Monday's Musings: Users Now Expect More Advocacy From Their User Groups

Many user groups currently meet the basic requirements...
Today's independent and vendor sponsored user groups serve a key role in building community among a common interest group.  Typical mission and objectives often include:

  • Creating an environment to share information and best practices
  • Exposing issues and limitations with a vendor's product and partner solutions
  • Soliciting member feedback and concerns about vendor and other solution providers
  • Leveraging collective power to influence the product road map of the vendor and other solution providers
  • Facilitating networking opportunities for a vendor's greater community and ecosystem
  • Educating members on new capabilities
  • Creating a forum for the vendor and other providers to discuss new initiatives.

...yet market needs creates demand for stronger leadership on key issues

Comparisons of the November 2008 survey with the latest July 2009 update show that user group members seek greater assistance (see Figure 1).  In fact, rapid vendor consolidation, continual economic pressures, and high pressure sales tactics increase membership demands that user groups increasingly serve as client advocates in working with the vendors.  Key trends from the 2009 H2 191 respondent survey show sharp shifts such as:

  • ~52% increase to negotiate license discounts
  • ~50% decrease to communicate vendor news and updates
  • ~30% increase to address product issues, bugs, enhancement requests
  • ~24% increase to fight for maintenance fee reductions
  • ~22% increase to influence product road maps

Other interesting trends include:

  • ~10% decrease to liaise with software vendor executives
  • ~7% increase to deliver training and educational sessions
  • ~5% increase to benchmark performance
  • ~4% increase to share product and technical knowledge
  • ~3% decrease to provide recruiting opportunities
  • No change to facilitate peer networking opportunities
    Figure 1. Users Now Expect More Advocacy From Their User Groups
    [caption id="attachment_2827" align="aligncenter" width="850" caption="Source: Software Insider's Point of View User Group Survey - Copyright © 2009 R Wang. All rights reserved."]Users demand more action from user groups[/caption]

The bottom line - users need to play a more active role in both good and bad times

Beyond paying the membership dues, user groups are only as successful as their active membership.   The challenge - strike a good balance in meeting membership needs and involving the membership in participating in key initiatives.  As users, now's the time to play a key role in transforming the user groups to meet key requirements and putting one of the best checks and balances in play.   Get active, get engaged and ask key questions to find out how effective your user group is? Some key questions user group members should ask:

  • How well does the user group align with my organization's key initiatives?
  • Is the user group business model aligned with the ability to advocate for the membership?
  • Does the user group have the leadership to publicly and privately raise issues with the vendor?
  • Do officers in the user group receive special privileges for their companies that members may not be privy to and how does that influence their ability to advocate on behalf of the membership?
  • How much say does the vendor have in the user group's decision making?
  • How independent is the user group?  How much money is received from the vendor versus outside sponsorships?  How does that money impact decision making?

The bottom line - vendors can proactively add value by addressing shifting requirements

Strong user group leadership teams quickly respond to changing membership needs and leverage the power of the users and clients to publicly and privately create checks in the balance of power.  The goal - improve the vendor-client relationship via the influence of the membership.   Savvy vendors can address the enhancement request issue, product road maps, and performance benchmarks by:

  • Dedicating executive resources to user group initiatives
  • Increasing transparency in the requirements prioritization process
  • Creating resources to share benchmarking information
  • Reporting more frequently on progress.

Your POV.
Do you feel your user group has given you value?  What are you looking from your user group? As a user what would you like to see from your user group?  Are you a software vendor trying to design better user group programs?  Would you like advice on how your program compares?  Feel free to share your experiences here or send me a private email to rwang0 at gmail dot com or r at softwareinsider dot org.
Copyright © 2009 R Wang. All rights reserved.