Customers Aren’t Idiots

Another TwitPiss erupted this week between the usual suspects. Over this.

I don’t care about the topic of debate, really, since I’ve never personally used MetroCluster. I have used NetApp SnapMirror, sync and async, EMC BCVs, SRDF, EVAs and their data replication. And a bunch of other solutions to the same basic problem. Here’s my summary:

All hardware sucks. All software sucks.

The devil, as always, is in the details.

Tone is Vital

What I found most interesting was the way the debate/flamewar took place. As I mentioned to Chuck Hollis: when you’re criticising someone or something, tone is vital.

If you’re going to criticise something, particularly when you have a vested interest in that criticism (as all vendor criticism of competitors does), you need to be particularly careful about how you say things, not just what you say.

People don’t like to be told they’re wrong, that’s just human nature. If there’s a vested interest, your comments are automatically suspect.

This may not be fair, but it doesn’t make it less true.

How To Lose a Sale

This idea was driven home to me recently at a conference (NetApp Insight last year, in the interests of disclosure). I went along to a presentation on sales, and learned something I wish I’d learned years ago.

Don’t argue with the customer about decisions they’ve already made.

In this context, it was about competitor’s kit they already owned. Would you tell a prospective customer they were a total bonehead for buying a competitor’s gear instead of your own, vastly superior gear (obvious, because it’s yours. I mean, duh)? “What kind of moron would buy from company N when their gear has flaws x, y and z? Didn’t you know that?”

“Gee. Thanks for pointing that out. Yeah, all my reasons for making that purchase are idiotic on their face. Thank God you came along to sort me out Mr. Vendor. I guess I’ll take a hundred units of whatever you’re selling. Cheque ok?”

You’re insulting the very people you want to buy your gear. Does that sound like a smart sales strategy to you?

Customers Compromise

The tone of much of the criticism of MetroCluster felt like it was insulting those customers who have bought the product.

Maybe they had perfectly good reasons for not choosing something else.

Maybe they did know about all these apparently awful flaws, but didn’t care, or it wasn’t important in the larger view, or they had mitigation strategies in place.

Or maybe they don’t agree with you that they are flaws?

Jim/Calvin may have some valid technical points (I’m not going into it, as I’m no expert), but I think they missed the mark in the tone they used.

And the other vendors missed the mark by joining in a petty point-scoring pile-on. I’m not the only storage customer turned off by those sorts of antics, regardless of the vendor doing it (and you all do, sadly).

But hey, maybe there are customers who like that sort of thing and you can sell to them instead.

Constructive criticism is hard, and I’m no expert. I’ll see if I can write up some quick tips on what I’d prefer to see from a vendor’s critical review of a competitor’s product. I think it would benefit the whole industry if we all try to lift our game, yeah?

Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Customers Aren’t Idiots | eigenmagic --

  2. Hey Justin,

    (Disclaimer: The above mentioned “Calvin” from HP here). I’d love to talk to you about the “tone” used and why you thought it was the wrong tone. In my opinion, almost every thing we discussed in our two blog posts were factual – undeniably factual and then drawing some pretty straight-forward conclusions from those facts. Both Jim and I have a bit of a sarcastic humor but haven’t sunk to the same level of slamming that the competitor uses.

    And the core question that we raised was not of customers who bought MetroCluster (we have both repeatedly said that its a fine solution) – the questionable tactic is for the very misleading marketing of it by NetApp.

    If NetApp ales/marketing is misleading about MetroCluster by calling it “designed for zero downtime” (and I know this for a fact because I talked to an HP channel partner involved in a deal versus MetroCluster with the EVA which he won once the customer understood the details), how would you expose the truth in situations like these?

    And if anyone doesn’t know what the blog is your talking about, you can find the one Jim wrote that has massive comments on it: My post attempted to summarize where things were at and is here:

  3. Hi Calvin! Thanks for commenting.

    Talking about tone is tricky, because the interpretation of tone varies by individual. I talk more about this in my next post (which you’ve also commented on) so I’ll respond more on this point there.

