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Don’t Let Your Vendor Catfish You

By Jarod Greene | February 01, 2013 | 1 Comment

Shortly after we all learned that Notre Dame was no match for the SEC in college football’s National Championship, we learned that their star linebacker had learned all about the dark side of social media.

Heisman trophy finalist Manti Te’o got catfished. He wasn’t the first person, and he won’t be the last. While it’s happened to the vast majority of Gen Y’ers, it’s never happened this publically, or in this bizarre of a fashion.

I’ve been catfished before, as a teenager who discovered the internet, AOL chat rooms and websites like social media original gangster In the 90’s cult classic “Friday,” Chris Tucker’s character Smokey perfectly describes what usually happens in those scenarios:

“(That girl said) she looked like Janet Jackson. (She) got out the car (and) looked more like Freddie Jackson!”

As a happily married father of two, my online and social experiences have taken a different turn. No, I don’t have friends from high school who are secretly in love with me misrepresent themselves online for their own pleasure, but I do have to vet every single customer reference a vendor gives me make sure the person on the other end of the phone is who they say they are.

Let me say this first. The majority of Analyst Relations departments I work with are outstanding. We have an open dialogue. They can get product managers and customer references when I ask, and they provide timely updates on their offerings and offering strategy. They work tirelessly to perform a role that isn’t the easier in the world to excel at. I thoroughly appreciate the work these teams perform, and value it extensively.

At the same time, I have run into situations that were a bit “fishy.” There is always the possibility that the person on the other end of the line isn’t who they say they are. It’s possible that I could be thinking I’m talking to Earl in North Carolina on his recent implementation of Vendor X’s product, when in reality I’m talking to an intern in Vendor X’s office.

I also find it strange that a vendor will claim to have hundreds of customers, but can’t get a single one to speak to us. (Note to vendors: I aim to be the most accessible analyst possible. I’ll talk to a customer reference anytime or anywhere. I even own the scheduling function, just get me contact information and we’ll take it from there. J)

There have been other times when:

• I’ve been sent emails from Analyst Relations people that brag about recent wins for companies we cannot verify exist
• I’ve spoken to customers who did not have the tool set up in production
• I’ve spoken to vendor-provided references who turned out to be resellers of that tool

You might read those and chuckle, or you might think I’d take offense from having my intelligence insulted.

I don’t get offended. In the spirit of learning from experience, I vow to never be catfished again. I check references thoroughly. I work to make sure these are real people, in real positions, and I want to make sure customers do the same when they ask for references from a potential vendor. Specifically:

• Ask vendors for local references when possible. Explore opportunities to talk face-to-face.
• Ask vendors for references similar in size, IT budget, and process maturity, to better position yourself to make like comparisons.
• Once provided the reference, locate their profile on LinkedIn and other social media sites, as well as their presence in the vendor’s user communities.
• Understand that there is usually an incentive for the vendor-provided reference to say good things about the product they use.
• Use references to supplement information. The information they provide can be extremely valuable, but they shouldn’t be your primary “ear on the street.”

Following these steps won’t prevent being catfished, but it does lessen the likelihood, and give you things to watch for.

Has something like this happened to you before? If so — do tell! Don’t be embarrassed.

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