Awesome Conferences

Vendor jerks at tech conferences

(I've intentionally delayed posting this so that it wasn't clear which conference I'm talking about.)

So... I'm at a conference. I take a break from the talks to walk around the vendor show. While most of the booths are selling products I'm not interested in, I suddenly find myself in front of VENDOR-A (name changed to protect them). VENDOR-A makes a product that has both open source and commercial editions, a common business model. Since the company I work for is a happy user of their open source version, I decide to ask about the commercial version. Maybe there's some benefit to be had.

The salesperson turned red in the face and became very indignant.

What?

What did I do wrong?

I'm totally confused.

Not wanting to cause a scene, I politely ended the conversation and walked away. Jerk.

Well, maybe not "jerk". Maybe he just hadn't eaten lunch and was hangry, or maybe he was having a bad day. Or maybe his mom's name is "open source" and he thought I was insulting her. I have no idea.

I was trying to be as polite as possible. It was a "take my money!" situation and the salesperson blew it.

Anyway... I had plenty more to see in the vendor show so I kept walking.

So... then I saw VENDOR-B. VENDOR-B (again, not their actual name) is another vendor who's open source product we're very happy with. Let's try the same thing.

"Yes, yes, thank you. I'm a big fan of your product already. You don't need to convince me. However, we use the open source version now. What benefits would I gain from the commercial version?"

Again this salesperson also turned red in the face and got vitriolic. I, again, stand there totally confused.

So, again, I politely ended the conversation and walked away.

I assure you, reader, that I didn't phrase it as, "This is stupid. Why would I pay?" or anything close to that. Quite the opposite, actually.

The worst answer I was expecting was, "it is the same but you get world-class support". Why I may disagree with their self-appraisal of how good their support is, at least it would have been an answer. However, both companies exceeded expectations and took my question as an insult.

I don't think either of these salespeople understand what business they are in.

Let me explain to you the economic model of commercial and open source software.

With commercial software, you sell to someone that isn't using your product. You have to convince them that they have a need, what your product does, that your product fills their need, and that they should buy the product. That's the traditional selling model.

sales-process-commercial.png

Open source software is sold differently. The person already is using the product. They already know how awesome it is. They already know it fulfills their need. The salesperson merely has to convince them that there would be added benefits to paying for it.

sales-process-floss.png

Think about how radical this is! The customer is already happy and you, the salesperson, have the opportunity to make them even more happier. There's no need to grandstand (or lie) about what the product can and can't do, because the customer already uses it. This is a much more transparent and cooperative arrangement. It is better for the customer and you.

This also means that your ability to sell the product is as wide as the existing community. The bigger the community, the more selling opportunities. Having good community liaisons, advocates, etc. grows that base. Hosting a conference grows that base. These things aren't just good for your community, but they are good for your salespeople because they increase the pool of potential new paying customers.

A salesperson that meets someone who uses the free/community/open source edition should be super excited at the opportunity to speak with a committed user who can be turned into a paying customer.

The reaction I got from those salespeople says to me that they didn't understand this.

What business did they think they are in?

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Rants

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3 Comments | Leave a comment

I’d love to know who “vendor a” and “vendor b” are.
I’m sure you won’t want to name them, but have you asked the companies to comment?
Even if it’s still anonymous it’d be great to hear their points of view on this behaviour.

This is also the common mode of selling for any of the free products that suddenly become invaluable and we're going, "Huh. I love this but I really wish it did THIS." And lo and behold the pay version has that feature. Think Slack, Trello, or even Adobe Acrobat (from Reader). The model isn't new. I love your point about community. If you spend the time building the community, the selling is so much easier. But you've got to convince those making business decisions that community building still has an ROI but it may be delayed or disguised.

It seems to me that both of these people were order-takers, not salesmen. Order-takers have no skills, are unable to articulate the benefits of their product, and show acute embarrassment whenever their incompetence is demonstrated to them.

They then protect their egos by deciding that you're an asshole or a troll rather than face the obvious fact that they suck at their jobs.

-jcr

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