Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ALA Through a Vendor's Eyes

Flying home from ALA, I’m reflecting on how much a face-to-face meeting still means. For all our electronic mail, our twittering, webcasts, blogs, video chats, and teleconferencing, there is no substitute for a handshake and a talk around a table. In just 10 minutes of personal interaction with a handful of customers, I can learn more about how our new release of SirsiDynix Enterprise is being received than I can from a week of trade publications, phone calls, and gleaning through the listservs.

I can watch the way customers stand and where their eyes go to tell whether or not the product makes sense to them. I can tell by the angle of their heads when I’ve touched on something that really matters. There are a thousand gestures with brows, lips, and eyelids, arms, shoulders, and hands that let me know whether my message resonates or whether I’ve missed the point.

ALA is also a time to connect with other vendors. An hour around a table with a current or potential partner tells me more than I can learn from any amount of email. I can watch employee interaction in a vendor booth and get a sense of who makes what decisions, who has new ideas, and who would be good to work out the details. I can get a sense of whether a potential partner is candid or reserved and a fair sense of how much the partner trusts me. I can guess whether partners are likely to be volatile or methodical and whether they will move quickly or hesitate. I can tell who saves space for creativity and vision amid the urgency of this quarter’s results.

Communication in my world is mostly mediated by a keyboard. I can live with that, but there is no real replacement from something much older. Could we save money if we dropped the huge expense of ALA in favor of virtual conferences? Sure. Would it be a bad idea? Yep.

Jared Oates
Director of Product Strategy, Engineering

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