Before I get started a comment on VAR’s. I am not sure what goes through VAR minds when they see the future. Status quo more than likely as they cling to a sales model in many cases that will eliminate them over time if they are no good. As software authoring companies switch to subscription models more and more will be sold directly to customers without the middle man. I think this may be part of the reasoning behind Autodesks move. They lay the groundwork for people to easily try for long periods of time and know before they buy. They make extended trials easy by subs. They provide an open forum where answers are to be found and you don’t have to be a VAR customer to get support. What this means in many cases is that lazy VAR’s are in serious danger of becoming obsolete unless they change their ways.
For instance I am switching my maintenance to Hagerman and Company. They have a local office in Nashville I can easily drive to and have good people there and elsewhere for support. They also sponsor local user group meetings so they not only provide tech support they provide a networking infrastructure available to local users. This is a big deal in many ways for participants and it takes a forward looking VAR to do this and not turn these into sales hustles. For $500.00 per year they will provide support for people who did not buy their Autodesk products through them. I don’t remember the exact details here I just remember one of their local reps telling me about this. Check it out of you are interested. This is key also as I expect the future will in time belong to those who will support you based upon need and not the calendar. Ultimately I expect the better VAR’s will also offer a per incident support structure. Lets face it. The idea that my old VAR for Solid Edge was worth it when I might have called him for CAD support once or twice a year is a bad proposition for me. Out of seven years of $1,500.00 per year costs (I am guessing they got half of that.) I figure they might have spent thirty hours supporting me. The rest of my money was gravy they did not earn. Yes I know office and personnel costs blah blah blah for them. I don’t care it is my money and I set the value perceived and received from spending it. Like most of us I resent HAVING to send money off for something I no longer need. So on to the rest of the story.
I was shown a manual for VAR’s to manage their “successful” sales strategy this past weekend. Paraphrasing a section of what it said it basically went like this.
“Make sure you have a first-rate sales demo prepared. No matter how many times you have done this demo (with your hand selected demo part ha ha ha) rehearse it and make sure you can do it in your sleep without stumbles or errors. The potential customer expects you to do this and will think poorly of you if you don’t. If you fail to do this your potential customer will have no confidence in your ability to support them.”
The very idea that anyone on a shop floor would go for this deception and that CAM VAR’s would think this is smart strategy is amazing to me. Right off the starting line these companies have lied to their prospects and somehow think it is the proper way to do this. Well it is if your only concern is roping in dupes and not being a, well not being a Value Added Reseller selling worthwhile software I dare say.
So this part which has been on your demo page for years is now the part your sales henchmen bring to bear against reality. Well rehearsed and with no chance for failure and no doubt on the sales dudes laptop to boot.
I went through all this garbage with CAM VAR’s a few years ago. It was even worse than this and twice I had sales guys come to my shop with a price for Siemens Cam Express but no demo, no program to load and no ability by the sales guy to do anything with CE. It blew my mind when one of them came out here expressly to show me the program. I invited him in and had made time that day for him. I sit him down and say “OK, hand me the DVD and we will get started.” Turns out he had no DVD, no laptop loaded with it and no ability to demo it anyway. The look on his face was priceless as I immediately turned off the Workstation and told him to leave and don’t come back. The other one said “Hey, you talk about keeping the money in the family so here is your chance to buy another Siemens product”! I kid you not that was his ultimate sales weapon. Price tag and no demo once again. This one got seriously hollered at and told very uncivilly to get out of my shop.
Do these people think I would buy into $10,000.00+ worth of software sight unseen? Apparently so. This happened twice with CE and yes you bet it prejudiced me against them because it IS a direct indication of how two different Siemens VAR outfits regarded me. Another Siemens VAR would let me try NX CAM for a month but had no support individual within 250 miles of me. Furthermore I had to sign an agreement prohibiting me from using the program to cut any parts I might resell later. Like I am going to sit down and make imaginary parts so I can try his stuff out. If I can’t use it on parts that I have to produce for real customers so I know exactly how it will perform in my shop on my equipment why would I even bother?