    More on the topic of this post: Some of Jim’s statements wandered into hyperbole territory, such as the title. Drawing a direct comparison between a car without wheels and an HA configuration is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion.

    Unfortunately, some of the other statements suggest a level of negligence or oversight on the part of customers of the product. Not checking for wheels, “wouldn’t trust your mother’s cookie recipe’s” and similar phrases imply that customers are doing something wrong by using the product at all. I don’t think that gives customers of the product enough credit.

    Maybe they did check for wheels. Maybe they feel that the risks (whatever they may be, I’m not going into the technical details) are manageable given the cost of the solution.

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that getting the tone right is hard, and unless you’re careful, you can come off sounding like “Hahaha! Look at all the stupid mistakes you’ve made. What a moron.” Even if you’re right, it’s unpleasant to have it couched in such terms. It undermines the message you’re (purportedly) trying to get across. Does that make sense?

    I prefer to read things that make me think “Wow. That author really knows their stuff. I’d like to talk to them some more about it.” not “Wow, that guy is kind of an asshole.” I’m sure you do too.

    Writing this is hard, because I’m trying to convey the right tone as well, and risk missing the mark because I’m bring critical of others. I’m aiming for polite conversation that leads to understanding, not point scoring for a ‘win’.

    How am I doing?

  4. Hi Justin,
    I just came across your blog after some of the fun on the others – I was the guy who made the rugby reference.
    So I think you got the point just right – certainly aspire to the right tone even if we miss from time to time will be best.
    So looking back the whole episode one wonders;
    How many MetroCluster users got a fright and have done a system review?
    How many potential MetroCluster clients will now walk away from NetApp, or will they simply buy replicated FAS HA?
    How many HP clients will call NetApp to find out how this solution saves money?

    In my experience there are more things than SPOF required to design systems (and boy SPOF sure dates those guys to the DEC/Digital 1990’s language). The first is an understanding of how likely unscheduled failure actually is, so that the value of doubling hardware costs can be measured. The second is how rapid and straighforward recovery can be, as often there is some tolerance for short downtime.

    In the end the call out on the article being FUD is exactly right – in fact it was aimed more at inducing uneccessary panic with the silly Startrek example. In the comments then JH and CZ swung over to making points that were not in the original article and insisted they were relevant and important (if even all were true).

    And even the wheels thing – sure losing a wheel on a traditional car is a serious problem – (except if you have an old Citroen), and makes sense for a traditional array
    The analogy is bad though because a NetApp cluster is two entirely self sufficient systems integrated into a HA whole, (bad analogy coming up but it will have to do) rather like two motor cycles coupled together which means one can survive and be used. (look Ma! only two wheels).

    So not only was the tone wrong – the whole approach was targetting NetApp marketing while showing distinct marketing naivety themselves? Which lost any opportunity for HP to achieve advantage, other than publicity

  5. Hello Ans,

    You are wrong on two points and right about one:

    1. Your analogy was wrong. NetApp MetroCluster is not two motorcycles hitched together. It is two unicycles hitched together. It is a system with multiple single-points-of-failure on one site that fails over to another system with multiple single points of failure on a second site. And it has the additional problem of being the only mission-critical storage solution in the industry that is designed so that a network failure outside the datacenter can affect the HA of a system within the datacenter.

    2. Your second mistake was to claim that I was criticizing the MetroCluster solution in my discussion. On the contrary, and I made this very clear, I was criticizing that NetApp marketed MetroCluster as a high-availability, mission-critical, zero-downtime solution (words straight off their website) and for not making it clear in ANY of their literature that MetroCluster had the design risks I just mentioned.

    Customers are free to buy MetroCluster if they want, but they deserve to know what the risks are. And for that, they have to go to my blog because they can’t find it on NetApp’s website.

    Now, here is the one thing you got right: Mr. Warren’s blog, as you quite rightly understood as evidenced by your continuation of the MetroCluster discussion here, has little to do with Mr. Warren’s horror at the tone of modern blogs, but has everything to do with continuing the MetroCluster discussion on a different front.

