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Wednesday 19 September 2012

My tips for vendors training librarians

In theory, I love the idea that vendors will send a rep halfway around the world to visit libraries and give us a training session on their products. In practice, I kind of dread these sessions.... Because - and I don't know how to say this without sounding like I'm Grouchy McHyperbole so I'm just going to say it anyway - the number of such sessions I've found both useful and enjoyable I can count on one finger. Maybe two.

These are products I'm interested in and need to know about for my work, so I'm already hooked and I'm not asking for whizzbang presentation skills. I just don't want my time wasted. I'm pretty sure vendors don't want to waste their time either, so I'm not sure what sort of global communication snafu between vendors and libraries is preventing mutually useful meetings. But in the interests of maybe untangling it a bit, here are my personal tips for folk who visit libraries on behalf of vendors, on ways you can immeasurably improve at least my own experience.

(And note that these aren't just things that I saw once. I've got plenty of those stories, too - doesn't everyone, in any context? - but these are things that I wish for regularly.)

Teach what your audience wants to learn.
I want to know about your product - what it is, what it costs, what its features are, what its limitations are (don't try to hide or justify them, just give it to me straight), and how I and my users can use it to best advantage.

I don't care about the history of your company or where its headquarters are, unless support vs timezones is an issue. If you merged with another company very recently that might be useful information if it affects your product, but anything more than a few years old, save it for a handout.

Teach at the right level.
If this is a brand new-to-me product, then go ahead and start from basics. Just be aware that I'm an experienced information professional; I can figure out how to do a basic keyword search in pretty much any product.

If it's a product we've had for several years, you can safely assume I've known the basics for several years and am coming along to hear about advanced features or features you've released in the last year.

Know what you teach.
If you're going to demonstrate a function to me, make sure you've practised it yourself. A lot. If you spend several minutes trying to remember how something works it makes me impatient, makes you look unprepared, and makes your product look badly non-userfriendly.

Let us know what you're going to teach.
You can't please everyone all the time. Lots of people will want different things than I do. So ask us!

And/or when you've worked out what you're covering, email us in advance and say "I'm going to demo X, Y, and Z" - then people who already know that stuff, or who don't care about that stuff, can stay away and save their time.

Yes, this means you don't get face-time with them. On the plus side, it means you don't get face-time during which they get increasingly irritated at you. On the whole, that's a win-win. :-)


Any other library folk got tips for vendor folk?

And if any vendor folk are reading this, I'd love to hear from your point of view - are there factors I don't know about that mean you don't have the resources needed to be as prepared as you'd like? Or are there ways library folk could help the situation?