All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.
--Shakespeare, As You Like It (II, vii, 139-143)
On this world's stage, life does imitate art, and often business does too. In my (ahem) several decades in business, I've noticed that any given customer is akin to a certain film genre.
Now stay with me on this. Think for a minute about your own customers, and you'll see I'm right. Want more proof? Keep reading.
Generally speaking, customers fall into one of six categories by genre:
First there are the Action & Adventure customers. These customers pose many challenges. Sometimes they're explosive; sometimes they're surprising. It's like you are in the latest Die Hard sequel, The Transporter (the first one; not the second one), a Bond movie, or a Schwarzenegger movie. But the good news is that things always end happily -- the main character (the customer) never dies off and goes to the competition.
Second there are the Comedy customers. Just like the main characters in a Woody Allen film or a Mike Myers movie, these customers are basically happy. They enjoy your products or services, and you have fun with them. These customers do not always know the deepest details on how your products or services provide solutions to their business problems, but they renew their license or subscription with you annually because they recognize that you provide a better, faster, and cheaper product or service. There's a little drama in the relationship, but there are lots of laughs and the relationship is very good.
Third, there are your Documentary customers. These customers are using your products or services because they have no choice. Like in Al Gore's movie, the need to work with your company is An Inconvenient Truth for them. Many of these customers have outside services companies (such as law firms, accounting firms, etc.) driving demand for your products. Thus it's hardly surprising that their relationship with you is almost always as serious as global warming. Deep down, there might be some joy in this customer's experience with your company, but the sense of mandate is behind all their dealings with you, lurking like Marley's ghost.
Fourth, there are your Drama customers. Hold on to your popcorn when you deal with these folks. They've had negative experiences with other companies and naturally assume you're going to be the same. They may even admit “We’ve been screwed before.” Often their purchasing department is behind the drama, and politics engulfs all purchasing decisions. These movies last longer than comedies because there are more people to convince. There are also occasional surprises, and the user experience is objective and complete.
Fifth, there are your Horror customers. These customers are not prepared for your product or service, and they have problems with it no matter how much effort you put in to make them satisfied. Then bad stuff happens, like when the giant amoeba-like alien attacks the town in The Blog, or that damn tape in The Ring leads to all kinds of blood and gore, or Freddy vs. Jason, or Lassie. Politics surround the initial purchase, and there’s more politics after the deployment. Then your partners get involved and somehow mess things up more. There are all kinds of surprises – the most common being that these customers don't use the technology they've purchased. This movie ends like Friday the 13th or Alien, where no one gets out alive. I often think of HP’s customers in this movie.
Sixth, and finally, there are your Musicals customers. This type of customer is driven by one evangelistic character, like Robert Preston in The Music Man. (Remember “76 Trombones”?) The evangelist loves your products, and he or she gets you their company's business. Then there is a cast of characters who follow this main character; they, in turn, have positive experiences with your company, products, or services. There are good feelings about you throughout the company on many different levels, your products thrive, and there is excellent word-of-mouth. There is something special about this genre: It does not come along many times in business. It’s special. The company knows it, and so do the customers. Often there is a cult around your company, like there is around the Rocky Horror Picture Show. For some reason, I always think of Apple’s customers being in a musical.
Okay, I know what you're thinking: What sort of customers does Black Duck have? It turns out that Black Duck’s customers, generally speaking, start out in a Documentary that turns into a Musical Comedy type of movie. They are required to use Black Duck because of license obligations and other IP accounting requirements. But soon there’s the fun of discovery, improving processes, and transforming the company. Eventually users are trumpeting – or is it tromboning? -- the virtues of Black Duck.
Really, that’s usually how it goes. (I’m not Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar.) Have we experienced some Action & Adventure and Horror customers? Yes, but I hasten to add that it’s usually our competitors' customers who end up in those movies. We end up rescuing them, and I'm happy to say that they live happily ever after.