Jeff Kaplan: Whom can you trust? Hopefully, one another

In the IT and telecommunications industries, the trust issue doesn’t start or end with corporate mismanagement or abuse. There also is an undercurrent of cynicism and distrust aimed at industry analyst/research firms and venture capitalists.

Their inflated market forecasts and aggressive funding strategies encouraged vendors and service providers to spend billions of dollars over the past few years hyping half-baked products and services in new market segments that never materialized.

Their bold pronouncements of revolutionary changes in computing and communications also encouraged many customers to acquire bleeding-edge technologies and poorly provisioned services that failed to meet their real business needs.

Who can network decision-makers trust in this climate of corporate deceit, when even trusted advisers appear to have ulterior motives? The best answer is: one another.

At a time when getting back to basics has become the unwritten rule, relying more heavily on your peers is the best path to success. This might take the form of pushing your suppliers for solid reference accounts to validate specific purchasing decisions or participating in ongoing professional associations. Becoming reacquainted with your cohorts lets you make better acquisition and management decisions, rather than respond blindly to the latest trend or forecast.

You can still justify an occasional annual trade show, if you truly intend to collect valuable insight from other decision-makers rather than T-shirts and trinkets. There also is still a place for vendor-sponsored seminars or analyst conferences, if you are equally committed to trading real-world experiences with your colleagues rather than schmoozing with your salesperson.

Vendors, research firms, conference organizers and venture capitalists can encourage this type of healthy interaction by redesigning their events and marketing strategies. We’ve entered a time when demonstrating how technology can solve business problems is all that matters. Designing forums that can help network managers better understand these problems and learn how to solve them will not only make them better decision-makers but more loyal customers.

Kaplan is managing director of THINKstrategies, a consultancy in Wellesley, Mass. He can be reached at