Wednesday, March 31, 2021

How's Your Vendor BS-ometer?

Maybe I was just in the right mood at the right time, but I was thoroughly impressed with a little game show video ID Agent put together recently, promoting their appearance at the MVP Growthfest. Here's the LinkedIn post:

I didn't find the muppet/puppet particularly compelling, but I *LOVED* the game show. First, it was fun. Second, it was engaging. Third, it's so simple that I have to figure out how I'm going to do something like this - for fun or business.

As I told Matt Solomon from ID Agent, I was jealous throughout this video. It was original. And, most importantly, it wasn't just another webinar!

I shared this video with several people. One of them didn't give it a second glance before he responded that he just doesn't pay attention to vendor BS anymore. My response was that (as an old man), I try to find inspiration anywhere I can. And I don't close the door to inspiration just because of the messenger.

But that got me thinking about a couple of questions. First, how do you view vendor-generated information? Do you think it's all BS? Do you think it's sincere? Do you think vendors care about you? And, Second, how has the pandemic-induced isolation affected your view of vendors and their messaging?

For the truly cynical, vendors just want to keep singing the same old song, do nothing new, and keep signing up partners for ever and ever, amen. If you've been in the business for ten, fifteen, or twenty years, you've seen this again and again. "Channel Chiefs" get together in a never-ending series of events and award each other Lucite trophies to take home to the cash cow in hopes of living long enough to see show.

I have a different view of the world. I have always relied on good vendors to make my business better. That's why, when I have a vendor on the SMB Community Podcast, I always ask the question straight out: "How do I make money with your product/service?" Speeds and feeds are awesome. Widgets and gadgets are fun. But, ultimately, I don't care about features as much as I care about providing better service to clients and making more money doing it.

I have always relied on vendors to provide education. While they are focused on their newest product, the part I care about is how to make money integrating that product into my service offering. Whether it was Microsoft, Intel, HP, or others, I "used" vendors to improve my business. I took the free education and made money from it.

Yes, there is a certain level of selling, but that's the price of admission. Most of the shows we go to are made possible by vendor sponsors. Much of the free education is only free because a vendor is paying for it. So you sit through the pitch.

I have been honored to work on white papers, webinars, classes, and a variety of roadshows and trainings with vendors. I have been most impressed with vendors who have an ongoing commitment to partner education. And here's the trick a few vendors have figured out: The education works best when it is a sincere attempt to help IT service providers to be more successful. When a vendor "gives first" with training like this, the partners are very open to a discussion of deeper partnerships.

In recent years, I have been very impressed with the ongoing efforts of Sherweb and Acronis. Both companies have made large investments in partner training on the business side of business. Note: I consider Sherweb to be in the "young and scrappy" category while I consider Acronis to be in the "older and established" category. So, you see, vendors don't have to at a particular stage of their maturity to provide good information to IT partners.

The Current Environment

Let's face it: Vendors have had a tough year. Starting in March 2020, they had to shift (rather suddenly) to a remote-only marketing environment. Some had plans in the works already. Others had to pivot quite suddenly from an essentially in-person-only marketing program.

I would typify many of the suddenly-remote events as just plain horrible. Recorded conference presentations with no interaction were the norm. Many vendors literally took their 30 minute stage presentations and recorded them as if they were Zoom calls. 

My understanding is that most vendors actually did well and reached their target sales numbers. That's cool. But, remember, that's in a world where we, the viewers, had no other options. 

Far too many IT professionals were suddenly watching more webinars, even though the content was far from interesting, useful, or compelling. Just as no one ever got fired for buying IBM, no vendor marketing manager ever got fired for holding a boring, self-serving webinar.

As the world begins to open up, we are quickly seeing the "Live Event" market return to pre-pandemic levels. My friend Dave Sobel (from The Killing IT Podcast) and I always disagree on how many events will go back to live. My personal opinion is: ALL of them. The only ones that won't be back are events that didn't do well and were destined to go away anyway.

I hope that you seriously consider evaluating whether webinars and live events are worth your time. Ask yourself: Why are you attending? Do you want to learn more about a new product? Do you want to get an education on best business practices? 

I hope you are NOT attending events because there's nothing better to do. If that's the case, go sit in you back yard and read a good book. Don't waste your time with online events just because you're bored.

I sincerely hope that more vendors take a tip from ID Agent and do something a little different. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering or amazing. One percent different is enough to stand out in a huge cloud of same-ness.

What do you think? Has your BS-ometer been recalibrated in the last year?

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FTC Note: No one paid me to say anything here. ID Agent is not a client of mine. Sherweb and Acronis have been clients of mine. Nothing here is meant to represent the broader universe or the IT Service Provider industry. And I make no claims about whether anything here represents anything other than just my opinion. (And I think the FTC guidelines are watery enough to be useless.)


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