Friday, December 01, 2006
Vendors and Increasing Enterprise Transparency...
James Governor of Redmonk inspired me to think on this topic over a year ago so if anything I say benefits any vendor reading this, please consider returning the favor to him by enlisting his services.
The first problem is that many vendors approach interaction with customers from a marketing perspective solely in terms of getting quotes to include in their own marketing collateral and when rejected tend to take the stance that us enterprisey folk keep everything under NDA. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The vast majority of us have policies that are intended to prevent unethical conduct which prevents endorsements of vendors we use. There are several workarounds that vendors should think about. First, the vast majority of our policies do not prevent us from telling our own stories. Consider, that I can never endorse a vendor but I can and do pretty frequently speak at industry conferences. In other words, stop asking for quotes and start figuring out ways customers can tell their own stories that benefit you in a public manner.
There are a variety of ways this can happen. First, consider all those industry conferences where as a sponsor you are automatically entitled to a keynote speaking slot. Instead of having your CTO present a thinly veiled chock-a-block eye candy Powerpoint presentation lacking substance, consider giving over this slot to one of your signature customers and letting them tell their own story.
Likewise, what would happen if you were to also encourage magazine editors that provide coverage of the problem-space your solution resides in, if you directed them to have a direct unmoderated conversation with one of your customers for an upcoming article, you increase the likelyhood of getting reprintable collateral marketing material that is beneficial. Yes, you would have to get over your own ego in that you don't get to control the message nor even fine tune it to your liking, but good press is better than zero press.
Consider engaging and paying an industry analyst firm to do a case study on one of your customers. Let the analyst and the customer have direct interactions and don't think for a second that you can influence even the outline. In this situation, analysts would be thought of more as media and therefore may be more successful in getting coverage that you couldn't.
The importance of getting your CTO to blog is vital. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. What would happen if a CTO of a software vendor decidely asked ten questions of say myself and I decided to respond from my own blog publicly. Of course, I would do so in a media relations compliant way but it would hint at a relationship that others could observe and of course folks will read into things more than what was said that benefits vendors.
Of course there are some practices that simply are incompatible with the practices of large enterprises. The most pervasive practice I have seen is for industry conferences who embrace the notion of call for papers. Ever wonder why you don't have any Fortune 100 enterprise speakers whose primary business model isn't technology speaking at agile conferences? Consider that I speak at four or five conferences a year and turn down at least ten that it would be silly for me to take the time to submit a proposal when others are in pursuit and don't require it. I wonder if I were to point this out to Martin Fowler, Kent Beck, Jeff Sutherland, Alistair Cockburn and others would they care? Probably not, as they are letting their own integrity and sense of altruism get in the way of agile being truly successful and pervasively implemented.
The sponsors of Ruby and Smalltalk conferences should noodle this as well. Sometimes the best forums for vendors to consider pushing enterprisey folks to speak at are the conferences run by the analysts themselves. This will not only ensure that your message is being heard by solely the attendees but that followup by the analyst themselves will also provide additional marketing lift.
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