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An Amazing Customer Service Request

What do you get when you buy a product? You get the product yes, but what else do you get? Customer service, probably. What about information on how to make the product? Can you resell it? Can you repackage it as your own and resell it (for example instead of Microsoft Windows can you resell it as Steph’s Windows)? Do you get the schematics on how to make it yourself? Not likely, but not everyone thinks so!

I’ve never commented on any customer requests we’ve ever gotten over the past three years since LandlordMax has been around, but this week we received such an audacious request that I’m going to make a rule to the exception. I will however leave out the person and company’s name, as well I will paraphrase the emails going back and forth. I will acknowledge that this isn’t the first time we’ve received a unreasonable requests, however what’s interesting about this one is that it is the most audacious request we’ve ever received and it also had follow-up emails.

Without further ado the first email we received contained two questions. The first was a general pre-sales question such as will the software do this or that for a special situation. The second question is the big one. It went along the lines of:

I want to repackage LandlordMax so that I can put my company logo on it and remove your company’s logo. Is this possible? Also, can I have access to your complete source code?

Wow! We’ve received some requests in the past of people trying to resell it on their own, which by the way does require permission from whichever company makes the product (often this is done with distributors or directly with the company through some sort of arrangement). But not with this request, they wanted to brand the product as their own and have full access to the source code, the full schematics of LandlordMax! This is basically like asking Microsoft for the source code of Windows and repacking it as say Steph’s Windows. Microsoft would never do that in a million years. This is the same as Dan Brown selling a copy of his book The Da Vinci Code and with that you have his permission to repackage it under a different title by another author (for example “Steph’s Da Vinci Code” written by Stephane Grenier). I don’t think so! When you buy a can of Coca-Cola, do you get access to the Coca-Cola formula to make your own and repackage it as Steph’s Coca-cola? I don’t think so! So why are they asking? Maybe they just don’t know any better, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt as we normally do (honestly many people don’t realize it until you explain it).

So I personally proceeded to respond to this request, more out of curiousity than anything else, mentionning that no they aren’t allowed, as well doing so without special permission is actually illegal (copyright). Surpringly they responded to this expressing pushing their request further. Here’s the paraphrase of what I received:

I’m also thinking about reselling LandlordMax as I have found the trial version to be very good. However, I would only feel comfortable selling it if I had anonymity where clients would think that this product has been developed by my own company. I am happy to pay a fee for this or work on some commission/affiliate scheme with you.

Wow! So what they’re basically saying is that if you buy a can of Coca-Cola, you only feel right reselling it if you have complete control over the product, access to it’s full research and development that took years to build, it’s secret formula, and that you can repackage it as your own Steph’s Coca-Cola. Not only that, you want completely anonymity selling it however you want, at any price you want, etc. Complete and full control? Would any company oblige to this? I highly doubt it. If you don’t believe, make this request to Coca-Cola.

Luckily for the extra sentence at the end, where they mention they were happy to pay a fee for this. What kind of fee? So I decided to push it for my own interest to see what their expections were for the fee, because at this point I knew this wasn’t going any further. To go back a second, my initial intention in my first reply was to try to steer them away from their repackaging concept and have them become an affiliate through our LandlordMax Affiliate Program. This is a great little program that benefits everyone, they get a commission from any direct sales from them and it’s automated by a third party service called ShareASale.com. It’s worked great for us and we have many affiliates this way.

However I could tell by their last email (remember I’m just paraphrasing above, and I did omit some of the content) that they weren’t interested in the affiliate program. So I did hinted that they could get full access to the source, etc., but that it would be virtually the same as buying the company and it would cost them a substantial amount. Needless to say this is the last I heard from them.

At the end of the day, I don’t mind that they didn’t become a LandlordMax customer. I suspect that the cost of dealing with them would have far outweighed the revenue they would have generated. I’m just amazed at the audacity that they had, what they expected to get when purchasing LandlordMax. This is the biggest most unreasonable request we’ve ever had which is why I thought it would be an interesting read.

And please don’t think that I don’t believe in partnerships, I do. As an example, we’re actually in the process of establish a strong partnership with a company in the UK that will sell LandlordMax along with their services and offer support above and beyond what we can offer above our own. This company was very reasonable, they understood business, and came to us with an opportunity that made sense for both of us, it was a win-win situation. If a company approaches us with an opportunity that makes sense, we have open ears.

