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Handling Criticism of Your Product

527 Words. Plan about 3 minute(s) to read this.

Over my years as a writer and podcaster, I’ve had a few vendors express their displeasure at something I said or did not say about their pet product. The fact is, sometimes I find babies ugly. That’s because sometimes…they are.

In fact, members of the IT community at large sometimes find babies ugly, and express those opinions in public. That’s how community works. We share knowledge, experience, and opinions. We agree. We disagree. We discuss. We speak through our microphones and keyboards, and it’s all intended to be for the greater good.

What To Do

Vendors, you are a part of that community. You’re not above it. You don’t control it. You’re simply a part of it, just like the rest of us. With that in mind, what do you do when someone in the IT community calls your baby ugly?

  1. Recognize that one member of the community doesn’t control the rest of the community. We have opinions. We share. We consider. And yes, we also influence each other as well as any audience we might have. But a single opinion shared doesn’t kill your product.
  2. A negative opinion shared publicly is a chance for you to take the information and react positively. Is the negative opinion valid? Is there an opportunity to improve the product? Is the criticizer willing to engage with you offline so that you can find out more details about their negative opinion? This is a chance for you to grow your product based on the input of someone who cared enough to talk about it in a public space! That’s gold you can’t mine any other way.
  3. Take the opportunity to patiently educate. Sometimes, media creators get it wrong. For example, I recently wrote a piece where I described a product, but made an irrelevant point along the way because of how the vendor was positioning their product. The vendor did not castigate me. Instead, they took the time to argue the relevance of my point, and convinced me that I’d gotten it wrong. Score a point for the vendor, as I’ll never look at that product in the same way and can now accurately describe it in future discussions with the community.

What Not To Do

Some vendor responses to public criticism are beyond what could be considered reasonable. I’ve heard several stories from Packet Pushers listeners and others in the IT community about how their public criticism, no matter how well-balanced or substantiated, ruined their relationship with a vendor. This should never be.

As a vendor, when you persecute a critic, it puts the rest of the community on notice that it’s safest to never talk about your products. Ever. And maybe to not use or recommend your products at all. Most humans will avoid confrontation. On the whole, aggressively going after a critic is a negative for your organization.

A defensive response is fine, and even expected. Rational, balanced dialogue and discussion are reasonable and even desirable. Going after someone’s reputation, threatening their livelihood, or making it impossible to do future business all because they made an observation about your ugly baby is unreasonable behavior.

Don’t be unreasonable.

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