Nov 28, 2004 - Over the past 10 years or so, I've spent a good amount of time having product vendors present to me. For the most part, it's been in content creation and management, but at times it has included software development tools (source control,code checkers, and test products) and services (telcom, colocation facilities, and localization). I can split the experiences into two: when we knew what we wanted and when we were sort of feeling our way around.

When we knew what we wanted, usually after a lot of feeling our way around, we were able to communicate well with the product vendor, explaining specifically what we needed. Even if the people representing the vendor were not very good at their job, they usually knew enough about their product to answer direct questions. We could direct the discussion to get the information we needed. I always came away respecting the knowledgeable representatives who would be the ones to conclude that it was not a match. At one company where we knew what we wanted, for example, the vetting included Interwoven and Documentum. Interwoven kept insisting it was a match. It wasn't. Documentum was the one to walk away.

It's worth noting that often people think they know what they want, but they're really just feeling their way around. It's understandable because there's something seductive about spending a lot of time discussing, reading, attending conferences, and even trying out some stuff. What's elusive is the seeminingly impossible state of being aware of what you don't know. Decision makers who are still feeling around are in a vulnerable state. They can decide to buy something that works, but later proves not to be the right choice.

This is where good vendors* come in, particularly those who are willing to walk away. They are the experts and would hopefully help guide the prospective customer through the thought processes. There's nothing wrong with a vendor showing leadership. Recently, I was favorably impressed by a Vasont sales representative who exhibited these behaviors. He was helped considerably by having a product set that matched well the prospect's direction of subdocument-level content management. But what differentiated him was his ability to listen well and then string together a demo that covered the feature-function patter in the context of user secenarios. The scenarios articulated where the customer was headed better than any in-house explanations up to that point.

In the area of checking out interesting new areas, I stumbled on jotspot. It's one of those things where you see it on the Net, you tell yourself you'll get around to it. It shows up in InfoWorld, and you think this might be legit, but you still have it on your to-do list. But when it shows up in Businessweek, it's starting to get along on the wired-tired-expired progression, and you'd better take a peek. So, I'm experimenting with it for internal company knowledge capture.

Small historical note. The folks starting up jotspot are Excite alumns. My first contact with them was their pre-Excite incarnation when I was installing their Architext search. The guy doing the support was Joe Kraus, who later became the first Excite president. The stuff of Silicon Valley.

* Of course, consultants can help here, too.

Arthur Ignacio Consulting
Post Office Box 61283
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
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©Arthur Ignacio Consulting, 2004
Last updated: November 28, 2004