Supporting suppliers is mostly good for you
I’m generally a fan of being supportive with suppliers. It’s good for your business.
So it’s annoying when they’ve been useful for a long time, then they randomly turn useless, greedy or both.
There’s a line they cross where they must sleep with the fishes.
I reached that moment with email platform Mailchimp last month. I mentioned it in my weekly email, and I’ve never had a response like it.
A surge of messages from people who have had it with that monkey’s antics. They asked where I was going and how I made the choice. “Can you write a story on that?”
Email marketing isn’t everyone’s thing, so the details of that are down the bottom if you are bugged by Chimp price tyranny.
But it raises the broader topic of when to cull suppliers and why.
It’s not the dollar amount. It could be hundreds of thousands, it could be less than a hundred a month. Doesn’t matter, it’s the principle.
If suppliers taking advantage of you doesn’t create that irate pressure inside your brain that makes you act, maybe business is not your thing.
Red flags for days
We’re not talking one-off mistakes. We all make them. The sign of a good supplier is how they sort those problems out. And a willingness to hear your issues.
When everything’s getting worse long-term, and they’re not listening, you must bring the hammer down.
It happens for lots of reasons.
My Mailchimp experience had more red flags than the National People’s Congress of China.
Increasing bugs, like just not sending for some reason. New owners who paid heaps for the business. Penny-pinching changes in terms and conditions. A vibe that they think they have you over a barrel and you can’t change. The feeling that you’re not the sort of customer they want any more.
Side-note: it’s not a business thing, but another thing that makes me hear alarm bells is when I hear the word “plan” from a health professional. As in “I’m putting together a dental care plan for you”.
It doesn’t always translate to “I have a plan to extract enough ongoing revenue from you to renovate my holiday house”, but it often feels that way.
Let’s have a look at some of those red flags.
1. New owners who’ve paid a lot
Mailchimp had a friendly, nice-monkey vibe since it was founded in 2001. No VC equity, the two founders bootstrapped it all the way. Accounting software outfit Intuit paid US$12 billion for them in 2021. Big number. Someone has to pay for it.
You know how this goes: it’s you.
2. Nickel and diming
And so the reining in of previous generosity begins. The free version of Mailchimp was enough for new businesses and bloggers to get their list started for a while. Now it’s been cut back to a half-teaspoon of usability. For paid accounts, more restrictions push you up into higher price brackets. Then price increases across the board.
If your supplier has been acquired, keep an eye on the fine print.
Last time I worked at a place that got bought out, the incoming CFO added an “Admin Fee” onto every invoice. Because he felt clients had no real choice and wouldn’t go elsewhere. Like the “fuck you” purchase surcharges of Ticketek and Ticketmaster.
When the final step of the customer experience was getting charged for the privilege of getting an invoice, it kicked off a groundswell of annoyed customers looking for alternate suppliers. It cost more than it raised.
3. There for the sale, not for the support
You want to buy something, they’re all over you like a large, licky dog. Place an order, then need delivery schedules or service, and their rep has gone into witness protection.
Our business rarely buys the cheapest deal on anything, because lack of support later on is a world of expensive pain. Suppliers that don’t deliver are first on the block.
4. No escape from subscriber prison
When some absolute piece of shit UX genius at supplier head office has deliberately engineered subscription products to be as hard to escape as possible.
It took me years to get my mum off McAfee Antivirus, potent malware that came installed in her laptop. McAfee is the very thing it’s meant to defend against: international evildoers siphoning unauthorised cash from your credit card forever. I cancelled and they kept charging. You can’t contact them. After a battle that could stretch to an entire blog story, she had to cancel her credit card and get a new one.
Tip: before you subscribe to anything, read reviews on what it’s like to cancel. So you don’t discover the only way to cancel is to phone the United States during east coast business hours only. Had a few of those.
5. You are not their preferred customer any more
I get that if you’re a business where email is your main revenue generator, it’s worth the larger investment.
I feel that my lil’ blog is not the sort of business Mailchimp wants any more. I sense they’re just going to jack up pricing to clear out the hobbyists, creatives and corner stores.
In our own business, you get that feeling when suppliers grow big, and your value to them shrinks.
It’s not a sin, it’s part of the natural Darwinian order of the business world. Suppliers are entitled to seek out bigger, higher-yield customers as they grow.
If you’re the customer, you’re entitled to seek out other suppliers who value your work.
Making that change is your duty. It aerates the soil of the excellent capitalist system that sustains you. There’ll be someone out there thrilled to work with you.
I don’t really need to say this, but if you’re a supplier and you’re losing customers, maybe there are some clues here.
Time to be less chimp.
Where did I go?
I went to Vision 6. It’s an Australian product. My email needs are as simple as it gets, if you use complex features then do your research. Why them?
A Vision 6 person is a blog reader from way back. After I mentioned Chimp bugs a while back, he suggested I try their product. I did and it seemed perfectly good.
The list transfer was no problem. Open rates are actually a shade higher. It’s easy to set up mailouts. The price is less than half Chimp. They have helpful, local support.
(Btw this is not an affiliate deal or anything, I’m just reporting on business life.)
It’s an interesting window into the buying process. Sometimes you don’t need a deep, objective analysis of every performance and product feature. It’s enough to have someone step in at your time of need who answers the two main purchase questions.
- Does it work?
- Do they seem trustworthy?
And that’s enough.
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