The graph of goodwill: when to stop listening and start asking

In any sale, you spend a lot of your time listening. You find out what your customer’s problems are, explain how your product fixes them and help him through his evaluation. But there comes a point when you need to ask for something. It might be money, or a favour: for him to talk to his boss, or to kick off an approval process.

When’s the best time to do this? It’s when his goodwill is at its peak – when he feels warm towards you and your product. When he wants to help you, in other words. But when exactly is that? It depends on your product. Here are some examples.

If you’re selling a product like Word 2007, then the time to ask for something is after the ‘hey, a shiny new toy’ phase, and before the ‘dang, why did they change that?’ phase. If you miss it, then you must wait until goodwill returns to neutral. Since the first stage might be extremely short and hard to hit, waiting as long as possible might be the least risky approach:



[Click on this, or any, image to see a larger version]

If you’re selling a product that people hate and buy because they need it and not because they want it (Norton Antivirus, say), then the goodwill curve is different. You should ask very fast, before the dip, or very late, long after it:



The goodwill curve of most web 2.0 apps mean you need to act fast, before it returns to boredom. iPhone apps are like this too (in fact, the curve peaks so fast you get to pay before the curve even starts and the goodwill has been created entirely by anticipation).


One reason that Application Lifecycle Management tools (and other shelfware) are a hard sell is because they generate very little goodwill, and it’s hard to know when that goodwill will happen. You need an aggressive sales force to shift stuff like this:


The goodwill curve of some software shows an initial kick (the shiny new tool phase), then a dip (the dang this is hard phase), followed by a prolonged rise as the user understands the benefits of the tool. Development tools and databases are like this:


Here’s the goodwill curve of some software we sell at Red Gate. People try it, and they like it. Then they don’t use it for a while, but some of the goodwill sticks. It peaks again the next few times they use it, and then slowly deteriorates into familiarity. The best time to act? At the first peak.


Finally, this doesn’t just apply to selling software. Here’s what – I hope – your goodwill graph from this blog post looks like:


I hope I’ve generated enough goodwill to ask you a favour and get you to act. If you enjoyed this post, then please follow me on Twitter (I’m @neildavidson)

3 responses to “The graph of goodwill: when to stop listening and start asking”

  1. The suggestion that your software in the long term leaves people with positive goodwill in the long term while Word 2007 leaves people neutral in the long term seems is hard to believe.

  2. Well, Neil, it is fascinating to see how you see brands in downloaded software. Lots of insights here…
    I am sure that 95% of the people you come into contact know your SQL Server Tools from word-of-mouth from other power users and are therefore very disposed to like you, just like Corporate execs see that I come from an organization branded Cambridge with links to the University and immediately feel relatively positive. But that is just brand association.
    Microsoft products are a very good example. Right now I feel very positive about Microsoft in general because of the SPARKLING performance of Exchange as a browser on my mobile phone. It really is my mainstay – far far more useful than LinkedIn or Facebook on the mobile. Similarly Vista has really changed the way I feel about their products. That is a turnaround after years of hating Microsoft because the OS they had sold me on a series of laptops and desktops turned out to require me to buy increasing amounts of Norton, download updates on a daily basis etc and just never ever performed again. I feel like Microsoft products will do what they say, right out of the box. And I no longer feel like Microsoft is the threat to the ecosystem of European software that it was when all those awful e-mail exchanges came out in the anti-trust ( and competition ( trials.
    But I really have to bow to your experience of the goodwill you manage to achieve when you get someone to download your software on the other side of the world and pay you $1000s to use it on an ongoing basis. You really have a unique business model. Lets think about all the OTHER stuff Microsoft did to get my goodwill back. First, Bill Gates put enormous amounts of the money into the Gates Scholarships in Cambridge. When Warren Beatty decided to coinvest with him on societal issues, that also really changed my perspective on Bill. So clearly the Gates Foundation is having an impact. Secondly, Microsoft Research in Cambridge has really heavy-weight people – far better international reach and investment than you see in younger outfits like Google which are mostly back on the West Coast with some window-dressing in Zurich. Thirdly, Microsoft has clearly just done some much much better engineering with both Vista generally and Exchange in particular this time around. They delayed release until they had something that worked distinctly better. All these things cost Microsoft a LOT of money. Lucky old Red Gate that didn’t have to rebuild their brand after completely trashing it yet.
    I’d also disagree with you on web 2.0 apps. I’d contrast LinkedIn, which basically WORKS because it does suggest people you might well know, compared to Facebook, which is just lousy at helping you build out a base. LinkedIn’s blog scanning tool is truly useful and hugely simplifies staying in touch with what people are writing, while Facebook Status’s seem to be descending into farce with the level of cross-posting from Twitter. LinkedIn really do seem to have the measure of corporate, fixed-line internet connected executives around the world and are delivering a good basic service of maintaining contact in a world where folks seem to shift jobs about once every 2 years. Whereas Facebook seem confused about whether they want me to be intimate (Friends ONLY – no MySpace whores here!!!) or promiscuously connecting (Fans!! doncha just LOVE to be a groupie) to compete with Twitter. So I would say that Web 2.0 is maturing fast, with a few standouts like Google (look at the amount of ourselves we are putting into search, calendar, books etc) and LinkedIn having a completely different brand – which will translate into folks like you and I being prepared to PAY for their cloud services long term.

  3. Andy Brice says:

    I was brimming with goodwill, right up to the moment you asked me to follow you on Twitter. :0P