Lotus Knows how to listen – finally

There’s one nagging thought in the back of my head.  How would the Lotus brand and the overall marketplace be different right now if Bob Picciano or someone like him took over as the GM 4 years ago instead of Mike Rhodin?  Or even 6 years ago instead of Ambuj?  What would the Lotus brand be today?  Would it still be fighting to preserve its user base or would it be rolling through the land migrating companies to its solutions?

Over the years I’ve watched and followed Lotus — the brand, the product, the community — through the good times and through the bad; I’ve watched things changing and not always for the best.  I’ve watched the leadership change and with it came the change in the direction for the brand.  The one thing that seemed to remain constant, was the leadership’s lack of ability or want or both to pay attention to what their faithful followers were saying.

In the past year or so, once again, the wind of change has been blowing on the Lotus brand.  And this time the change seems to be good.

The Lotus brand, rocked to sleep by the comforting warmth of the IBM’s behemoth body, is waking up under the leadership of Bob Picciano.  Lotus cannot survive under the IBM’s philosophy “We’re The IBM. Why would you use anything else?!”.  It needs to be more aggressive and Bob’s team recognizes that.  And the signs of Bob’s team doing things differently are everywhere.

Lotus is very energetically working at preserving its install base.  Customers who use older versions of Lotus (and they are still companies using R5, I just met with one 2 weeks ago) are the most likely candidates to migrate to a different platform.  And can you blame them?  When you compare a 9 – 10 year old technology to a competitor’s client of today, how can you not want to move?  Often, these customers are not even aware that Lotus is now in version 8.5 and is heralded by Gartner as the client of the future.

Lotus is working with Business Partners to reach out to existing customers to educate, to upgrade, to help – to do whatever it takes to prevent them from going elsewhere.

Lotus is also recognizing the fact that lack of integration support from 3rd party vendors is driving its customers to migrate to other products (Exchange) with its Outlook client being widely integrated by vendors into their products.  With the Notes 8.5 Eclipse platform and its side-bar plugins, we’re seeing plugins being developed for commonly used applications like Twitter and LinkedIn.

And now the latest step in the change process is a brand new “Lotus Knows” marketing campaign dedicated to the Lotus brand.  Based on some communications coming out of the Lotus offices, I’ve been suspecting that something like that is in the works but didn’t dare to dream — just didn’t want to be dissapointed.

But amongst all these things, what stands out the most, at least for me, is Lotus’ leadership willingness to listen.  We, at PSC, have preached the mantra of “It’s all in the way we listen” for years.  So when a company is actively listening, I notice.

I loved it when Sean Poulley, VP in charge of LotusLive, commented on my blog in response to a post on LotusLive and got engaged in a conversation. I didn’t love it because I got the attention.  I loved it because it was great to see a VP at IBM engage in a discussion on a simple blog — something not commonly seen in the past.

The Lotus Knows IdeaJam is another step towards Lotus opening itself up and actively engaging with its users, customers, partners — the overall community.  Having several Lotus executives actively participate in the 72-hour event, responding to ideas and comments, was a great idea.  I, of course, don’t know what will happen to all the ideas that were posted.  But the fact remains — Lotus is willing to LISTEN, to have a discussion, to talk and even at times to admit its shortcomings.

Great job, Lotus! Let’s not stop there.  Let’s put some of the ideas in place, make them a reality.  And please don’t be too hasty to reshuffle things again and move Bob to his next position at IBM.

What do you think?  Is there hope or is it too late?


3 Responses

  1. I’d like to share a different perspective on this question, and it comes from some wisdom of New England, where I was raised. Specifically…

    “If it ain’ broke, don’t fixit”

    You wrote about a client being on R5. My own client only recently moved to R7 servers. My work laptop runs Windows XP. I could go on and on here, but the point is simple:

    Just because the vendor upgrades the software does not mean the client is going to install the upgrade; the old software is meeting the client’s needs Just Fine and the upgrade is going to cost time and money. “What’s in it for me?” the client cries.

    This is a fundamental problem I see with all software and all vendors. I don’t lightly dismiss their need for a revenue stream for upgrades, but their clients are not simply going to throw money at upgrades that don’t help them, and vendors should not act surprised when it doesn’t happen.

  2. David, that’s a very valid point from the perspective of costs and infrastructure. However, what ends up happening is that users who are on older versions complain very loudly that they hate that software (happens to be Notes in this case). I hear this all the time, users hate Notes and want to be on Outlook. Very often it is because users are on old versions of Notes, which don’t offer the same features and functionality.

    And then, the IT department just gets tired of hearing users complain and decides to move off Notes. Where a little education from IBM, a little marketing — anything to let the customer know of the new versions, of things available in them — could’ve gone a long way towards saving the customer. And… simply upgrading to the latest version costs a whole lot less than moving off to something different.

  3. […] participation of Lotus executive team in the social media as well. For example, Alex Kassabov wrote on his blog. But amongst all these things, what stands out the most, at least for me, is Lotus’ leadership […]

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