You software companies that allow this to happen expose your contempt for future and existing customers. Customers and prospects who to you are not worth the time it would take you to make mandatory a minimum useful level of competence a part of your resellers network price of admission or passing of periodic re-qualifiers to stay on board. Bet you never miss a billing cycle though.
Cash cow buy and shut up. ATM for them only the sole consideration they manifested as far as I am concerned.
The common thread here is a desire for you to not see problems before you buy. These guys know darned well that thirty days is never enough true trial time in a busy shop. If they can get you to sign up chances are good you will pass the 30 day limit and be committed to something you never would have bought into with more research. And in many cases it sucks up enough money that the victim can’t easily leave.
Dave’s Anti Bad VAR and Software Rules for CAM Purchasing
Here is what I recommend doing today. My primary source of information is other users I know and who are close by so I can verify their skill, parts cut and similarity of equipment used. For example the shop that convinced me to look seriously at HSM was a shop that is a pressure cooker deal near by. I could go in and watch and get honest feedback because these guys had to make it work to pay bills with. Online research was secondary in importance and VAR’s the very last source of information.
Online presence is interesting because right off the bat you can pretty well eliminate companies with closed forums. A forum closed to public reading is not there to protect its customers from spam. If none can post to the forum but active customers only, who cares who reads the posts? Well a company with something to hide does and as I have documented here before Geometric for example really does not want you prospective customers looking there. Any other company that does this also has something to hide and don’t ignore this huge red flag. The opposite end of the spectrum is Autodesk CAM forums which are open to all to read and to post in also after you register. Having followed their forum for a couple of years I can say that it has never gotten out of hand so therefore I can say that those who hide their forums do so for nefarious reasons. Kudos to Siemens also for opening up their forums for all to read.
So you decide you want the VAR in your shop anyway. Not all VAR’s are bad, just most of them in my personal experience. They will send out prices and slick demos and people who generally can’t think outside of their little canned demo box. Pretty well worthless in other words. This would be my list today for any VAR before they ever entertain any idea of showing up for demo day and what is expected of them on demo day.
1. You will load the program on my computer to work in my environment and not yours.
2. You will now be given simple to complicated parts to program with no preparation allowed. Refuse this and you get no further. You can fail this part to some degree if I determine the program will work in spite of your ignorance of it.
3. Anything relative to your special claimed advantages such as auto cam plan generation must be demonstrated on my part from the creation of, using for example CAMWorks for SE, a Tech Data Base with my tools and incorporating my strategies and proving these out on a couple of other similar parts with Feature Recognition. I am sure other CAM programs have similar things to prove so I am not singling out CW4SE in this instance. I am just using what is familiar. But whatever your special feature is you HAVE to do it from A to Z and prove it on my parts without rehearsals.
OK now that we have gotten this far show me how to cut specific areas in a certain direction or fashion. The local Featurecam VAR dude failed this some years back and we never went any further as a result. He did not know much about 3D tool paths and I had a reason for cutting that way.
4. Next we are going to cut parts with your post for my machine. You are also going to sign a commitment before cash changes hands that all posts needed for my operation will be provided and edited to my situation and satisfaction before I start paying for the program. I understand that complicated posts might run some $$ but that will be all spelled out with time frames for support and costs to finish these. Gibbs for instance is famous among users I know for slow walking their post promises. Geometric refused to honor a verbal promise made to me on a CW4SE turning post after I had paid for turning before I had bought a lathe. I did not get this in writing because I was stupid enough to think their words meant something.
12-14-15 update to the following paragraph.
Sometimes when you write it makes sense to you but is ambiguous to readers. I don’t mean to imply there are problems with the posts aspect of HSM. These guys are really good at support and making posts available. What I mean is this guys shop has problems because HSM and Autodesk have not built into the software capabilities he needs for turn mill and multiaxis mill. Talking with the owner today and he loves HSM for milling and considers it the best out there for strictly milled parts. Multi axis and turn mill however give them problems. This is a serious issue as more shops go this route to get additional work. They are looking at Mastercam (uggh) and Partmaker right now because of this.
