Question 181 of 365: What is a vendor? #iste10

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A company becomes a vendor when they have clients. Or when they provide services to a specific subset or field. It is when they believe they have a solution no one else posesses, yet somehow they can exist within a crowded trade show with many fellow vendors showing off similar wares.

I have purchased things from vendors, conversed with vendors, and demanded things of vendors. And yet, through the entire process, they stayed vendors. They didn’t become companies or individuals, they were just the vendors who were providing us the service, whether that was online curriculum, a content management system or simply a few books.

Being a vendor is easy for some and much harder for others. Losing your personhood and becoming simply an arm of the entity you work for can be debilitating. It can make you not feel as though you can be part of any conversation. It can also make others feel as though you have nothing of value to add. You are simply there to provide a service, not an idea.

In education and non-profits especially, distrust for vendors is high. There is the sense that the folks who work with kids and other valuable stakeholders know exactly what they need and the vendors are just trying to sell them things that are superfluous. And for the most part, looking out at the floor of major conferences, that distrust is well placed. The gadgets and curriculum that are pushed are not tranformational, but are sold as if they were. The space is set up so that you can learn more about the products of a given vendor, but the line between learning and propaganda is razor thin.

And yet, vendors are people too. They go after what they perceive the needs to be with something that they believe will help. And we cut them off from being a part of the conversation because we don’t want to be sold on anything. When they host cloud computing symposiums for mostly vendors to take part in, there isn’t any of the snakiness that you might find in a practitioner only summit. They are looking for solutions. They don’t hide their self-interest, and maybe that is the difference between those on the ground and those who are willing to brand their ideas and sell them to others.

In all of the social networking, self-publishing, and collaborating, we tend to obscure our self-interest. We tend to forget about the fact that we are helping ourselves to whatever results we are after. We also forget the worth of the connections we make. We obscure that many of the contacts we have may at some point have monitary value. This isn’t new. We self-promote up until the point that we could be consider selling our ideas, and no further. Unless of course, someone is buying. If someone is offering to come on board or to consult or to collaborate for a price, then we take on those roles. Yet, we still don’t want to be a vendor.

Vendors are unafraid to be called on their desire to make money. They have plans and contracts for that expressed purpose. We give away our content because we think that there is more value in the conversation than the transaction. But, the conversation is a transaction. We are exchanging information and ideas and building something new. And we should be able to quantify the value we create. If for no other reason than to say to the vendors in our lives that we are vendors too, and that we should be taken seriously.

Just like some vendors won’t listen to a teacher because they don’t hold influence. We don’t listen to vendors because they hold too much. There is something wrong with this equation, and here is what I would like to see to make it better (and not just in education, either):

  • Vendors need to become a part of the conversation and their plans and intentions need to be well stated. They need to make their needs known of their customers and they need to listen and react to what it is that their users are creating on their own. Vendors should start releasing their wares in the open and letting their users co-create the next versions.
  • Creators need to let vendors in because their perspective is valuable. We need to take their information with as much of a grain of salt as we would a fellow creator that we didn’t know well. We need to see their contributions to the community as valuable because they have a value affixed to them. But, we should also start affixing value to all of the contributions that we make, whether or not we are “selling” anything.
  • For the record, the things that I have learned and created with others in the last few days are worth $1500. They weren’t revolutionary, but the evolution of certain connections and ideas was at least worth that much. And anyone who isn’t willing to put a price on their learning should affix some other value that others will be able to understand. I’m not sure there is any other value that will let all stakeholders come to the table and compare apples to apples, but I am open to suggestions.

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    0 Comments

    1. Thanks for your post Ben. For one, it makes me feel a lot better about spending approximately 30-40% of my time at the ISTE conference in the exhibition hall. I noticed how many vendors had hired teachers part time to support their booths. That was more helpful to me than the actual sales person. I also really enjoyed talking to the people visiting the booths, listening to their questions and their needs. I learned a lot from how different districts are implementing various products and programs, what is working, what isn't. I really liked joining the conversations of persons who were past the initial implementation stage, they had a wealth of information to share about potential pitfalls and sustainability strategies.

      I agree that vendors need to do a better job of engaging us and we need to do a better job ourselves. It's a two way conversation. And when we can get deeper than t
      he quick sell, the sound byte, and the shiny veneer we as educators can be better educated about why we really need to buy and use to support learning in our schools.

