Vendor-led VMUG meetings??? Think again!

February 21, 2012

A few minutes ago a discussion on twitter about the importance of the users in VMUG meetings led to a statement from @dutch_vmaffia that I disagreed with, or more precisely I don’t accept. The statement was something about the fact that “VMUG (meetings) are ruled by vendors”.

Actually, @dutch_vmaffia raised an interesting point. The same issue has been discussed during the VMUG lunch in Copehagen (during last VMworld Europe): many leaders admitted that meeting sponsors happen to have a “strong voice” about the meetings content. Even in the VMUG IT steering committee we have been discussing about this a few times. After all, without the vendors/sponsors it would be VERY difficult to organize meetings (location, etc. ain’t cheap!).

So, as Scott Lowe pointed out, this is an important discussion, at it heavily steers the quality and direction of the meetings, which are a fundamental part of VMUG activities. I’m so convinced that this is SO  important that I’ve stopped on my way home to write this post on the road (in a parking lot, actually ;-p).

Good News! There’s a solution! 🙂

Luckily, in VMUG IT we’ve been debating about this since the very start, and together with my board members (Note: my fellow board members kick ass!), we decided to define a strict policy about how the sponsor can and should contribute to the meetings.

Simply put, we require that vendors provide an end user/customer that speaks at the meeting about his own implementation of the specific product/technology. Pre-sales, Marketing, Sales guys are not allowed to go on stage. Period. We allow people from the vendor/sponsor to be in the meeting room, but they’re allowed only to answer specific technical question that may come from the members attendig the meeting. Other than that, we allow the vendor/sponsor to have booths/etc OUTSIDE the meeting room, so it’s upon the users to get in contact with them, only if THEY want to.

Sounds difficult? Well, It is. But it can be done, and we’ve been doing it since the first meeting.

The most difficult part is to convince the sponsor that actually this is THE RIGHT THING TO DO! Let’s face it, we all attended tons of presos by vendors, and we already know how they’re structured and how they often end up as a mere showcase without much value. I can’t blame the vendors for this: it’s hard to be funny and interesting when your primary job is to sell or help sell a product.

Instead, by letting an end user do the talk, there are a lot of advantages:

– The case study/preso is a real world implementation of the product. No fireworky-preso that promises wonders. Just the facts.

– Users can hear from a user, and can ask the questions they care the most to the USER.

– Sponsors/Vendors get a BIGGER return since there’s no conflict of interest in what the user is saying. “A customer is worth a thousand presales”, so to speak ;-p

– Sponsors get REAL feedback from the users (e.g. if your product is perfect but the price isn’t… don’t worry, we’ll let you know buahah!).

– Users/Members don’t get the “usual supper”: there are plenty of meetings where the vendor has the chance to showcase his product. But this is a USER led group. Whole different story, and a chance to communicate your story in a whole different way!

 

CFP First!

It’s not only sponsor content, anyway! Beginning with last meeting, we launched a Call For Papers, inviting users to submit their presos and letting users choose what they want to hear. As Steering Committee, our role in this case is just to keep things going, and try to give general guidance about each meeting main topics (for example, next meeting topic will be “virtual security”.This is user-submitted content, and it’s the most valuable for us.

 

Exceptions? Yes, there are.

Not every product/technology may be mature enough to have an established user base, so in some cases it’s necessary to allow the vendor to speak. Be aware though… it’s a preso about a promise of what your product should do, and hearing what a user actually DID with a product is a hugely different story.

Other exceptions also involve people that may work for vendors but actually don’t do presos on their vendor product (or not strictly). The point is to avoid as much as possible shameless plugs. As an example, Massimo Re Ferre’ did a BRILLIANT preso during last VMUG IT meeting, about cloud computing concepts and common misconceptions. Well, the preso was so “clean”, and smart, and interesting, that no one even cared or knew who Massimo worked for (he could have been an Oracle emp… mmm no, wrong example ;-p). Fact is, with clever and smart people you don’t even need a policy.

Common sense to the rescue! there are some other edge cases that may force you to work around the “rule” above, but if we keep the focus on the most important aspect of the VMUG (aka the USER), it all flaws smoothly.

Believe me, this is the proverbial “win-win”. Honestly, as a VMUG leader (and I know my fellow board members agree) we want the users to WIN (e.g. to get interesting content and information), but ultimately we got a lot of great feedback from the vendors that sponsored the past meetings and that accepted our policy… They weren’t used to this kind of approach, and although many were skeptical at first, they found out the users are a LOT more interested in the content and get many more questions after the presentations than during the “traditional” “one way” presentations..

That’s it for now. Our members gave us a lot of positive feedback about our policy, but I’d like to get YOUR feedback too!

PS: Oh, and did I mention that Steve Herrod will be our special guest at the next meeting? Yes, I did ;-p

Bring back the U in VMUG!!!

 

Ciao,

PJ – @drakpz

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6 Responses to “Vendor-led VMUG meetings??? Think again!”


  1. Great response PJ! It is indeed a lot of effort to plan the VMUG events, and leaders such as yourself are the key to making them successful.

    VMUG uses this same review and approval philosophy for all its programs including webinars, the VMUG Voice Publication and other offerings. In the coming months, VMUG will launch an online community for leaders that will more effectively connect VMUG leaders from around the globe to enable best practice sharing for local events—thus further supporting our network of 180 chapters globally.

    I would add that not only have the number of partner sessions decreased for the 2012 VMUG User Conferences, but ALL submitted sessions are reviewed and approved by customer-leaders such as yourself. In those areas where VMUG may not have available leaders, VMUG has tapped into leaders from other geographies to help review content (Angelo Luciani from Toronto has helped plan a very successful meeting in CA).

    VMUG will continue to engage partners and involve them to help enrich the VMUG experience. Partners bring tremendous value and expertise, but they do not control VMUG, nor do I believe they want to!

    At the end of the day VMUG always has been and will continue to be about the “U”.

    • drakpz Says:

      Thanx Victor for your comment. We’re looking forward to the new tools on vmug.com in order to furtherly improve the communication w/ our members.
      The whole program is getting better each day, and surely this is going to be a great year for all VMUG chapters!
      Keep up the great work! 🙂
      PJ

  2. Scott Lowe Says:

    This sounds like a great idea and I hope that it really takes root. It’s good to know that you’re allowing exceptions for vendor-employed individuals who don’t present on their employer’s products; otherwise, I’d be out of the running to speak!

  3. Josh Atwell Says:

    Great Write-up. I do very similar things with my previous users group and now with Raleigh VMUG. One slight difference is that I do allow the sponsor to provide their 60 second elevator speech to introduce their company and what they do. It also gives the attendees and opportunity to easily identify the sponsor, know what they do, and know how to find them later (booth outside the room). So far I do not recall any real issues with this method and I think everyone agrees it works!

    The other thing we’re trying out is having vBeers after each meeting. Everyone interested (including sponsors) has opportunity to carry the conversation on outside of the group meeting. I exert no will or control over this environment and so far it has worked well. After all, most people are most receptive while drinking a free pint! 🙂

    Thanks again for the great right up! New slogan

    “VMUG is not about the V, it’s about the U!”


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