I would except HSM from this and others may also have the integrity to make their free posts work just for you. HSM has proven themselves to my satisfaction in this area. My nearby friends shop has yet to get a good mill turn post from HSM. I think that is because the program is not strong in that area so his post suffers from a different problem. Namely that of lack of program capabilities. I know they have worked with him. They also have a dynamic Posts forum and you can get any answer you need there if it is possible to do. Remember my public forums comments above.
5. The guy you send out for this needs to be familiar enough with the program and common use CNC machinery to get us through any glitches that may come up.
6. If I find out beforehand your method of last resort is to bypass the shop floor and force your junk on me by selling to management dudes who don’t cut chips I will stop it if at all possible and 1 through 5 won’t matter at that time. If I can’t stop it I will make sure others online know exactly what you did and the sorry end result for my company. I will try to make darned sure you don’t get others as customers with the same deceptive practices. Today you can run but you can’t hide your crappy ethics from inquiring minds.
I find there are good VARs who do not mind showing you the right way and telling you the truth about what they sell. If it is not for you they will still sell to you but they won’t use deceptive practices to do so. They lay their cards on the table and let you decide. The majority of all VAR’s I have had to deal with though are pretty worthless. Two years after CW4SE was out the Siemens VAR resident support tech for CW4SE did not even have ST8 with CW4SE loaded and had no clue about my questions. One of the reasons I am no longer a customer of that VAR or Siemens.
7. If your VAR refuses to put you in actual touch with some of their current customers as referrals, or has to hunt for one that will give them a good referral (manifested by serious delays in providing or a refusal to provide any) the program may be good but the VAR probably is not. Beware of the program and or VAR in this case and investigate further before you choose. Users, if you are happy with your VAR and the program make a bit of time available for them with potential customers. Your primary purpose here is allegiance to users who need to know others can and do use the software and VAR in question and are satisfied. Save your fellow users from mistakes.
8. If there is not an active user community online for you to participate in it is a big sign of trouble. Market share does mean more work for those who use programs having it. Good online presence also means your chances of finding a local mentor or go to guy for after hours real world answers is much better.
9. If the software you are considering has geographical areas of protection for VAR’s and you have no choice on who you end up with this is another huge red flag. Years ago this is why Mastercam never had a chance with me besides their page page page and click click click GUI which I did not like. My choice was one VAR only from Georgia. The one recommended to me was Barefoot CNC the same distance away but no dice. So no sale either for Mastercam then or ever. I have heard too many bad stories about lousy Mastercam VAR’s you are stuck with because of where you live. Not saying the Georgia guys were bad but I am saying that I should have had a choice where MY money is spent. Check to see to if your potential VAR fails you in the future if you can switch to another. You don’t want to be stuck with people that show up to be paid once a year in a brand new Corvette and that is it.
Look VAR’s, you better be prepared to spend time with me. You want me for a customer for multiples of years right? You want me to drop a big wad of cash in your laps right? Be ready to spend the time needed to prove to me you are worth it. Prove that I am worth it by sending people who won’t waste my shop floor guys time. Prove it by not being deceptive.
The philosophy of companies fascinates me. Other than Autodesk’s upcoming wretched subs only paradigm they are the perfect example of what a potential customer would want. Nothing is hidden. Try the free version for a long time and decide if it is for you. Startups and students get a free full version for a year. How good is that for a trial period eh? The guys with the free versions also can go to the official Autodesk CAM forums and find help for a program they have not spent a dime on. As much as I hate the cloud and subscription only if I had not prepared my life raft before Autodesk goes subs only I guess I would still consider them. Writing this today I had to ask the question of myself if it were a choice between CW4SE or subscription Inventor Pro HSM I would have to hold my nose and go with HSM. I also find in talking to these Autodesk guys that a whole bunch of them have actual manufacturing experience under their belt. I think this is considered a plus before you get hired by a company whose Mr Big also happens to cut chips himself and he gets it from our viewpoint. In contrast I will never forget the day the CAMWorks for SE developers told us show stopping problems were “intended behavior”. Cubicle programmers who had never seen a chip could not figure out why we were quite unhappy when we could not readily cut chips.
Hey SANTA, for Christmas I want Autodesk to thrive by offering seats and subs and the idea of subscription only to die.