Evangelism conundrum: Don’t mention the productSunday, October 12th, 2014 at 11:59 am
Being a public figure for a company is tough. It is not only about what you do wrong or right – although this is a big part. It is also about fighting conditioning and bad experiences of the people you are trying to reach. Many a time you will be accused of doing something badly because of people’s preconceptions. Inside and outside the company.
The outside view: oh god, just another sales pitch!
One of these conditionings is the painful memory of the boring sales pitch we all had to endure sooner or later in our lives. We are at an event we went through a lot of hassle to get tickets for. And then we get a presenter on stage who is “excited” about a product. It is also obvious that he or she never used the product in earnest. Or it is a product that you could not care less about and yet here is an hour of it shoved in your face.
Many a time these are “paid for” speaking slots. Conferences offer companies a chance to go on stage in exchange for sponsorship. These don’t send their best speakers, but those who are most experienced in delivering “the cool sales pitch”. A product the marketing department worked on hard to not look like an obvious advertisement. In most cases these turn out worse than a – at least honest – straight up sales pitch would have.
I think my favourite nonsense moment is “the timelapse excitement”. That is when when a presenter is “excited” about a new feature of a product and having used it “for weeks now with all my friends”. All the while whilst the feature is not yet available. It is sadly enough often just too obvious that you are being fed a make-believe usefulness of the product.
This is why when you go on stage and you show a product people will almost immediately switch into “oh god, here comes the sale” mode. And they complain about this on Twitter as soon as you mention a product for the first time.
This is unfair to the presenter. Of course he or she would speak about the products they are most familiar with. It should be obvious when the person knows about it or just tries to sell it, but it is easier to be snarky instead of waiting for that.
The inside view: why don’t you promote our product more?
From your company you get pressure to talk more about your products. You are also asked to show proof that what you did on stage made a difference and got people excited. Often this is showing the Twitter time line during your talk which is when a snarky comment can be disastrous.
Many people in the company will see evangelists as “sales people” and “show men”. Your job is to get people excited about the products they create. It is a job filled with fancy hotels, a great flight status and a general rockstar life. They either don’t understand what you do or they just don’t respect you as an equal. After all, you don’t spend a lot of time coding and working on the product. You only need to present the work of others. Simple, isn’t it? Our lives can look fancy to the outside and jealousy runs deep.
This can lead to a terrible gap. You end up as a promoter of a product and you lack the necessary knowledge that makes you confident enough to talk about it on stage. You’re seen as a sales guy by the audience and as a given by your peers. And it can be not at all your fault as your attempts to reach out to people in the company for information don’t yield any answers. Often it is fine to be “too busy” to tell you about a new feature and it should be up to you to find it as “the documentation is in the bug reports”.
Often your peers like to point out how great other companies are at presenting their products. And that whilst dismissing or not even looking at what you do. That’s because it is important for them to check what the competition does. It is less exciting to see how your own products “are being sold”.
How to escape this conundrum?
Frustration is the worst thing you can experience as an evangelist.
Your job is to get people excited and talk to another. To get company information out to the world and get feedback from the outside world to your peers. This is a kind of translator role, but if you look deep inside and shine a hard light on it, you are also selling things.
Bruce Lawson covered that in his talk about how he presents. You are a sales person. What you do though is sell excitement and knowledge, not a packaged product. You bring the angle people did not expect. You bring the inside knowledge that the packaging of the product doesn’t talk about. You show the insider channels to get more information and talk to the people who work on the product. That can only work when these people are also open to this. When they understand that any delay in feedback is not only seen as a disappointment for the person who asked the question. It is also diminishing your trustworthiness and your reputation and without that you are dead on stage.
In essence, do not mention the product without context. Don’t show the overview slides and the numbers the press and marketing team uses. Show how the product solves issues, show how the product fits into a workflow. Show your product in comparison with competitive products, praising the benefits of either.
And grow a thick skin. Our jobs are tiring, they are busy and it is damn hard to keep up a normal social life when you are on the road. Each sting from your peers hurts, each “oh crap, now the sales pitch starts” can frustrate you. You’re a person who hates sales pitches and tries very hard to be different. Being thrown in the same group feels terribly hurtful.
It is up to you to let that get you down. You could also concentrate on the good, revel in the excitement you see in people’s faces when you show them a trick they didn’t know. Seeing people grow in their careers when they repeat what they learned from you to their bosses.
If you aren’t excited about the product, stop talking about it. Instead work with the product team to make it exciting first. Or move on. There are many great products out there.