Enterprise vendors: There's no such thing as product secrecy any more

Some enterprise vendors try to keep what they are offering away from what they think might be the wrong eyes. This is never a good idea.

All you chaps out there trying to sell enterprise solutions, I have some free consulting advice for you: You have to be completely open when you talk to your potential market.

Indeed, I will argue that you have to move towards radical transparency where everything is as open as possible ... including, hopefully, your code.

Some time ago I was doing research and I went to the Web site of a very sophisticated company - we'll call them Acme Systems - that sells a bleeding edge enterprise product and they offered me a white paper. Now, I often read white papers to get an idea of how a product could be used "in anger" as it were and, in this case, the white paper was indirectly available; you had to provide your name, email address, company name, and so on to get the document.

Now, asking for contact details is OK and can be a good lead generation tactic, but the reality is that the more leading edge and enterprise-oriented your product is, the more sophisticated and smaller your audience will be and the less inclined they'll be to give up their data.

Sure, collecting names and details under other circumstances might give you a better idea of who your audience is, but in reality, some large percentage of serious potential enterprise customers will be ticked off by being asked to provide this data for one very good reason: They've come to see what your value might be but you're asking them for value (their data) before you've demonstrated you yourself have value.

So what do they do? They give you false information. Suddenly, they become "John Mindyourownbusiness" or "Aaa Baaa". Totally useless data and a waste of everyone's time.

Acme's strategy was to examine the responses in an attempt to weed out white paper requests from competitors on the theory that the less the competition knows about what they're doing the better.

Great theory, but in practice, a total waste of time. If your competitors really want to see your collateral they'll get their grubby hands on it one way or another. These days, the Internet ensures that one single public opening, one single "leak," will become a tsunami of exposure as fast as you can say "oops."

Just like privacy, secrecy of any kind is becoming an outdated concept.

But there's a bigger issue for purveyors of fine enterprise products: You are talking - or trying to talk - to very busy people. An enterprise type comes to your site to try to understand what you're up to and what value he can get from you ... and that could well be your one chance to connect.

Allow his interest to cool off for one second and you run the risk of him getting distracted and forgetting about you. Or, worse, getting frustrated. So, if you're going to ask him to share his personal data, he'll expect you to cough up the goods, tout suite. And they better be good.

But why force him to jump through hoops at all? A problem with the "tell me and then I'll tell you" strategy is that it puts a speed bump in the road to building a relationship. Sure, it's not an insurmountable bump, but anything that gets in the way of engaging the attention of a potential customer is a bad idea.

As a vendor you need to be as open to your market as possible. Particularly in the enterprise market, secrecy through obscurity is outdated, which is why so many companies are going open source ... the more people who know what you do the more understandable your value proposition becomes.

So, vendors: What's your rationale for trying to keep stuff secret? And buyers: How much does vendors being coquettish about what they do annoy you?

Gibbs is all ears in Ventura, Calif. Your data to backspin@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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