I recently read a Facebook thread about a new MVP who was being approached by a vendor and asked if they’d do a review or join them on a webinar. The question they were asking their colleagues was if they were a sell out by participating in these activities. I was surprised by the first few responses suggesting that they NOT work with the vendor, then some more seasoned community folks joined in to explain that we all have to make decisions around who we work with and what is worth our time and where the line is in terms of endorsement deals.
Since IT and the technology industry isn’t fraught with Subway ads, or Nike shoe deals, many don’t understand how one can realistically partner up with a company or even try to take an unbiased approach to working with vendors on webinars and such.
As someone who gets at least weekly invitations to post something on my blog, or join a vendor in an expo hall, webinar, and so much more… I’ve personally asked myself this question over a hundred times and that line has shifted since the beginning. I’m sure there are haters out there that would say I’ve taken too many deals to call myself unbiased, but in the same vein, how can you call me biased if I simply work with nearly everyone or at least nearly a hundred vendors over time.
As a consultant I’ve frequently been in the position of recommending or suggesting vendors and partners to customers, so knowing what the best solutions are is extremely important. Awareness is the absolute biggest challenge in the vendor space. There are literally thousands of vendor solutions out there, and there is no perfect app store that lets the best solutions rise to the top. Instead it’s a game of what partners are willing to spend at an event. At a typical paid SharePoint Conference it’s not unusual to pay $15,000 for a booth and fly out the vendor team to talk to a hundred or so people that may happen to come by the booth. Believe me, I’ve spend a ton of time in vendor halls and the little candy bars and tchotchkes may have little return on investment, but spend more and the Xbox One, motorcycles and massive parties do provide names and hopefully more leads. Why couldn’t a small percentage of that vendor marketing spend be spent with the community influencers to delivering webinars and getting awareness of product through a broader variety of means such as product write-ups, analysis, overviews and such. I understand people may say a review can’t be unbiased if it is paid, but then again isn’t it better to have someone check it out and tell us how they think a product may be valuable even if they don’t rip it apart? Would you rather these vendors spend their money on google ads or share that money
I hope the solutions delivery companies today build alliances with their preferred vendors based on NOT on how much of a cut they get, but relationships are actually forged based on the products which sell the best due to the solution being the best for the customers along with customer service levels. The worst solutions and worst companies should weed themselves out as the solutions fail to sell and lack of deployments.
As someone who has now done hundreds of webinars, events, reviews and various activities with vendors I consider my knowledge of third party product as extremely valuable. It is an asset I bring with me as I work with a company. Understanding the rich ecosystem of products and the vast network of employees who participate in this space is of great value. I consider myself a matchmaker and I don’t need to apologize for participating in a webinar with a vendor. If we can focus on the challenge that customers have and see vendors as having solutions to those problems we’ll have a greater appreciation for the Microsoft ecosystem and sharing in the marketing budgets and giving back to the community in a share the wealth proposition we can travel further and strengthen our community and network. I’ll tell you that’s my strategy. Pretty much every dollar I make from a vendor goes back into the community by helping me subsidize my event travel, but I wouldn’t blame someone if they decided to put that dollar toward their kids school or paying your mortgage.
Love to hear your thoughts!
Vendors that are looking to get more involved with the community can reach out to me through twitter @joeloleson or linkedin or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are plenty of influencers, bloggers, speakers, and product companies to go around. Happy to help you gain awareness for your product or solution. There are other great examples in the community who have been able to turn their evangelism for good for sharing their talents to share their knowledge and educate.
(Curious about the photo? Yes, I’m the one in the plaid shirt next to the babushka who lives in Chernobyl. I was speaking in Ukraine at a paid event which helped to subsidize this trip where I was also able to travel to Azerbaijan and speak at a User Group that has never been previously reached by anyone in our global community. I couldn’t have done it without their assistance. To put this in context I do also put in a lot of my own money in my travels, but I appreciate being able to share the wealth.)