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Conference Calls with Joel Snyder of Opus One

With the demise of trade shows, the conference call has become a primary tool to inform the press and analysts about events and products. My basic assumption is that your time is extremely valuable and you do not want to waste it. Everything I say here has the goal of giving you the optimum result of the highest possible return with the lowest possible investment. If you are scheduling a conference call with me, this document will help you to plan the most effective use of your time, and get the greatest impact.

The Right Content

I'm a technical product reviewer. I am interested in the technology behind your product, and what your product does. What I really don't want is a long discussion of why you built the product, or how security is now a big concern of network managers. The ideal conference call is one that starts with "What our new product does is this " The worst possible conference call is one that spends 29 of 30 minutes talking about how people need better WiFi security, and then 1 minute claiming that you provide better WiFi security.

I don't want to be rude, but if it appears that you are wasting your time by telling me something that I already know, I will interrupt you and ask you to move on to the interesting stuff. Please be prepared for this, and realize that my goal is to not waste your time telling me stuff that I already know.

Here's a hint: any presentation that you would give to an analyst (Gartner is a good example, but not the only one) is absolutely the opposite of what you should be giving to me. Analysts generally don't have any practical experience in real-world IT, don't have a technical background, and don't actually ever look at products. I have a PhD in MIS, have run data centers, tell enterprises how to build secure systems, and spend all of my time crawling in and out of products. See the difference? We need different kinds of information.

The Right Person

I would like to talk to people at your organization that represent the technical side of things. I don't mind talking to people who are not polished speakers or who do not know the politically correct marketing angle to everything. I very much appreciate talking to people that I can learn from, and even argue with. This is a healthy part of the process, and it helps me to understand.

What offends me are people who want to tell me about your product, yet cannot answer questions about how it works and how it is put together. Please do not ask these people to lead conference calls. I am happy to have them on-board, because often times there are questions that the product marketing side of the house can answer which technical people cannot; I just don't want them to be doing all of the talking.

If you wonder whether the person you want to lead the call is the right one, ask them "have you ever written software for our company?" If the answer is "no," then it is possible that they do not have the technical background that would make the call most useful to you and to me.

The Right Time

I am not a news person. That means that anything time-sensitive is generally not interesting to me, because I don't have any news responsibilities. I am a reviews person. That means that if you don't want to talk about products, you don't want to talk to me. For example, if you have an OEM agreement, or if you have a new vice president, or if you have a big customer win, or if you are being bought or sold, I don't really need to know. I can read about it in the papers like everybody else.

If you are making an announcement of a new product, there is no need to try and fit me in among the back-to-back marathon of calls to other news people. It's generally convenient to put those kinds of calls off until the fuss has died down.

There is one situation where time is of the essence: if you want to get an exclusive early test of your product. In that case, say so. Notice the use of the word "exclusive:" the publications I work for are willing to shuffle things around in order to be first to talk about significant new products. These kinds of things need to be planned well in advance: at least 60 days before your product launch is the right time to start discussing this possibility.

The Right Format

You can deliver your message any way you want, but the most effective way to get your message across is to dive into what the product does and how it does it. This means that WebEx is not usually a useful tool (unless the most important part of your product is your GUI), and sending a copy of the presentation over well in advance is a smart thing.

If I can look at your slide deck and say "you know, Slide 12 is where it really gets interesting," then we can save a lot of time and waste less of your valuable resources. Sending over the presentation 30 minutes before our call means that I won't have time to prepare for the call. If I'm not prepared, then I'm not going to be able to get much useful information out of it, and you'll have wasted your resources. Just as you like to prepare for a call, so do I.

If you prefer to have a scripted presentation where the person doing the talking goes through Slides 1 through N and always says the same thing to everyone (sometimes this is known as "being on-message"), then I would prefer to skip that particular call. If you don't mind.

The Right Approach

I don't do "ambush" conference calls, where a team of your people call me out of the blue. In fact, you're likely to get voice mail close to 100 percent of the time using this technique, and I don't actually listen to my voice mail.

Your chances of reaching me increase exponentially if you send email to me. Please suggest a few dates and times that are convenient. Unless you specifically mention a shorter or longer time, I am blocking out 30 minutes for each call. This is almost always sufficient if you heed the advice above. This year, I am trying an experiment of scheduling calls on Monday and Tuesday, wherever possible.

The Right Tool

I am, unfortunately, getting a little hard of hearing as I get older. I have found that most speakerphones and many cell phones do not give a good enough quality for me to understand what is being said.

Many speakerphones also have the undesirable side-effect that they make it very difficult to ask questions and have an interactive discussion.

I will leave it to you to select your own telephony apparatus you prefer, but please be prepared for me to say "I'm sorry, I can't understand you" and ask you to change technology.

Similarly, while I have a cell phone, I find it very difficult to understand and would prefer that you not try and have a sustained conversation of any length. It's for emergencies and urgent matters, not normal discussions.

The Right Goal

The reason you want to schedule a conference call with me is that you think I need to know about your product (and possibly your company). The reason that I want to attend the call is that I have a need to know about products (and companies) in the areas that I cover.

The best result of a call, from your point of view, is that I get so excited about what you are doing that I beg you to send down a copy of the product so that I can test it immediately.

If that's not why you ask me onto a call, then it's likely that you are asking the wrong person and perhaps you should reconsider whether this is a good use of your resources.

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