When looking for a webinar technology vendor, you need to look beyond the software to the company itself. Let’s examine the typical kinds of sales/marketing stories you may hear from big and small companies to see whether they hold up in the real world.
[I have worked successfully with the biggest, longest-established players in the business and with small startups. And I’ve been frustrated by both as well. I’ll tell you my answer up front… You’re going to find something you like and something you don’t like about every vendor. How those positives and negatives match to your priorities will determine whether it is the right company for you.]
- The big players will tell you: “We have the stability and resources of a huge company behind us. You aren’t going to be left holding a license for useless software when your little private vendor suddenly closes up shop.” True or false?
Larger organizations are typically more stable than smaller companies. True. But size is not a guarantee of stability. Ask car dealers around the US. Are they happy they signed up with GM and Chrysler for the stability it guaranteed them? The opposing argument to the “big company” message is that it is easier for a big company to cut personnel, investment, or support for a web conferencing product that is just a small part of their overall revenue mix. The bottom line rules, and it can be ruthless.
- Small players will tell you: “We will give you personal attention and flexible support for your special needs that a big company can’t.” True or false?
Cisco is unlikely to modify their two-year development plan for WebEx and throw in a new feature next month just because you say you need it. True. But the opposing argument is that the big companies with many thousands of business customers and many years in business are more likely to have seen your business need and addressed it already. I am sometimes surprised when I point out areas for feature improvements for smaller vendors and they say “Huh! I guess that could be valuable. We hadn’t thought of that.” Do you want to be the test case that your smaller vendor learns from?
- Big vendors may say: “We have a huge support department that is available around the clock. A smaller vendor can’t give you that kind of support.” True or false?
In a literal sense, this statement is probably true. How useful that support is might be another matter. A few of the largest vendors (names withheld to prevent lawsuits) send you straight to “first level support” when you call or email. This is all too often an outsourced company in a country far from the developers, working off scripts and asking you to recite your name, email, customer ID, phone number, and shoe size before they will even listen to your problem. I work with several small vendors where I call in and know the developers who answer the phone by name. And I bless the small size of the company when they answer my question or fix the problem instantly themselves.
The aspect of support where the big players really can shine is in providing technical assistance for attendees having trouble joining a meeting. Usually a script and set of troubleshooting steps is all that is needed. If I know I can rely on my vendor to take on that role, it relieves me of tremendous stress. And if they offer it around the clock, and have local support offices speaking Chinese, Japanese, or a few European languages, it can boost them to the top of the list for my international webinars.
As you can see, just about any argument in favor of a vendor based purely on size can be countered with an alternate hypothetical scenario. Instead of concentrating on size as your determining factor, look at the specific issues that are being rolled up in the size arguments. Decide which are the most likely to affect the success of your events and the ease with which you can carry on your business.
And definitely ask other users for their experiences with the vendor. Don’t rely solely on offered references. Put out open-ended requests for comment on forums, blogs, or other public access sites. One place to try is the Web Conferencing Community Forum (www.wcc-forum.com). I built it as an open exchange area free of vendor sponsorship, advertising, or censorship. Lately it’s been collecting far too many self-serving marketing messages from vendors (which I also try not to censor, as long as they aren’t deceptive or inaccurate).