Savvy Vendors Know Every Customer Counts

Vendors' cavalier attitude toward leaving out potential customers may increase competitors' sales.

I wonder if i could cut my workload if i stopped writing for a small percentage of my readers. Maybe I could leave work early! Nah. I cant afford to lose a single reader, just like most businesses cant afford to lose a single customer.

Imagine if Ford decided to stop sales of its cars in New England because only 10 percent of sales came from there or if Sony stopped selling electronics in Chicago for a similar reason. Can you see these companies just casually ditching customers?

Neither can I.

In fact, in most areas of business, companies fight tooth and nail to get and keep every customer they can. But technology companies often seem to dismiss large numbers of customers with almost no consideration.

An example of this kind of business practice came to light recently during a meeting I had with Corel representatives about the new CorelDraw 12 graphics suite.

One of them said almost in passing that the new version will support only Windows, using the justification that "96 percent of our customers use the Windows version."

Is Corel doing so well that it can just toss aside its Mac OS customers? Does Corel expect these Mac OS users to switch to Windows—or will it send each of them a discount coupon for Adobes or Macromedias Mac OS-based graphics suites?

Now, Im not saying that every software vendor should have a Mac OS version of its product. For companies that have traditionally been Windows-only shops, that would involve upfront costs without an existing user base to justify them.

Corel, on the other hand, competes in the graphics arena, where Mac OS versions can still be very profitable. And Corel has always had a Mac OS version of its graphics suite, including its previous version, CorelDraw 11 for Mac OS X. Mac OS users will now have to stay with that version or move to competing products.

Anyway you cut it, this means a 4 percent drop in sales, which all by itself can equal a bad year. Corel may have saved some money on development and distribution, but will these savings make up for lost sales and customers who will likely never come back?

Corel isnt alone in this kind of thinking. Also guilty are the many Web sites that either work best—or only—with Microsofts Internet Explorer browser.

This is laziness, pure and simple. There is no feature developed for IE that cannot also be developed using open standards. And for Web site developers and operators, open standards provide a whole host of integration benefits beyond customer inclusion—and at no additional cost.

What I inevitably hear in response or in defense is something like, "Well, 90 percent of people use Internet Explorer, so its no big deal."

I guess that depends on how you define "big deal."

Lets say your Web site gets a million visitors. By supporting only IE, youre knowingly blocking 100,000 potential customers from your site. Why doesnt that sound like good business to me?

Yes, companies do decide to discontinue lines or change business models. But when it comes to software, where regular upgrades are the main profit driver, a decision that effectively reduces your user base should not be made on percentages.

And once a user is forced out of a product, he or she probably wont be coming back to you as a vendor. Even if the Mac OS users of CorelDraw do decide to move to Windows (and you know how doubtful that is), theyll probably choose a Corel competitor.

I cant believe I even have to say this, but businesses should be careful about decisions that can cost them customers and sales.

Also, customers should hold vendors feet to the fire on multiplatform support. In addition, when a vendor or Web site is using closed technologies, let them know that these practices are costing them your business while increasing their competitors sales.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at