Anyways, I didn’t want to go on such a rant (my first on FollowSteph.com because I don’t really believe in them) but I thought it would make for an interesting read!



 
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Comments:

  •     Peter
    · July 23rd, 2006  · 2:40 pm  · Permalink

    Actually, my company has done several deals like this. We’ve both OEMed software and rebranded it, and we’ve had people do the same to our software. As long as the price is right, it’s not necessarily a bad deal, or as outrageous as it sounds.

  •     Steph
    · July 23rd, 2006  · 3:14 pm  · Permalink

    Hi Peter,

    I completely agree with you.

    The key is that your company OEMed it. So you had an agreement with the other company to rebrand it for which they paid for the rights. What if the other company bought just one retail copy, could they automatically rebrand it as a different product (with no agreement or additional charge)? I doubt it.

    What they were asking me is that if they bought just one retail copy of my company’s product, then automatically had the right to completely rebrand it any way they wanted. No agreements. No deals. They could just do whatever they wanted!

    Also, you mentioned “as long as the price is right”. For them the price was one retail copy. We sell LandlordMax for $147 (downloadable only, $15 more if you also want it shipped by mail), so that would be the price for this deal! I probably omitted too much of the emails, but that’s what they were strongly suggesting.

    And don’t forget that on top of that they wanted all the source code!

  •     Ryan
    · July 24th, 2006  · 12:00 pm  · Permalink

    Why didn’t you try to persuade him/her to join your sales force?

  •     Steph
    · July 24th, 2006  · 2:27 pm  · Permalink

    Hi Ryan,

    Would you try to persuade someone to work for you who thought they were entitled to everything your company produced over several years (source code, branding etc.) for $147? Possibly a little more but not significantly more.

  •     Jeremy Bowers
    · July 24th, 2006  · 5:30 pm  · Permalink

    I’m willing to believe your intepretation of his request is correct, since you say you condensed it. However, reading just the quoted words makes it just look like the guy is asking to be a reseller; the quotes don’t say or even hint at the idea that he thinks he would get the right to be a reseller by buying one copy of the product. If these were full quotes I’d say you’re interpretation was off.

  •     Steph
    · July 24th, 2006  · 7:59 pm  · Permalink

    Hi Jeremy,

    I was also thinking they were asking to be a reseller or an affiliate and they just didn’t word it right, that happens very often. That’s why “my initial intention in my first reply was to try to steer them away from their repackaging concept and have them become an affiliate through our LandlordMax Affiliate Program”.

    Like you said, I condensed it, and by the looks of it I condensed it too much (I also didn’t post my replies). Each reply was about a page long about the different options, including information on how our affiliate program works, etc. I also explained the differences between affiliates, reselling, repackaging, etc., hinting strongly to go with the affiliate option as illustrated in this direct quote:

    “The easiest is to resell LandlordMax as an affiliate, where you get a % of each sales. This is by far the most common method.”

    As well, here is another exert from one of my responses:

    “Please note that the normal method of reselling products is through the first and second options. Generally when you purchase a software, for example, Microsoft Windows, Intuit Quicken, Norton Antivirus, you can’t just go ahead and change the logo and resell it as your product. Rather you purchase it from a distributer and resell the product in its original form with a markup. You do not repackage it as your own and sell it (for example as Bob’s Windows, Bob’s Quicken, or Bob’s Antivirus).

    This isn’t limited to software. You can’t repackage a movie under your name and resell it, nor a book, a cell phone, a tv, etc. with prior licensing rights from the company. You can however purchase agreements, which is how generic products are generally resold for example, to do this.”

  •     Tom
    · July 29th, 2006  · 1:16 pm  · Permalink

    Here’s a real life example of such chutpah…take a look at how this site Wirefan.com just copied BlinkList.com

    BlinkList had been established for over a year and had won several awards. The dude behind Wirefan copied Blinklist exactly…including their page copy and total look and feel.

    How blatant!

  •     John
    · July 30th, 2006  · 4:40 pm  · Permalink

    It is not uncommon for enterprise customers to ask for a copy of the codebase, or, if they have a clue, to ask that it be put in escrow in case the vendor goes under.

    Indeed, I have heard a case of a customer who asked that the SERVICE effectively be put in “escrow”: That the service would purchase insurance to keep the service going at a particular hosting service should the company providing the service die.

