What do you do when your customers revolt, publicly?

Jul 27, 2020 | Hot Topics

If you’re outside the world of AEC (or lucky enough to be on vacation) you might have missed it: Seventeen of Autodesk’s most influential AEC customers wrote an open letter to CEO Andrew Anagnost, criticizing the company for continually raising prices on what they see as a diminishing product, Revit.

You can read the letter and Martyn Day’s analysis of this situation here, and Ralph Grabowski’s, here. Autodesk hasn’t issued a reply as of this writing but I’ll update if/when the company says something.

Revit is likely the #1 BIM (building information modeling) product in the world, by number of users, and the customers basically accuse Autodesk of exploiting that position. They complain that Autodesk has repeatedly said it would invest in Revit, changing the way BIM software users work — much as it has done with Inventor and Fusion 360. At the same time, the letter says, Autodesk has increased the price of Revit by up to 70% over the last five years and used “aggressive sales tactics in enterprise licensing” on “5 different licensing models in 5 years”.

Most crushing is this: the 17 customers who signed the letter said that Autodesk shows a “lack of understanding of the business dynamics faced by [its] customers”. (Eight other customers didn’t sign, fearing retaliation from Autodesk — in itself a horrible state of affairs but too individual to really comment upon.)

Who are these unhappy customers? You can see specifics by following the links above, but in general, the letter identifies the signatories as representing “a revenue stream for Autodesk of over $22m over the last 5 years [with] thousands of users”. Not Autodesk’s biggest but perhaps some of its most influential customers, all architects. Architects often speak for owners and start the process of bringing a building concept to reality–and they may recommend technology choices that are then carried through the project. Autodesk absolutely has larger single AEC customers that all of these added together, but these firms punch above their weight when it comes to influence in the wider AEC world.

So, if you’re Autodesk, what do you do?

I would imagine one of the first things is to call the account managers to task–how did these customers get to this point? Many are high-profile accounts, with special sales teams whose job consists, in part, of taking the pulse of the account and making sure things like this don’t happen. Part of the mission now is to understand how we got here and take action to keep it from spreading to other parts of the business.

Next, I’d hold a conference call with all of the signatories (and the other 8, if they wanted to participate) to understand the complaints. Just listen. Ask for details on each technical concern, say a polite thank you, and stop the call. Promise a reply in 2 weeks (or whatever is reasonable) and then deliver a detailed response to each item. Not everything on a wish list can be addressed but these customers are clearly saying that communications have been poor at best and disingenuous at worst. A roadmap would begin to rebuild confidence once it is delivered against — but get that roadmap out there.

Finally. the business practices. Autodesk has tweaked its packaging SO often and always with the claim of adding more value as they hike prices. These customers clearly don’t see that value. (And telling Wall Street so often and with so much gusto that Autodesk is increasing “Average Revenue Per User” does nothing to let customers feel anything other than gouged. Language matters!) So, what can Autodesk do? Initiate calls with the business leaders/decision-makers at these accounts and ask them to explain what they mean when they say, Autodesk doesn’t understand their business dynamics. Is this purely about money? Is it terms? Flexibility? Continued agida over the move to subs and the end of maintenance for perpetuals? If you ask these customers, I’d bet they’d have a better answer than simply “charge less”.

Maybe there’s room to be a bit more customer-friendly, without giving up the store.

And if you’re one of these customers, what do you do now? That’s tough. There are other BIM products on the market –and excellent ones, too, to consider– but it’s near-impossible to swap out key technology mid-project and very difficult to do it between projects. Mid- means deliverables pressure; between means no revenue to offset product, training, and process redesign costs. I’m sure they’d rather have Autodesk address their concerns than force a switch.

In the meantime, I’m sure Autodesk’s BIM competitors are calling, with sweet offers and detailed roadmaps — backwards, to prove reliability as well as forwards to show future investment.

Autodesk, Bentley, Graphisoft, Nemetschek, Vectorworks created the market for BIM tools. The companies that signed the letter to Autodesk built businesses around BIM and feel that their primary vendor has let them down. Every participant in the AEC chain, from architect to contractor to operator, needs technology to be better, more integrated, more intelligent and more connected in order to meet the challenges AEC finds itself facing. If they believe Revit is holding them back, they’ll have no choice but to leave it behind.

That said, I think Autodesk can recover. Have you ever tried to get 20 people to agree on a letter? No? It’s next to impossible. The fact that this came about at all tells us how serious this is, and I hope Autodesk acts quickly and honestly to address the letter writers’ concerns.