Vendor Conferences: Preaching to the Faithful (and the Press)April 21, 2009 at 8:01 am | Posted in IBM, Lotusphere2009, Notes/Domino | 1 Comment
I had an interesting discussion with Bob Picciano and Ed Brill of IBM Lotus about big name vendor conferences like Lotusphere while they were in Chicago for Lotusphere Comes to You. It seems to me that one of the ironies of the success of Lotusphere is that Lotusphere is not the best place to make game-changing announcements about Lotus. The people that go to Lotusphere – a sea of yellow shirts (and sometimes hair) that IBM says broke attendance records this year – are the Lotus faithful. They already like Notes/Domino and have dedicated years of their life to it. If they weren’t interested in Lotus, they wouldn’t be there.
But when you’re in a saturated market (which the developed economy large enterprise e-mail market is), you can only gain market share by taking it from your competitors, so how do you get them to listen and what do you tell them? Messages that resonate with the faithful (removing hassles, UI beautification, and incremental feature improvement) don’t resonate as well with prospects. Prospective buyers don’t want to hear about eliminating redundant attachment storage (which I’m sure got a standing ovation). They want to hear why something has strategically changed versus their current point of reference which impels them to reconsider their position. This often involves hitting at soft spots in the competitor’s armor that the faithful may not care as much about. Better Quickr and Connections integration, for example, is a minor point to current users but has a more strategic edge when used to provide a better apples-to-apples comparison against Microsoft SharePoint.
This isn’t an IBM issue – it is the same for any vendor that holds conferences and needs to prioritize messages for current customers against those that attract new ones. But some other vendors have the advantage of broader conferences that allow for more cross-selling, such as OracleWorld where a database faithful can get pounded with a portal and collaboration or business process management message at 120db and possibly walk away with something new to think about.
Accordingly, IBM made a great move when they spoke at MacWorld, speaking to a huge audience of prospects that offer a real chance to steal marketshare. Bob also recited several other non-IBM events they had spoken at. I think this is the right path for hitting a new set of ears.