Customers often ask me how to get Stratus to add a feature to an existing product, or how to get Stratus interested in offering an additional product or service. Sometimes they just want to know how we gauge the level of interest in a new idea as we decide whether or not to offer it as a product or service. HHere are my thoughts on how you can more effectively lobby Stratus, or any other vendor, for the features and products that you want and need. This posting is an updated version of an article that I wrote in December, 1994; the same techniques still apply.

I assume that you are asking us to provide a product or service because you truly need it, not because you have simply heard of it, read about it in a trade magazine, or some such. There are a lot of “solutions looking for problems” out there; as a small company and a niche player, we try to stick to products that our customers need and will use. We listen to current and prospective customers, watch the trends and standards, and make our decisions.

Please talk about the problem you face, not about the solution you have in mind. We may not offer the solution that you ask for, but we can often solve the problem a different way. We’re supposed to ask why you want something, but we sometimes forget. I have to constantly remind myself to probe for the real problem. I get easily confused when you use words or concepts or acronyms that I don’t understand; if we stay focused on the problem, I have a much better chance of understanding your issues.

In my experience, you can influence Stratus in the following ways. I suspect that many of these ideas apply to companies other than just Stratus. I’ve tried to list these ideas in descending order of effectiveness. I’ve seen all of them work, and all of them fail, in the 29 years I’ve been with Stratus.

1. If you are not a current customer but are considering becoming a customer, then the proper time to state your needs, wants, and desires is during the negotiation for the equipment and services that we offer. We’re going to try to find ways to satisfy you with what we have available now; we’ll try to work with you to figure out how we can solve your problems with as few changes to our products as possible. This is to both of our advantages; we get a faster sale and you get quicker delivery using off-the-shelf products. If you truly need some piece of technology we don’t have (and this is clearly your decision to make, not ours), then the lever of the possible sale is a strong tool in your hands to convince us to add whatever feature or product you need.

If you know that you need some new technology that we don’t offer, try to start this process as far in advance as possible.  Good engineering takes time, and the more lead time that we have, the better a job we can do for you.

As you might expect, the amount of business at stake, the difficulty of improving the technology, the lead time, and your level of patience, are all factors that influence whether or not we can craft a mutually-agreeable plan.

2. If you are already a current customer and are considering purchasing additional products, then the process outlined in step #1 also applies.

3. If you are a current customer and are not purchasing additional equipment, you still have several choices.

If you can get your issue classified as a defect, availability issue, or performance issue, then you stand a good chance of getting it corrected. We accept “bug reports” in all 3 of these areas.

Work with your Stratus account team to see what they can do for you. Sometimes other Stratus customers have encountered similar issues and your account team can work through our internal channels to discover existing solutions. Your Stratus account team can work with you to ensure that our company understands the importance of your request to your business.

Ask your account team to put you in touch with the product manager who is responsible for the area in question. Talk to him or her; they are the domain experts and are the first person that you need to convince.  Once they are convinced, they will help convince the rest of us.

Come visit us at our headquarters and make your best case. We’re human; a personal touch is often more effective than a spreadsheet full of calculations. When you visit us, we can gather all the relevant decision-makers into the room so that we can have an informed and productive discussion. If we visit you, we can only send a few people.

Ask us why we haven’t done this project you think is so obvious. I know we’re supposed to be all-knowing and far-sighted, but you may just have to educate us. I get my best ideas from my customers, and it constantly surprises them that I didn’t think of it first. But I don’t know your business the way you do.

Write a letter to a senior executive. Be brief and to the point. Tell us what you want and why. You’d be surprised how many people get to read (and help answer) the letters sent to the boss. If you can convince the boss, your job is done.

If someone at your company has established a “personal relationship” with someone at Stratus, use it! (I don’t mean you have to marry someone who works here; just that if someone in your management chain knows someone in our management chain, have that person do the lobbying to his/her friend here).

4. Attend the seminars and User Group meetings that we sponsor. Many Stratus senior executives attend these meetings.
This is a good opportunity to do some personal lobbying.

5. Hire our Solution Services team to do the work for you. We have a small team of highly-experienced consultants who can be hired to craft custom solutions for our customers. We have done availability studies for customers wanting to minimize downtime. We have ported applications to newer platforms or newer releases. We have created custom software to perform specific tasks. We have optimized existing applications to wring the most performance from the production systems. We have ported and tested open-source products. We have provided operations personnel to cover vacations or medical leaves. We have helped to design next-generation applications.  Sometimes all we do is to free up your resources to work on other problems that you face; that’s fine, too.

6. Try to think of a creative solution. Maybe we’ve all been looking at this problem from the wrong direction. Maybe if we take a step back we can find a way to solve it that is cheaper, faster, and easier. Maybe there is a way to break the solution into phases. Sometimes we say “no” because of the size of the effort, not because we don’t want to do it.

7. Don’t give up. Wait a while and ask again. Conditions change, people change, the industry changes. What was impossible a year ago may be possible today. There are many people at Stratus; some of them may agree with you and be trying to convince the company you are right. Try to find them.

Whether you are purchasing our latest offerings or simply trying to get the most out of the equipment you already have, you are important to us. The relationship of a company to its customers is more than just a simple producer/consumer model. We each have a lot invested in the relationship. Our common ground is our product and service offerings. We are interested in how you use our products and how you are planning to grow and expand your usage. When we can agree on how to improve our products both of us win.