    2. I'm glad that you found the post useful.

      I actually spent very little time on the floor, but this post comes
      from speaking with a few folks at the cloud computing symposium which
      was put on by industry folks. It really seemed as though they were
      able to articulate a vision that could work, if only they had more
      practitioner input. The idea that folks who are a part of a brand can
      get things right (in terms of authenticity and engagement) means that
      there is hope for scalability. Too often though, they vendors get it
      wrong. They don't take part in the conversation, and we should take it
      upon ourselves to have those conversations to make sure that they
      really are making it about the kids and not their cool new gadget. I
      think that employing early adopters and passionate individuals who
      have found that a certain product has let them expand their learning
      is a step in the right direction. But, I want to value all of the
      contributions that are made, outside of the trade hall. I want all of
      the conversations in the blogger cafe to have an impact and to have a
      value that can be compared to what SMART is doing with their
      whiteboards. Hopefully, if we can do that, vendors will see just how
      large the learning economy is. If we put a price point on each
      conversation (hopefully without cheapening it too much), we would all
      see just how much our community is worth and how much larger the
      impact is on education than a few hundred dollars spent on a few
      document cameras.

    3. mbteach

      Ben, I am so glad you started this conversation. I have had such mixed feelings about vendors and education over the last few days. I am struggling with the way that education is being monetized, but I also understand that ideas and time are worth money. At the same time, I have a lot of respect for companies like Edublogs and Wikispaces who didn't buy ridiculously huge booths, but rather hung out with teachers talking education and getting real, practical feedback about their products. In talking with Adam from Wikispaces I learned that at first he didn't care about what teachers had to say, but opening his mind and ears has completely changed his point of view and his product. These are the kinds of vendors that I don't mind supporting, that I don't have mistrust for because, as you stated, their intentions are out in the open. In fact, he even ran a session at edcamp Philly for teachers to teach them how to talk to vendors to have them serve teachers better.

      Perhaps we as educators need to show our support for those vendors who include us in conversations and don't hide their agendas. Then others will get the clue.

      Thanks again for starting this conversation. I'm still not sure where I stand on the issue, but its an important discussion.

    4. Pingback: ISTE 2010 – Daily Links 07/02/2010  | Change Agency

    5. I'm going to say no.
      It's not a 100 percent “no,” but it's a “no” for the sake of argument.
      I want vendors over there, where I can see them.
      I want teachers and collaborators over here, where I can work with them.
      My biases: Too many (read, 1000s) of SmartBoards are sitting in schools across South Africa with no one to use them, and some teachers too scared or intimidated to turn them on or try them out. Vendors own testing. They have it in a stranglehold and dictate the terms of how it will be run, because states and districts gave it up early. Change, we've been told, will be too costly.
      I've more, but those two stand out in my mind.
      So long as vendors are beholden to the marketplace of commerce and not the marketplace of ideas (yes, they're different), I want them over there and us over here.

    6. I’m going to say no.nIt’s not a 100 percent “no,” but it’s a “no” for the sake of argument.nI want vendors over there, where I can see them.nI want teachers and collaborators over here, where I can work with them.nMy biases: Too many (read, 1000s) of SmartBoards are sitting in schools across South Africa with no one to use them, and some teachers too scared or intimidated to turn them on or try them out. Vendors own testing. They have it in a stranglehold and dictate the terms of how it will be run, because states and districts gave it up early. Change, we’ve been told, will be too costly.nI’ve more, but those two stand out in my mind.nSo long as vendors are beholden to the marketplace of commerce and not the marketplace of ideas (yes, they’re different), I want them over there and us over here.

    7. My point was that what you/we are doing doesn't have any way to be
      valued in the marketplace (of commerce, I suppose). If we are
      interested in changing the stranglehold that testing and Interactive
      Whiteboards have on our dollars and our curriculum, we have to start
      valuing our contributions the same way others do: in Dollars. It
      cheapens collaboration and it makes me sick whenever I think about it,
      but I can't figure out any other way show “the public” and “business”
      that our contributions matter. The reason I don't want the separation
      that you speak of is that I know they are doing “bad” things for
      education just to sell products. They are undermining our ability to
      connect and to share. The only way we are going to take back (or
      garner in the first place) the future of our schools is to make sure
      that no one can stomp all over us with special interests. If their
      interests are our interests (within reason), the conflict doesn't have
      to kill us.

      Would that work?

    8. My point was that what you/we are doing doesn’t have any way to bernvalued in the marketplace (of commerce, I suppose). If we arerninterested in changing the stranglehold that testing and InteractivernWhiteboards have on our dollars and our curriculum, we have to startrnvaluing our contributions the same way others do: in Dollars. Itrncheapens collaboration and it makes me sick whenever I think about it,rnbut I can’t figure out any other way show “the public” and “business”rnthat our contributions matter. The reason I don’t want the separationrnthat you speak of is that I know they are doing “bad” things forrneducation just to sell products. They are undermining our ability tornconnect and to share. The only way we are going to take back (orrngarner in the first place) the future of our schools is to make surernthat no one can stomp all over us with special interests. If theirrninterests are our interests (within reason), the conflict doesn’t havernto kill us.rnrnWould that work?

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