  •     Steph
    · July 30th, 2006  · 4:46 pm  · Permalink

    Hi John,

    I completely agree with you, however remember that this is a $147 product, not a multi-thousand to million dollar enterprise application. It’s a standalone desktop application.

    And not only that, but the customer strongly insisted on reselling it with their own branding (ie as their own) for that low retail price!

  •     Steph
    · July 30th, 2006  · 4:59 pm  · Permalink

    Since I’ve posted this entry, I’ve seen many comments (some outside of here such as at Reddit for example) that I might have over-reacted. Possibly, but I don’t think so.

    We’ve had these types of requests before, and often it was indeed from people who didn’t know about affiliates, reselling, etc. That’s normal, it happens quite frequent. And I think this is what these people are commenting about.

    What caught my attention about this particular exchange is that it involved repeated emails each of which were explained in detail the differences. Although I showed some exerts, I didn’t show my replies, which as I just mentioned explained the differences in details (each email I sent was about a page long). Even through all these emails this person continued to insist that they should be allowed to rebrand, etc. for the retail price.

    Now normally, after an email or two, most people understand the differences. As a matter of fact, I’d say 90+% end up as affiliates of some sort or other. But this person didn’t, they kept pushing for the same thing. That’s what caught my attention, that’s where the audacity came from.

    It’s like I’d send an email to Coca-cola asking for the secret formula and be able to rebrand it as Steph’s Coca-cola. I’m sure it happens all the time. But after an exchange or two, I should understand that it’s not possible, that I can resell it, etc. But this person kept on insisting that they were only “comfortable” if they had access to the secret formula and could rebrand it as Steph’s Coca-cola for the normal retail price.

    I’ve also seen comments where it’s not comparable to Coca-cola. Why not? No matter what the size of your company, the same rules apply.

    In any case, it looks like this article has generate a great deal of controversy around this initial request. From comments such as “Just…wow.” to other saying that I’m overreacting. All I can say is that after seeing the online reactions I suspect that these types of requests happen much more than I initially realized…

  •     Shane
    · July 31st, 2006  · 4:15 am  · Permalink

    It is a surprising request to make in this context – that of a closed source product. But in an open source context, these requests are routine and even encouraged. So, I wouldn’t say that this request is “amazing”.

  •     Stefano
    · August 1st, 2006  · 8:14 am  · Permalink

    Aren’t these products called “white label” ?

  •     Sunil Tanna
    · August 8th, 2006  · 10:45 pm  · Permalink

    I think the Coca Cola analogy is broken: because Coca Cola’s secret formula sells many billions of $ worth of stuff, and has a massive worldwide reputation (in fact, one might argue that reputation and name rather than the formula is what mainly sells Coke).

    Anyway the point is, your secret formula might be for sale. If he had offered you $100,000,000 for your source code, and rights to your product, would you have sold it? What about $10,000,000? What about $1,000,000, etc.?

    I don’t know what your revenue and project future revenue you is, but it’s not impossible to envisage that for a niche product it might be possible to come up with a sale that the owner would accept. Some niche products, even though technically good, are so badly marketed, that the owner may be prepared to give up their rights for a comparatively small sum. Now this person approaching you, doesn’t know your revenue, or how well you are doing, or what $ figure you might accept, so it doesn’t hurt for him to ask.

    …Or perhaps he is just a twit 🙂

  •     Steph
    · August 8th, 2006  · 11:07 pm  · Permalink

    Hi Sunil,

    I agree with you that Coca Cola might be a more difficult analogy because you’re right, a lot of the value is in the brand name. So let’s look at a brand new pharmaceutical company. They spend years developing a new drug that gets FDA approval, should a generic knock-off have the right to the full formula for the price of one pill? No.

    Now, you’re absolutely right that everything has a price. And yes, had they offered a reasonable price there are chances I would have been interested. However, remember that they offered me the retail price! In the analogy, they wanted everything for the price of one pill! Not $1,000,000, not even $1,000, but for the it’s retail price. Just imagine if you could go to the local grocery store and with each item I purchase I have full access to how every product is made, from top to bottom. For retail price! That’s what they were asking for.

    Now had they made even an unreasonable offer, one that was above retail, even $1,000 (which I obviously wouldn’t have taken), this article would never have been written. The idea is that they thought that because they bought one copy, they had full and completely access to everything and anything!

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