    You see, the NetApp enthusiasts had no effective arguments to defend the MetroCluster marketing, except to attack the tone of the blog – effectively running a smokescreen to further obscure the facts from customers.

    Here’s an example: One of the counter arguments used by a NetApp enthusiast on my blog (which happened also to be the title of Mr. Warren’s article) was to say that by criticizing MetroCluster I was really calling the customers idiots who bought the product.

    Now, I think the circularity of that argument is obvious to most people. Its odd logic asserts that you can’t criticize any product that has been purchased by a customer or else you’re attacking the customers who bought it. Believe me when I saw that argument, I knew the NetApp enthusiasts had run out of ammo.

    Now for Mr. Warren:

    Mr. Justin Warren. Pleased to meet you. I’m Jim Haberkorn, the writer of that competitive blog you took exception to. After I read your article, just on a hunch, I did a google search on your name and the word ‘NetApp’ together. Just as I suspected, you are not a disinterested party horrified at the level of discourse in competitive blogs – you are a NetApp enthusiast. Well, welcome to the discussion, bro! There’s always room for one more! But, hey! You’re an Aussie! You’re supposed to have a sense of humor! It would have been better, in my opinion, if you had replied to my humor with some of your own. But to each his own style.

    As a rebuttal to your comments, let me share an excerpt from my posting:

    “I would like to thank, again, all those who have commented on the blog so far. Calvin Zito tells me that the blog has caused quite a stir on Twitter. I would like to invite all those on twitter who are interested in playing with live ammo, to come on the blog and run their arguments by me. I personally believe that debate is healthy as long as it doesn’t descend into personal attacks.

    In my opinion, pointing out a competitor’s legitimate weakness is not vendor bashing if done properly. Customers can’t be expected to inform the public of a vendor’s weakness, and oftentimes analysts don’t own the equipment themselves, so they’re usually not in a position to do it either. So, that leaves the competitors to more or less police each other. And if it’s done in a blog, and is done a little humorously and with a little panache, all the better. That’s my philosophy.”

    Now, Mr. Warren, if the above quote sounds mean-spirited to you, or if my mention of ‘cookie recipes’ in my post seems too harsh for your ears, then you have done what no other NetApp blogger has managed to do – you’ve caused me to be at a loss for words – almost.

    Finally, I think the title of your article displayed an unintended irony: Here you were using an inflammatory, inaccurate, and misleading title to make your point that bloggers should be nicer. Well, maybe you were trying to be humorous after all.

    Best regards,

  6. Hi Jim, and welcome.

    You know, I think we agree with each other: “pointing out a competitor’s legitimate weakness is not vendor bashing if done properly.” Absolutely. I think customers are able to bring a bit more to the table than you suggest here, but I take your point that it’s not their responsibility. I also think we might have disagreed a little on what ‘properly’ means, though on re-reading your post after this comment, I think I was a little harsh.

    Unfortunately, I wrote this post in response to the MetroCluster thing, when it’s really a buildup from numerous recent blogosphere things, on all sides. Putting my post in the MetroCluster context meant that people came to this post with a certain mindset, or expectations, and that’s coloured their interpretation of what I wrote. Totally my fault there, as the author; it undermined the message I was trying to communicate.

    Contrary to your point here, I really don’t care about MetroCluster (I’ve never used it), but I can understand how you don’t believe me. It’s up to me to prove it, so I don’t fault you at all for your belief.

    Yes, I do a lot of work with NetApp folks (the company I work for is a NetApp CDP, though I work directly for customers with multiple vendors, as do many of my colleagues), so yes, I’m bound to have certain biases. I agree, it’s up to me to demonstrate to my readers (and customers!) that I’m being, hopefully, impartial, and you or anyone else is totally within their rights to argue with me.

    And this is part of my point about tone: when there’s risk of people calling you out for bias, you need to be extra careful about how you say what you say. What you say may very well be true, but if no one believes you, what’s the point of saying it?

