Answer to the same old boring vendor conference sessions

I don’t attend many sessions at conferences like VMWorld. Mainly because it’s some lightweight messaging that I’ve heard at other conferences. Lisa Caywood (Brocade) had an interesting post on the cancer that’s vendor sponsorship at conferences. She asked for an alternative to the same bland message delivered by SE’s and vendor marketing engineers at every conference. I have an alternative – Vendors should sponsor independent influencers to give talks.
The thought occurred to me while at Interop and listening to a presentation on disaster recovery by Chris Wahl. Chris gave some practical examples of challenges and potential solutions seen in the field. He’s a pretty big fan of Zerto and gave examples of how Zerto solved problems he encountered. He also talked about the challenges of Zerto competing with VMware’s Site Recovery Manager (SRM). Most customers already own SRM, so the price delta between something they already own and Zerto is a hard pill to swallow. I could have seen something like this being sponsored by either VMware or Zerto.

I walked away content that I received adequate value for both my time and conference dollars. I’d love to see a model in which vendors give up their slots for speakers such as Chris. I know this wouldn’t be popular with marketing departments, but I believe it’s the right thing to do for customers. As a customer, I respect a vendor that provides sponsors independent analysis of the market. I know there’s a perception of bias, but this is technology. I still find more value in a technologist such as Chris sharing his real world experiences vs. the same marketing slides I get from my VMware SE.

Published by Keith Townsend

Now I'm @CTOAdvisor

3 thoughts on “Answer to the same old boring vendor conference sessions

  1. Many conferences, in fact, try to do this. But (a) it’s actually surprisingly hard–even for a very large vendor with tons of customers–to get one to speak publicly about their product, because their clients’ own companies have rules prohibiting such things, and (b) the net effect is much the same: it’s still a commercial. No, I think we need to come up with a very different set of expectations about the benefits of sponsorship. As a colleague put it in a private message: “Usual problem, CMO wants to measure activity (easy) instead of impact (hard) – easier to write a check and point at a booth/keynote…”, to which I would add that there are also plenty of execs who want their own time in the limelight for internal positioning reasons. And then there’s always the customer who says, “I was at X event and didn’t see you guys. How come?” and then the salesperson complains to corporate.

    I don’t actually blame the event organizers *too* much for the current state of affairs–they’re giving their biggest customers what they want. However, there could be more creativity about how it’s done, more balance, even within the existing envelope. And I think smaller events have a lot more room for departing from the norm, and for collectively establishing new norms and resetting expectations about where the value of the event really lies. When it’s always the hallway track–we’re all doing it wrong.

    1. Proving to be more complicated than I’d like. Immediately after posting, I thought to myself, how many Chris Wahls are there? I have no problem admitting I have a long way to go before I have the presentation skill that Chris possesses. There just aren’t enough authoritative independent voices out there that can present at the scale of a VMWorld. But, smaller conferences should be able to adopt a model in which independents such as Chris and Howard Marks can get sponsored to speak. I think conference goers would be OK that they are paid. We have been conditioned with sponsored white paper etc.

      1. Thanks for the mention Keith. I’ve done sessions with/for vendor clients in the past, including at VMworld.

        One session, the new kids on the storage block, at VMworld puts 7 CEOs and CMOs from start ups on a panel with me moderating. Since each vendor gets X sessions as part of their package sponsorship for that session rotates between them.


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