Thank you again to the Penumbra Group for inviting me along to their delicious annual dinner at Lotusphere.  It is good to see some of the stalwarts of the industry continuing to give it their best, year in and year out.  During last night's dinner, I had the pleasure of being seated next to Valerie Wang, a product manager from RIM.  As a still-recent Blackberry convert, it was interesting to talk about some of the similar challenges we have in talking to customers about the benefit of our individual, and collective, solutions.  The barrier to success seemed to be to get the customer to visualize how solutions "beyond e-mail" could be used for collaboration.  As we talked, Ben Langhinrichs of Geniisoft chimed in with an answer straight out of my own mouth.  He said, paraphrased, "What customers want to hear is who else has done it, why, and with what benefit."

For me, and the sales professionals that I interact with in the Lotus team, the most important thing that we can learn about an ISV solution is what customer references exist and with what benefits to those customers.  Leading up to and during Lotusphere, I get asked dozens of times to stop by the pedestals in the product showcase and check out the latest.  And there's some really cool technology being shown there.  But as I have been drum-beating in internal meetings for the last three months, it's not just important to hear which ISVs are building what capabilities, but who is using them, how, and why.  I think it is great, for example, that we have session AD104 on the agenda this week, to talk about interesting composite applications built by IBM Lotus business partners.  But, as the team presenting that is probably tired of hearing me ask, I want to know about the end-customers using those.  A customer reference is a golden ticket, especially one that is complete with reasons for a decision and implementation benefits.

Too many vendors -- or even competitors -- think it is enough to say "xyz company is in the process of ____".  It's not.  What was the end result?  How do they talk about the project now that it is complete?  Is it repeatable?  These are the questions that matter in the end, just as much as whether the technology is cool, leading-edge, or using new capabilities.  "Show me the money", and I'll be quite interested in the full story.  Demoware -- not so much.

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