Wednesday, August 16, 2006

LinuxWorld - The Blue Ferret's On-the-Floor Report

Okay, I promised you Ferrety readers a report on the LinuxWorld Expo, so here you go. I've noticed much of the coverage by news outlets focuses on the presentations/seminars, and not so much on the expo floor. I know there's a good reason for that, but I'm there for the expo. So this is one visitor's account of the state of Linux. Take from it what you will.

I noticed some differences from last year right away. At least two companies had reps out in the entryway, passing out leaflets, attracting attention. I didn't think much of it at the time.

However, the behavior proved to be prophetic.

One thing defined the expo's attitude - commercialization. We've all been to tradeshows, where it's the exhibitors' jobs to bring in as many leads as possible for marketing campaigns. The same atmosphere, that of "more people, more leads, right away!" pervaded LinuxWorld. While walking around the floor, I was approached by exhibitors whose booths I honestly had no interest in, and each time had literature thrown in my face.

Now, I recognize that these companies need to make money to survive. I'm not contesting that notion at all. But I'm not going to do business with a company whose reps literally jump in my path and half-shove me toward their presentation area. I sat down anyway, to see how the presentation would go. I'm not going to mention this company's name, because I don't want to get sued (for telling the truth). Besides, it wasn't the only company that did stuff like that.

The presentation started with a canned "Why Company X Is The Best" starter. Being a copywriter, I instinctively went to picking at the presenter's language. He relied on what I don't hesitate to call stale, pushy, intentionally-vague sales tactics. The kind that make you fidget in your chair and look for an escape route.

For instance, "Company X is better at bringing virtual solutions to the desktop." Better than who? How do you know? Any studies/surveys/tests done? Any evidence to back up your claims? Nope, none.

Here's another one: "Company X brings you lasting value." I love this one. It's so empty it's laughable, and it's a sure sign that a speech didn't go through any sort of editing. At this point, I got up and walked off. Sure enough, a couple reps glared at me for leaving.

I felt that way - like the hard eyes of sales reps, hungry for yet another set of contact information. bored into my back - the whole time I milled about the Expo. To be fair, several of the companies present were very approachable, enjoyed talking WITH (not just talking AT) their visitors, and had the same we're-all-in-this-together spirit that attracted me toward Linux in the first place.

But they were definitely a minority.

The best advertising tactic I saw came from a company called FiveRuns. Exhibitors gave each visitor a small badge to clip under their expo registration card. The rep asked me if I'd like one. I knew he was asking if he could pin it on me, not if I actually wanted another badge hanging from my neck. But he was courteous and didn't push, so I agreed.

FiveRuns turned everyone who'd come by into a a mobile billboard. Sure stuck out in my mind. And I don't even have a need for their products!

Extremely valuable sales AND marketing lesson in there, folks. Asking permission to market to an audience is as well-known as Linux now. But wait for customers to give the permission before you jump at them like a dog with muddy paws.

I suppose the evolution of LinuxWorld, like Linux, into a commercial entity was inevitable. It IS a viable technology for business and communication. But its collaborative, let's-try-this-out spirit need not be crushed under the wake of The Bottom Line. If it does, events like LinuxWorld will become parodies of themselves. And the real genuises won't even get near the doors.



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