This product end-of-life recipe has been hiding on my hard drive for dog’s years, but never got published. It’s the natural companion to my Customer-Side EOL post.
When it’s time to retire (aka sunset aka end-of-life aka put a fork in) a commercial product or service, here’s an approach:
1. Get a list of all of that product’s users, if we know them.
Typically, this takes some database exports, merges, and favored called in from Sales Ops to identify:
- Current customers with support contracts
- Current customers without support contracts
- Assorted folks who may be using current or old versions for free
Review the list for highly political customers who may have enough clout to reverse the entire EOL decision. Try to raise major customer issues before publicly announcing EOL plans.
2. Pick an end-of-support date and an announcement date.
For enterprise products, end-of-support is typically 12 months from the announcement date. (Read your license agreement.) If some customers are on multi-year support contracts, it’s the latest date for any customer. Pick an announcement date that gives you enough time to be well prepared, and review/confer with internal stakeholders.
3. Think HARD about technical migration choices.
Customers will demand replacements, alternate solutions or upgrades. This is very reasonable – they’ve paid money for what we’re canceling – so our answers also have to be reasonable. If we have a replacement product, we should be willing to discount it (or give it away) to move customers off the old stuff. Design an upgrade price that’s an inducement, not a punishment.
As a second choice, we should be willing to give out names/phone numbers of third parties with similar products. Our goal is to maintain customer relationships, not just save bits of engineering.
Standing hands-in-pocket with no viable replacement plan will be uncomfortable. And should be.
4. Design reasonable answers to the questions that customers will ask.
Consider this from the customer’s point of view. Write down answers to each of the following, then reread your answers for fairness and reasonability (i.e. if the customer repeated my answer back to the CEO, would I expect to be chewed out?)
- Can I use the product after the end-of-support date?
- [For installed software/hardware] On the end-of-support date, we will no longer take support calls or issue patches. We recommend that you de-install the software/hardware by that date.
- [For SaaS] This service runs on our servers in the cloud. We will be turning off the service on that date, and it will no longer be available to you. Be sure to export/download any data before then.
- [If special IP rules apply] Your license agreement obligates you to de-install and delete the software at the end of the support period.
- What is my migration path or replacement strategy?
- [If we have a replacement product] We invite all customers to transition to Product X. We are offering special pricing, which reduces the cost of this migration by XX%. We have a migration/replacement document at this URL.
- [If there are third party substitutes] While we will no longer provide this service, you may want to consider similar products from A and B and C.
- [If we have no solution for customers] Unfortunately, the market for this solution is extremely small, and we have not found any replacement products. D and E exited this market during the last two years.
- What if I need more time to transition? My next production upgrade isn’t schedule for more than a year?
- Please work with us on ideas for making a smooth transition before our end-of-support date.
- Will you fix bugs or issue patches before the end-of-support date?
- [Probably. Check your license agreement and internal policies.] We will continue to fix urgent/P1 issues, and may release a patch before the end-of-support date. At this time, there is no patch planned.
- Can I buy additional units of the product now, before the end-of-support date?
- [normally] As we move toward end-of-support, we will not be accepting general orders for the product. If you have a special need for additional units, please contact the product manager directly.
- [if this is a consumable/subscription sale] Customers can continue to use the service, spend accumulated credits, and buy additional capacity. Since the service will be shut down on a specific date, you should plan to use all of your credits by that date. Subscriptions will automatically stop.
- Will new customers be allowed to buy before the end-of-support date?
- No. Effective immediately, we will not be selling this product to any new customers.
- [Sales usually has one or two in the pipeline. You should honor as few of these as possible, since they push back your last support obligation and create more headaches that led to this EOL decision.]
- My support contract is up for renewal in a few months, before the end-of-support date.
- If you need, we can work with you individually on a short-term renewal that ends on/before the end-of-support date.
- What if I’ve built this product into my infrastructure, or can’t replace it?
- [Plan out some options] Professional services engagement (T&M), turn over source code to customers…
5. Write a humble, thoughtful customer letter.
Explain that every company must retire some products in order to invest in new products. Explain that you are giving all customers plenty of notice. Include the above Q&A. Sign your own name. Include your own email. (Otherwise, escalations go right to the CEO.)
6. Brief your Sales team.
Give lots of notice. Remind them that you will take the product off the price list on the announcement date, and accept NO new orders. Emphasize that you’ve reviewed this plan with Management. Hold the line on sales exceptions.
7. On the announcement date, email your letter to all known customers.
If you have physical addresses, it’s good form to send a paper copy as well. Remove the product from the website and price lists. Remind Sales that we are taking NO new orders. Instruct Sales Ops to refer all inquiries to you.
Take any customer calls yourself. Do your best to talk customers through all of their options. Expect a few to escalate the issue to your CEO. If you’ve designed a good EOL plan, there’s no reason to extend this product’s support period.
8. Start to skinny down any Engineering/Support staff.
You need to meet your support/patch obligations, but can start moving folks elsewhere.
9. On End-of-Support Day, have a small celebration.
Bring in pizza, wear a funny hat, sing a song. Thank everyone for their hard work over the years. Burn the data sheet. Archive the code. Close all of the open support tickets, or change them to P-99’s.
Eliminating old products is important and frees up resources for newer things. But it’s slow, unsexy, and rarely applauded outside product management. So keep your sense of humor and wear your EOL merit badge proudly.