And if Palm’s Project JumpStart Doesn’t Work Out, There’s Always “Project Defibrillator”
Will lousy brand awareness be Palm’s Waterloo? With weaker than expected launches of the Pre and Pixi at new carrier partner Verizon, it’s beginning to look like it.
Certainly, Palm’s leadership appears to believe that insufficient carrier support is largely to blame for its current woes. In an all-hands memo to employees yesterday (full text below), Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein said the company is taking some extraordinary measures to address unexpectedly weak sales for its handset lineup. To drive demand at Verizon and raise its customers’ apparently limited awareness of webOS, Palm (PALM) has initiated Project JumpStart, a sort of product evangelism outreach program.
“To accelerate sales, we initiated Project JumpStart nearly three weeks ago. Since then, nearly two hundred Palm Brand Ambassadors, supplemented by Palm employees from Sunnyvale, have been training Verizon (VZ) sales reps across the U.S. on our products. Early results from the stores have already shown improvement on product knowledge and sales week over week. You may have also seen a growing number of Palm ads on billboards, bus shelters, buses, and subway stations–all getting the word out about Palm.”
A wise move, particularly given reports that Verizon sales reps unfamiliar with Palm’s smartphones often opt to pitch more familiar devices like Motorola’s (MOT) Droid and RIM’s Blackberry to new customers. Additional in-store training should help drive sales volume, assuming Palm’s offerings are compelling and differentiated enough to withstand comparison with rival devices.
The question, of course: Are they? And while initial reviews of the Pre and webOS operating system suggested they were, it’s hard not to look at Palm’s current situation and conclude that they really might not be–particularly with new and impressive Android and Windows Phone 7 devices headed to market and Apple (AAPL) and Research in Motion (RIMM) both presumably working on refreshes of their iconic devices.
“Given the sizable discounts now prevalent on the Pixi, it now suggests that the real problems for the Pixi and the Pre go beyond insufficient carrier support and unfocused TV advertising campaigns,” CL King analyst Lawrence Harris observed in a research note to clients this morning. “Rather, consumers are not finding the Pixi a compelling product in an increasingly competitive smartphone market.”
If that’s truly the case, these Palm Brand Ambassadors the company is sending to Verizon (VZ) have their work cut out for them, at least at the moment. Sources close to Palm tell me the company plans to introduce at least one new smartphone this year. Perhaps that will be the device that drives demand and pushes the company back to profitability.
This morning we announced preliminary results for our 2010 third quarter. Since the quarter has not yet closed, it is too soon to offer exact numbers, but we stated that we expect to report revenues for Q3 between $300 and $320 million. We also announced that we expect our revenue for this fiscal year to fall below the guidance we gave to Wall Street, which ranged from $1.6 to $1.8 billion. As we mentioned in our press release, our softer than expected performance is due to slower than expected customer adoption of our products, which in turn has prompted our U.S. carrier partners to put additional orders on hold for the time being. On a positive note, we expect to exit the quarter with over $500 million in cash on our balance sheet. We’re scheduled to announce our full financial results in March.
I realize this news is difficult to swallow. We made this announcement today to prevent a surprise for Wall Street when we announce quarterly earnings in March. In the meantime, the entire executive team has been working extremely hard to improve product performance, and have implemented a number of initiatives to increase awareness and drive sales.
Dave Whalen and I just returned from a very successful meeting with Verizon Wireless, where they acknowledged that their execution of our launch was below expectations and recommitted to working with us to improve sales. To accelerate sales, we initiated Project JumpStart nearly three weeks ago. Since then, nearly two hundred Palm Brand Ambassadors, supplemented by Palm employees from Sunnyvale, have been training Verizon sales reps across the U.S. on our products. Early results from the stores have already shown improvement on product knowledge and sales week over week. You may have also seen a growing number of Palm ads on billboards, bus shelters, buses, and subway stations–all getting the word out about Palm.
All of these efforts are examples of how we are working to accelerate adoption and grow distribution of webOS. In the next few weeks, your management will work with you to make sure your priorities are laser-focused, primarily on helping to increase sales, improve product quality and differentiate the Palm product experience.
Our goals are taking longer than expected to achieve, but I am still confident that our talented team has what it takes to get the job done.
We’ll schedule an all-hands meeting after our earnings announcement in March, and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.