Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Would Third-party Product Driven/Vendor Sessions Benefit User Groups and Community Events?

In the the couple of years I have been involved in the SQL Server community I have noticed that there is an issue with third-party product driven sessions or sponsor sessions at events.  The argument I usually hear against these sessions is that organizers are concerned about the event becoming viewed as a marketing event.  I’ve even had a short email discussion with Grant Fritchey (@GFritchey) about how it would be nice if he did a session on database source and version control based on a post he made in this SQLServerCentral thread.  His response to my suggestion was:

…but I need to do it without using any particular vendor’s products… not easy…


…lots of organizations and people won’t accept presentations when they include third party products. It’s too much like a sales pitch…

Steve Jones (@way0utwest), also, had an editorial poll last Friday (1/8/2010), Balancing the Message, that dovetails nicely with this post, where he asks:

Think about the value that you've gotten from third party products. Think about the problems you've solved, or the help you've gotten from a backup tool, an editor, or a performance product. How would you like to learn about enhancements. What's a high impact, low interruption way of communicating with you?

I’d like to present 2 reasons why I think third-party product driven and/or vendor sessions should be acceptable at events:

  1. Most of us use third-party products, and we could use the help in learning how to use them better.  Isn’t that the point of user groups and SQLSatuday’s?  If I’m using a third-party product to monitor my SQL Server all the great sessions on DMV’s, Wait Stats, and Extended Events are great, but I also need to be taught how to best leverage the capabilities of the product as well.  The best part is that this session doesn’t even have to come from the vendor, it can be from any SQL Server professional who uses and is passionate about the product.
  2. Vendors pay for these events and they need to get value from the event as well.  Sure, they get a table and the opportunity to do demos for folks who stop by, but I think they would get a better response with a full-session and proper presentation facilities.  I did have a Twitter/email conversation about this with Brent Ozar (@BrentO), who works for Quest.  He thinks that Quest, and likely other vendors, would be more willing to sponsor events if they were guaranteed a time-slot for a product demo.  I don’t have an issue with this as long as the session is clearly marked as a product demonstration.  This demo could be the thing that gets them the sale or sales that make the event worth sponsoring.  You wouldn’t give every sponsor a session, but your top-level sponsors might get one and you could limit the number of top level slots.

I have to admit that reason 1 carries more weight with me as an attendee/organizer than reason 2.  I’d especially be interested in sessions submitted and presented by users of a third-party product than by the vendor as it would be less likely to be a sales session.  I have to admit, that, as a member of OPASS leadership, I’d be unlikely to have a vendor session at a user group meeting, but at a SQLSaturday, I’d happily have a 2 or 3 vendor sessions, as I believe any marketing backlash would easily be offset by the 20 or more non-vendor session.

So what do you think?  Would you be turned off to SQLSaturday or other community event if there were vendor sessions or sessions based on third-party products?


  1. I would love sessions on vendor products at events and user group meetings. One of my biggest challenges is getting the most out of the products we have in house that we are paying for and not using very effectively. Of course I would want the person to be totally honest and not sugar coat the bad things in the product as well. Make it a fair presentation and it should work.

  2. I wish we could vendor presentations too. I'd love to go to town on some of the cool tricks you can do with Red Gate tools. I've done a couple of short presentations on some of the stuff for my user group and that's acceptable on nights when Red Gate (or any other company) sponsors the evening. It's just that places like Tech-Ed, PASS & Connections don't want vendors fighting for the slots and then scaring off all the attendees with nasty sales pitches. I get it, but it's still a shame.

  3. Keith,

    My thoughts as well. The issue most organizers have is how to "keep the vendor honest". That's why, while I'd be okay with those sessions, I'd rather see someone from the community do a presentation about how they are using third-party products. In that case you get a more balanced presentation.

  4. Grant,

    As I said in response to Keith, I'd love to see someone like yourself do a presentation on how you are using the tools and where you've found them most useful.

    I do understand organizer's concerns, but if you limit the number of sponsors who get the sessions (FIFO), that takes the pressure off. Like for a SQLSaturday maybe have 2 Super Sponsors and give one a morning session and the other an afternoon session. Then they aren't up against each other, but they aren't the only game in town either. Just throwing out ideas and hoping for some good discussion.

  5. Having helped put together a SQL Saturday, it probably wouldn't be that hard to block out the time for a vendor, preferably a sponsor, to do something like this. It would just be difficult to get the right balance if the vendor picked the presentation. I think having some advocate come in to do it would probably work. The problem is, the audience on a SQL Saturday is so limited. You really want something like this on a "24 Hours of PASS" type of thing so that it's shown to 400 people at a shot and then to hundreds more in downloads. But then it starts to come across as sales. I think we're dancing on a knife on this one.

  6. I think that the scheduling of these sessions establishes the line as to whether or not they push the event into a 'marketing' realm. If you just add a 'third party tools' track, (maybe half of which is done by vendors and half of which is done by users who actually implement these tools in real environments), I think it would meet the need you're trying to fill without forcing anyone to feel like they have to listen to a sales pitch. I think the line would be crossed if you flipped the scheduling from a track to a time slot, so instead of it being track 8, it was the 1-2:15 hour where people had to basically 'pick their poison' and attend one of them.

    All in all, I like the idea, I've found third party tools that I absolutely love and make my life much easier and would love to learn about more.

  7. Grant,

    I'd definitely limit vendor sessions to sponsors. There are definitely some issues and you probably won't ever get it perfect, but I think attendees AND sponsors could get benefit. I'd love to hear someone tell me how they are using LiteSpeed or SQLBackup and how it has helped them. Or even a session on SCOM and how to use it to monitor SQL Server.


    I agree a time slot of third-party tools wouldn't be good, but isolated sessions throughout the day are acceptable. For sponsor sessions I'd definitely want a limit on the number and I think 2 per day is a good limit (1 morning, 1 afternoon).


So what do you think I am?