    Re-reading your post now, knowing that humour was intended, I interpret it differently. Tone again, not to mention that comedy is hard. And I think I missed the mark in the way I referred to your post, again putting it in the wrong context for the point I was trying to make. I wasn’t really trying to single you out, but I did, and for that I apologise. I’ve learned something here about how to write better in future, I hope.

    I didn’t intend to be inflammatory (and I don’t think it’s an innaccurate title) but see how easy it is to get off on the wrong foot? Maybe we all need to cut each other more slack on what’s written in blogs, and just chuckle and shrug it off.

    I get two consolation points, though: 1) you got my central point about bloggers being nicer, so it wasn’t a complete waste, and 2) I got to chat with you and get to know you better.

    I call that a net win.

  7. Hi Justin,

    Thanks for your reply. See, you are no more ‘Mr. Warren’, you are ‘Justin’. You are rubbing off on me already! With that said, you appear to be the only person in this discussion who doesn’t understand what your “Customers Aren’t Idiots” article was about, i.e., trying to win the MetroCluster discussion by using a more oblique tactic.

    But maybe I’m too skeptical. So, tell you what: Here are two NetApp blogs. In one of them – — a NetApp blogger posts another company’s clearly marked “Company Confidential” information to score points in a discussion – a tactic, I’m sure, considered unethical even by NetApp standards.

    And in the second one – — a NetApp blogger humorously mocks a competitor in a way that clearly violates your stated code. If you start using those two blogs as examples of ‘bad form’, instead of just mine, I’ll acknowledge that your intentions are pure and unbiased.

    Best regard,


  8. Hi Jim,

    *sigh* Again with the winning. I don’t want to win. I just want to make myself understood. I work in customer land, so when vendors bicker and trash-talk, I lose.

    I’ve pulled up the articles, so I’ll see if I can convince you.

    Re: the slide, it’s a complex situation there. If the NetApp blogger had obtained the slide by nefarious means and posted it, then yes, that’s poor form, and potentially illegal. They addressed the point in the article, saying it was publicly available on the web (it isn’t any more), so it got leaked by someone else, and was published. I think they should have posted the link they used to prove it really was published in the article. They do later in the comments. My beef would be with the people who leaked it, since they’re the ones who breached the NDA/confidentiality agreement.

    However, using words like “dipstickery” are disrespectful, and they’re just picking a fight. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ‘unethical’, it does give me pause. I’d be reading more of their stuff to see if it’s a one-off lapse, or if it’s part of a pattern of behaviour.

    You mention in the comments over there that you have “no hard feelings from me personally about posting my slide”. I don’t think this is a strong example of what I’m decrying, but there are some examples of poor form there, sure.

    On to the next one.

    Ah, Val. Val and Chuck seem to be engaged in some kind of long form performance art using hyperbolic satire. I’m not entirely sure it’s not all some elaborate practical joke. The article you linked to is full of the stuff I’m talking about.

    I find it hard to take either of them seriously. Certainly I don’t believe the claims either of them make unless I’ve verified it for myself. They both do it all the time, and I’ve long given up hope of that ever changing.

    One thing they both do provide is entertainment value. Sometimes what they write is funny, but comedy is hard, and they’re no Stephen Colbert. But if you want to be taken seriously, and to educate customers about your product’s value, yeah, don’t do what they do.

  9. Hi Justin,

    Thanks for your response. My opinion is that the first blog is a clear ethics violation and is a line we competitive bloggers have an unspoken rule not to step over. Ethical bloggers make their argument without publishing their competitors’ confidential data. Period.

    The second blog was humorous and harmless and made what would have been a boring topic a little more entertaining.

    Strangely, you found more to criticize in the second blog than in the first. With all due respect, I believe that’s what’s called a blindspot.

    You took extreme issue to the humor in my blog – even to the point of writing two articles and calling out my harmless ‘cookie recipe’ comment. The inconsistency is that you cut the NetApp enthusiasts, of which you are one, far more slack, even to the point of whitewashing their publication of a competitor’s confidential data. If you had cut me half that slack, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    But no hard feelings. If you are ever in Zurich, give me a call and I’ll take you out to dinner. I’m signing off now – must move on to other things.

