Plus over the more familiar Select agreement, and customer adoption was disappointing. So the decision to drop the older program makes sense for Microsoft, because it will force its channel partners to embrace the new model. And its no bad thing for buyers - you've one less choice to make, and there's little negative impact.

The biggest advantage of Select Plus for sourcing managers is that they no longer need to submit a three-year spending forecast - this is extremely difficult for central teams buying on behalf of autonomous business units that won't havent planned Microsoft technology adoption that far out. Instead, pricing works like an airline loyalty program, on the current and previous years' actual transactions, as the figure below from my report illustrates. My report explains some more  advantages, such as the flexibility to opt tactically for software assurance on individual purchases.

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