Leaving the Tribes and Becoming a Real Boy

As you probably know, last week I left Alterian, a marketing platform vendor (who just over 18 months ago acquired my previous WCM vendor employer Mediasurface) for The Gilbane Group.

Whilst, I’m accustomed to change, in the last twenty two years (OK, I started young and didn’t get an education!) I’ve only worked for five different employers (and the first eight years was as a public servant) – every year has thrown up new opportunities and change. (I’ve written a little bit about the start of my career here).

But this is different, I am really excited about making a significant, possibly life changing move – having spent the last 15 years representing a vendor – I’m leaving the tribes and just maybe becoming a real boy.

I once was accused – probably disparagingly – as “the king of analogies” in the Twitter back channel of a presentation I was giving – so hopefully you’ll excuse me for melding together these two..

Yes – it’s tribal – I’ve been to the sales kick-off where I have seen people dressed as competitors, dragged onto a stage as slaves and whipped (a homage to the film Gladiators), I’ve seen the logos of competitors chain sawed in half, I’ve seen a failing vendor that was being beaten and ‘gapped’ by their competition disrespectfully accuse them of having ‘a big hat and no cattle’ and I’ve seen vendors obsessed with their competitors messaging and pricing hire ex-CIA agents or set-up bogus procurement processes to find out what they are saying.

Yep, seen it and I genuinely still have the t-shirts..

It’s not just the vendors I worked in – I’ve spoken to colleagues that were former competitors, have the same experiences, as they revel in telling stories of putting up billboards outside the offices I worked in and of handing out cookies at the local railway station to make a point to the prospective customers. Hmm.. difficult to explain that one without naming names..

Admittedly, I’ve used extreme examples, in bullish American (sorry, it’s true) vendors during different days, the exciting time at the turn of the century with a dim regard for their competitors and perhaps their industry in what turned out to be at the start of the end of the boom.

No, this isn’t about me suddenly thinking that vendors suck, not at all – I am just trying to make the point that inside a vendor, with all that propaganda, whether it’s as extreme as some of my examples, it isn’t always the best place to be to view an industry and I am delighted and privileged to be given that opportunity with Gilbane.

All that propaganda? Yes, but I don’t mean to be critical – that stuff is worn like armour by a sales team, they have to believe that their way is the way of the righteous and I fully support that – hell I’ll beat my chest and daub my face with purple/red/orange paint with the best of them – that’s the best bit.

But, I’ve just never been all that comfortable when the attention turns to the competitors rather than what YOU are doing that’s right, different and exciting. Who wants to watch a competitors tail lights?

Anyway, as ever, I’ve digressed – my point is if asked by a prospective customer about this, that or the other competitor – and sadly as a vendor you do get asked – I’ve said that I was the worst person to ask  (of course, I am hoping that that’s all going to change now!).  They, the prospect, had seen more of the competitors products than I had, they can talk to references – they can call the analysts.

I believe that web engagement is on the cusp of something exciting and of course WCM is in the centre of that, as it emerges from the IT and marketing teams to be on the ‘C’ level agenda. Especially as, in general the management of content, the strategy’s and tools for doing it now has an enterprise criticality to it. There is a lot of exciting stuff going on – but not a fluffy web buzzword-du-jour kind of way – real, understood business value.

The excitement for me is that I don’t need to meet every tweet, press release or anecdote that says xyz vendor or their customers is doing something cool with a twinge of outrage, defensiveness or maybe even jealousy. I am free to enjoy and explore the innovation of this industry, that I love, from whatever corner it comes from.

So, becoming a real boy?

That comes from a tweet I posted when I was turned away from an analysts on-line community for being ‘a vendor’ – I indignantly tweeted that I’m not a vendor, I’m a real boy.

People who work for software vendors have important things to say, experiences folks and their CMS projects can learn from – they are not all salivating, lying, cheating, sales beasts.. (not all anyways) and I for one am looking forward to meeting and learning from them and maybe my experience can help.

So, maybe now I’ve left the tribes I can say that now I’m a real boy – or as Irina Guseva of CMSWire put it -“WCM vendors change jobs to become analysts”.

Image of Native American Teepee “Unauthentic” by quinn.anya reproduced under creative commons license.

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6 thoughts on “Leaving the Tribes and Becoming a Real Boy

  1. Congrats! It must be such a great feeling to be able to focus on the innovation rather than the competition.

  2. Ian,

    Great post. I totally understand where you are coming from. I also hate it when I see conferences that do not want “Vendors” to present. As long as you establish the rules ahead of time, anyone should be allowed.

    I also wanted to share this story with you:

    I worked at eBay for 6 years and managed the “Voice of the Community” program where we invited a cross-section of the community into the office and meet with them to discuss their needs, wants….I bet that you could imagine the topics.


    It was not just high volume sellers & buyers that were registered on the site for years and years. It was everyone. We realized the importance of hearing from all sides of the coin in order to develop features and functionality that benefited everyone. As soon as you ignore 1 piece of the puzzle, that is when you start to lose momentum. The best part of it was when we sat buyers across the table from the sellers. The sellers thought that they knew how the buyers were looking for their product, but in many cases there were incorrect. I think that in most cases they learned more from each other than they did from eBay.

    Anyway, my point is that you need a holistic view of every situation in order to make the best decision and when you decide to exclude people, that is when you get into trouble.

    I look forward to your posts.

    Mike P | @mikepascucci

    1. Oh absolutely! Great comment – thank you.

      On your first point, I have seen other vendors interpret ‘thought provoking’ to mean ‘sales pitch’ when I’ve presented at events – but I think you are right, the audience is intelligent enough to figure that stuff out and everyone should be given the opportunity to be ‘thought provoking’ and maybe event organisers should take a little more interest in the content beforehand.

      Your second point, excellent and I’d love to steal (with full accreditation) for my little book of analogies 🙂



  3. Ian:
    Welcome for your expertise and honesty. True neutrality and truth comes from listening to all parties, and you are great example.

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