    Best regards,


  10. A further point to make here is that HP policy restricts our employees from having other companies’ confidential information – it’s more than just an unspoken rule – its an ethics violation. I pointed this out to the NetApp blogger who was sharing HP Confidential information and his answer was similar to yours (Justin) which I interpreted to mean that his company doesn’t have the same conduct standards as our company does. It doesn’t matter how you come across confidential information, sharing it publicly when you know its confidential is wrong, period. Any further explanation followed by a “but” is an excuse.

    By no means am I saying that HP is perfect (it’s still a collection of people) but we are given a yearly dose of ethics training and not following them is at the employee’s peril (you can be fired). There’s also a standards of blogging training that we have to take – so great efforts are taking to ensure lines are not crossed.

    Having watched the behavior of NetApp in social media (both Twitter and blogs) for over two years, that’s why I found your post so out of touch. Any one that takes just a few moments to look at NetApp’s brazen, in your face, disrespectful approach wouldn’t not have picked an HP blog that highlights a mis-marketing of a NetApp solution as a chance to get on their soapbox – unless they are a big supporter of NetApp.

    Justin, if you’re ever interested in expanding your storage worldview, let me know. We hold regular blogger days and if you’re really open to learning more about HP, I’d consider inviting you.

  11. Jim, you make some good points there. Ethics is tricky, and getting away from what I was originally talking about, but it’s food for thought. I’m swayed to your way of thinking about the inclusion of the slide in that post. I’ve got a complicated view on that, and I need to rethink my position after your feedback.

    Similarly on your other points, I’ll have a good think about it. It might just be that we have different senses of humour.

    Likewise, if we’re ever in the same place (that isn’t Zurich) I’ll buy you dinner.

  12. Calvin, your chief complaint appears to be that I should have picked a NetApp blog as the jumping off point for my post, rather than an HP one. Ok. I can’t go back in time and do that, and to engage in revisionism would be, I think, unethical.

    I’ll pick a NetApp blog to point at for my next critical analysis. There’s no shortage, something I tried to point out. After that, maybe an EMC one.

    If you can pretend for a moment that I picked a non-HP blog as the inspiration for my post, I think the points still stand. But yeah, as I mention at the end, I’ll try to lift my game and write better in future.

    Let’s end this here. I don’t think I’m going to convince you that I don’t have anything against HP. Or EMC. Or any of the other storage companies.

    Besides, it’s Sunday here and it’s sunny outside.

  13. Hi Justin,
    I remember the original blog by Alex on the HP document – which clearly says “HP restricted – for HP and HP partner internal use only”.

    So my thought at the time was this; Firstly it is not about HP, nor marked Confidential, nor any kind of real business secret – but a competitive advantage/positioning document that they clearly did not want to be publically visible, nor to warn their competitors about their strategy.
    If they let it escape or it came to a competitors notice as it did they should expect a response as it clearly was CHALLENGING THAT COMPETITOR in much the same way as any socially disparaging remarks made about a person behind his back.

    The whole rant about ethics is unfounded – it the document had said “your mother is ugly” and been marked restricted it would have been no more entitled to confidentiality, and public sentiment would be challenging the author on the original content, whether it sustained scrutiny and the ethics of why it was said.

    I have commented before on a different track to your commendable ethical and polite campaign, about the desire of many bloggers to set themselves up as more knowlegeable than the competitor on their own products. This is a rough path, where they have to prove their case in a verifiable way. Too often I see this done simply by making statements about their own experience, which may well be negative, but also clearly to their advantage. When the competitor simply rejects these as unproven then the only possible approach has to be to prove the case, and the burden is entirely on the challenger. Before the challenger complains – understand this, YOU made the CLAIM, and if you are right imagine what you would WIN!

    But this is much like poker – you can dip your toes in for minor stakes, but for major stakes the difference between winning and losing is serious.

    And here you have it right Justin – everybody notices how you play!

Comments are closed