Recently a mini storm blew up when Kashflow CEO Duane Jackson posted explaining that he’d be asked by the organizers of the Global Entrepreneur Week not to attend a function as it was a private Sage event. While the situation has now been resolved, the back story seems to be hyper-sensitivity on the part of Sage to Jackson’s ongoing use of social media to eviscerate the company every time it stumbles. In a David vs Goliath situation, Sage as the Goliath is petrified of engaging with Jackson, fearful that it will only create more fodder for him.

In his analysis of the incident, Dennis Howlett commented that:

That is walking into very dangerous territory. Raising the hackles of a person with a reputation for not pulling punches AND a blog is a really, really bad idea. As someone who has been tossed out of media events for asking the ‘wrong’ question and been banned from attending conferences by some vendors for relentlessly exposing inconvenient truths, I know how this can be a shock the first time around. You get used to it. It is almost always the reaction of a company that feels bruised but incapable of coming up with a satisfactory response to tough questions .Sage is demonstrating the kind of childish behavior I have seen time and again from vendors that believe they have market entitlement. It’s pathetic.

The situation prompted me to write a peripherally connected post, telling of a situation I’ve encountered with a couple of companies I’ve written about. In one of these situations, the company in question demonstrates a similar petulance that is, I believe, a mistake for them.

As an industry commentator, I’m often in a situation where I need to publicly criticize a company or its product. It’s not a pleasant part of my job, no one likes to tell someone their baby is ugly. But I have an obligation to tell my readers the way it is. I always try to do so tactfully and constructively – it’s unhelpful to be cruel and doesn’t lie within my personal moral viewpoint, but constructive criticism is, in my opinion, entirely appropriate.

Recently I’ve had feedback from a couple of companies I was critical of on this blog. In the first situation, I reviewed a product from company A and was pretty dismissive of the offering. The CEO commented on my post and sent me an extensive email detailing their thoughts and encouraging me to engage with them on an ongoing basis to get a better perspective of their approach. While I still hold my initial view with regards the product, the exchange has left me with a deeper understanding of their company, and a desire to engage with them more fully. That’s a win for the company, and ultimately a win for end users who are taking my advice when looking at product options.

In the second situation, reading a critical post by me, the CEO of company B sent me an email advising that they were no longer going to engage with me due to the perceived “negativity” I displayed. I believe this approach is not only arrogant, but also a major mistake for said company. At the most obvious level, it was a mistake because most bloggers of a less sympathetic ilk would have published the email and caused embarrassment and loss of credibility for company B. But there’s more to it than that. Industry commentators are a necessary evil. While vendors may hate the fact we pour cold water on their products, the fact is we’re a valid source for commentary, and end users often refer to what we say when making their buying decisions. Turning the other cheek, engaging with said commentator and explaining the company’s approach fully is a much smarter approach to dealing with criticism.

I’m not going to name either company – it’s not my style and adds nothing of value to the situation. However I wanted to write this post in order to give some quiet advice to other companies out there – as industry commentators you may think us ignorant, negative, petulant and pompous, but unfortunately it’s a situation you’re stuck with. Engage with us, offer constructive response to our criticism and, in the event we call your baby ugly, just turn the other cheek, happy in the knowledge that the baby still looks good to you.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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