Keeping IT Up With The Joneses



We’ve all been in that meeting. We’re learning the important facts about a company and their awesome technology. We think we’ve got a handle of the problem they’re solving and how we can apply it to our needs. And then…BAM! Our eyes are assaulted by a billboard full of company logos. We’re told how every one of these companies think that this product or solution is awesome. And because they think it’s awesome and bought it, you should think it’s awesome as well and buy it too.

Do As They Do

This particular exchange in a presentation has a term: the NASCAR slide. When I came up with the term years ago during a Tech Field Day presentation, I referred to the fact that the slide was covered by all of the logos of customers and sponsors, not unlike the side of a NASCAR race car or the coveralls worn by the drivers. It turned the presentation into a giant neon sign signaling all the companies that bought the solution.

Vendors love to tell you who their customers are. They love holding those solution bidding wins over their competitor’s heads and informing the populace that a company like Victoria’s Secret uses their servers or an institution like the University of Oklahoma uses their wireless access points. Even when they can’t legally say if a company uses their equipment due to some clause in a contract, you’ll see language like “a large financial firm” or “a large sports media provider”, usually with enough context for you to figure out who they’re talking about without explicitly saying it. Wink wink, nudge nudge indeed.

The problem with this kind of marketing is that it never works. I’ve conducted some informal polling both in-person and through Twitter and the response was overwhelming: IT professionals don’t make purchasing decisions based on who else bought something. It seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it? People will base a decision on things like cost or suitability to the requirements of the project. They even do it for reasons like the user interface or the code name of the project. But not one person said they bought something because of the list of companies that use it.

That’s not to say that prior purchasers don’t figure into the process. People who bought a product and have provided feedback, either through a review process or through a stream of angry tweets have influenced purchasers. People told me that they would listen to a trusted voice telling them to buy (or not buy) something based on their experience. It would seem that what customers are looking for is not a list of purchasers, but those purchasers’ opinions about the solution.

I Won’t Do What You Tell Me!

Perhaps the heart of the problem comes down to the way that consumer products are marketed. Air Jordan shoes, Rolex Watches, and expensive cars all have the same idea behind them. You, as the customer, should buy these things because other people that are famous and important have them and you want to be like them, right? Buying an expensive pair of shoes is just like buying a storage array or a data center switch, right?

Vendors need to move away from the customer name dropping and instead focus on the solutions that they provide. Talk about problems that are solved instead of mentioning that a company in a totally unrelated industry bought a few switches from you three quarters ago. The idea is to make you happy with the solution that meets your needs and not with the fact that your 20-person retail outfit is using the same data center switches that a hospital two states away is using.

If you constantly sell your solutions based on who is buying them instead of the value they bring to the organization you will eventually find out that customers are buying solutions from cloud providers based on the same rationale. It might be a bit harder to convince your customers to keep their on-premises solution once they find out that Company X went with AWS or Company Y is moving to Microsoft Azure. Because at that point any attempt to bring solution feasibility or features into the discussion is as useless as the logos on your NASCAR slide.

Tom’s Take

I blasted an executive at HPE Discover a couple of weeks ago about this very subject. I get so tired of hearing the name dropping during keynotes or sales presentations. To me, there’s no difference between saying the following:

So, I was talking to Mark Zuckerberg the other day about networking…


Facebook is a great customer of ours and they love our switches.

Either way, you’re just telling people that you “run in those circles” and they should buy your gear because of it.

I would rather you sell your products based how they can help me make money or reduce costs or make my data more secure. And should I have a wild hair that I want to know who else uses your product, I can ask for a list of companies with references that can speak directly to me about it instead of hearing you drone on about how cool it was that Nike started using your analytics solution last year. Because odds are good they’re going to dump you in another two years for the next better thing.



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