How to Translate Vendor Talk into Plain English

My job as an industry analyst is listen to pitches from different vendors, from small startups, to the web giants. I get paid (yes I’m a professional BS filter) to listen to their pitches –and then translate it into reality for reports and for our clients, the buyers.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned to translate, and I’m going to share with you here now –so you, as a buyer, will know the danger zones when you’re buying from a vendor. In most cases, you can skip the first 5 slides of any presentation, a great time to fiddle with blackberry, smack talk on twitter using your iphone, start a game of bullshit bingo, or figure out a way to sound relevant.

How to Translate Vendor Talk into Plain English

The Famous Two by Two Grid
For some reason, vendors think anything in a chart is believable, even if they made it up themselves! Typically, in the first five slides of a presentation, there’s a two-by-two grid (image: sample grid, not for re-use) where the vendor always positions in the top right. The competitors are scattered in all the other quadrants, but are never more further ‘up and to the right’ than the vendor. The funny thing is, the X and Y axis are often criteria that you won’t find on any research report –and every vendor’s 2×2 is different so they’re ‘up and to the right’. Update: I forgot about this post from former analyst Carter Lusher, now AR advisor, he says to get rid of grids all together.

Translation: We know up and to the right is best, so we created our own X and Y axis labels, we’re hoping you won’t read the small print “tallest CEO” or “best ping pong players in support”

We’re the “Industry Leader”
I’ve heard this one over and over, in fact everyone’s an industry leader at something. “Industry leader at wom in Facebook in Tuesdays” or “Industry leader in community interactions in Fresno at YMCA” The trick here is to ask them who determined they were the industry leader, and if the category is large –and believable enough.

Translation: Leading is a good term to use, but the size of the industry and how we segment is up to us, don’t ask questions as we’ll just tell you “We’ll get back to you on those details”

The Logo Smorgasbord
Vendors love to put many logos on one of the first 10 slides, it’s meant to amaze you and show that they are with it with the big brands. The trick here is that even the smallest of deployments will validate a logo on that slide –and sometimes without the permission of that brand. If you’re interviewing competitors you’ll notice that many of them share the same customers as others in their space, it’s likely true. I often see Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, and other big tech companies on nearly every logo slide from even competitors.

Translation: The more logos we cram on here the more you’ll be impressed, if you rotate your head back and forth real fast, it’s kinda like a kaleidoscope…but digital.

The Fallacy of Vendor Math
You’ve probaly heard vendor math before: “We’ve 39 of the Fortune 50” or a variation on a theme “17 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies use us”, or we’ve 150% year on year in new clients in enterprise space. While factual, deciding on numerators and denominators can be tweaked to fit the needs of every vendor. Secondly, the universe of “Fortune” companies changes annually, if not more frequently. Vendor math may sound impressive –but it’s likely skewed, of course, this is coming from the 7th most popular Jeremiah above in most Google searches. (thanks to analyst for this one Laura Ramos)

Translation: Whoever told you numbers never lie was right, ‘cept perspective is a son of a gun. We didn’t want to tell you that 150% year on year growth of new enterprise clients could be going from 2 customers to 5 (but one was my brother’s company)

Our Many Awards
Everyone loves a shiny trophy, and we see accolades and awards from just about every vendor. Contests from blogs, conferences, editors, and even analysts. With everyone getting awards, and touting it too, it’s hard to put any real value on any of them.

Translation: We’re hope you’re impressed with this shout out and award from this blogspot blogger in 2005 –it’s hanging next to our elk head in the den by the wetbar.

Most Successful Investors Ever
Hearing about investors is common in the nascent social media space, so there’s often a slide on company stats that touts the experience of the management team and vision. Notice that Reid Hoffman is on everyone’s investor slide? Me too, I think he’s invested in the entire internet!

Translation: Reid invested in the whole internet! No seriously, he really did! (Ok really it’s about 60 companies, but using Vendor Math, that’s nearly the whole internet, at least the north west side of the ‘nets.)

Now if you’re a vendor (or perhaps their PR agency), don’t be offended and use this information to improve your communications. In all due fairness, if someone has a list of ‘translating Analyst/Client speak’ I’ll link to it here too (I made fun of myself here). Oh, and for the record, Reid Hoffman really is successful, and I’m scheduled to meet with him soon.

Have you heard any other vendor talk that can be translated into regular English? If I like em, I’ll add it to the above and credit/link to ya!

Update: Who’s the best at making fun of vendors? Independent Analyst Jon Toigo who covers the storage industry created this creative spoof gallery clowning on the 3 lettered storage vendors (IBM, EMC, HDS, ESS-HP, NAP) I used to work at HDS, and always admired his photoshop skills. I think I’m going to start one for social media vendors, hmmmmmm.