Why Would A Vendor Care About Network Field Day Events?

I’m in San Jose, California as a member of the Network Field Day 5 delegation this week. NFD is under the Tech Field Day umbrella of events, and is not a Packet Pushers event as such – although we’ve been a part of them, and Greg in particular has helped to organize some of them. I’ve been to Network Field Day events many times before, and am quite familiar with how they work. Technology bloggers & podcasters active in social media and with a meaningful following come to Silicon Valley to hear networking vendors present about their products. The delegation creates content about the presentations that they find interesting, letting their following know what they think.

The delegates are not paid, although travel and expenses are covered. The vendors are not entitled to get a positive review of their presentation or products by the delegates, who can say what they like, whether that opinion is positive, negative, or ambivalent. The events have been popular, with Network Field Day 5 going on this week, and Network Field Day 6 already on the calendar. Now, I know there’s many networking vendors that have not presented to an NFD delegation. We want to hear from you, not because NFD is having trouble filling slots (just the opposite), but because this is an opportunity more vendors should engage in. Let’s talk about why.

  1. The people that follow NFD delegates are exactly the kind of people you want to talk to. Network engineers. Network architects. People with problems to solve and pain points to be relieved. Folks who understand technology deeply and are passionate about it. By presenting to a NFD delegation, you’re indirectly presenting to the delegation’s audience. You’re reaching the right people.
  2. You get to present technology to technical people. We understand the problems networking is facing, because we’re in the thick of it every day. We build networks for a living, and have been for a long time. While many of us contribute to the larger IT media world, at heart we’re technologists. We care about this stuff…a lot. So you’re not just presenting to a potential customer. You’re presenting to people who love and want to talk about tech. If you’re doing something interesting, you can bet we’re going to write about it.
  3. You can add your voice to an ongoing networking community conversation. The network Field Day delegations comprise dozens of bloggers and podcasters with aggregate followings on Twitter, G+, etc. in the tens of thousands. We’re involved in practically every vertical market you can imagine: financials, higher ed, tech, SMB, service providers, integrators, etc. We exchange ideas and information constantly. We read and comment on each other’s content, along with the rest of the larger networking community. We discuss our challenges in forum posts, chat on Skype, and tackle the real-world problems we have, all out in the open. I think you get the point, but here’s the thing. If we don’t know about your product or solution, we can’t talk about you. You’re left out, not because anyone has anything against you, but simply because this very active and vocal crowd might not know much about you. Are you a startup with a great new product? Tell us about it – if what you’re doing is cool, we’ll spread the word. Are you an established vendor with an underrepresented product? Make your case to an NFD delegation and point out what we’ve been missing.

In short, NFD is an opportunity for vendors to connect with a very connected audience. You’re talking to people with problems to solve and who influence the decisions about how to solve them. NFD is a great event for vendors to get plugged into.

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Ethan Banks
Ethan Banks, CCIE #20655, has been managing networks for higher ed, government, financials and high tech since 1995. Ethan co-hosts the Packet Pushers Podcast, which has seen over 2M downloads and reaches over 10K listeners. With whatever time is left, Ethan writes for fun & profit, studies for certifications, and enjoys science fiction. @ecbanks
Ethan Banks
Ethan Banks
  • marc edwards

    Thanks Ethan. NFD is news to me. I am down in Santa Cruz and would love the opportunity to participate some time.

    Best,

    Marc Edwards
    CCIE #38259

  • Jon Hudson

    From my point of view it is much to do with the loss of true trusted advisors from the SE community due to vendor pressures. I talk about this in a blog I wrote last year, which I will not provide a link to as I don’t want to self promote here. However I strongly strongly feel that trusted advisors are desperately needed in all industries and particularly lacking in ours due to the economics of the equipment.

    So events like NFD, blogs and twitter step in to provide as unbiased as possible feedback and reviews.

    Specific to network field day, very plain and simple, it’s market research at a minimum. If it all goes well? If by some combination of luck, personalities, features, demos (and occasional beer), you may even get a honest comment or blog post about what you have shown. And that is worth more than any ad you can run, any commercial you can have.

    This is why it’s SO important and appreciated how clear you all are on who payed for what and why. And that is to say there is nothing wrong with say, airline costs being covered, as long as its public and open.

    And to the point of “trusted advisor”, in many ways negative feedback is as valuable or even more valuable than positive feedback, as it gives both the audience and the vendors clarity, cuts through the cool aid, and gives us as vendors an opportunity to improve in a very public way. If the vendors are smart enough to listen.

    Because there is a very serious problem in our industry. Very very very few of the people that decide what features are supported, implemented and how they are implemented have ever, even for a few weeks, actually worked in a datacenter, SP, or even built a simple network. Would you buy a car if you knew the product manager for that car had never ever actually driven a car?

    So there is a desperate need for current (and recovering) operators, admins, architects and engineers to give direct unfiltered input to the products that we all create.

    And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Greg is easy on the eyes ;-)

  • mbushong

    When I was at Juniper, I participated in a couple of these (either as a presenter or had my team present). When I went to Plexxi, we immediately signed up for another. It’s rare that you get a group of people who are fairly untethered to listen and provide in-the-moment feedback on ideas and direction. The questions border on challenging, which was probably the best thing about the experience from a vendor perspective.

    The hardest thing from a vendor side is to not view this as a marketing event. The temptation is to look for impressions and ROI, but it’s more than that. If you view it as an exchange of ideas, it’s a hugely valuable event. If your intent is to measure tweet volumes and generated leads, you will likely prep the wrong way and the session will be a dud.

  • Terry Slattery

    The vendors who benefit the most will prepare highly technical presentations. I’ve participated in NFD1 and NFD5 to date. I clearly recall those presentations that were highly technical and gave me things to think about (and write about). I have seen one or two marketing driven presentations and they didn’t contain material that I could use, so I didn’t write much about them.
    If you’re following one of the Field Days and are interested in a vendor, check out what everyone has to say about that vendor and watch the recording.

  • http://twitter.com/RealLisaC Lisa Caywood

    What @mbushong said. Product managers love handpicked customer advisory boards because they’re usually very validating. They also tend to be a giant waste of time and money and yield few real insights. A good NFD session will be the opposite.

    The other piece that hasn’t been mentioned, but is really important, is community-building. Personal connections are made and renewed at NFD events, and not just between vendors and delegates. They invariably attract and bring together bright and passionate like-minded people, vendors and users alike, who comment on and discuss the various presentations, and those connections often go on to be developed in other forums as time goes on.