I just returned from a vendor/user conference.  During the conference I reflected on my relationship with various vendors that I have used over the years.  It amazes me how some vendors are short sighted.  They demonstrate by being concerned about closing the sale, or using an army of retailers that totally disconnect the vendor from the user.  Is it any wonder that the companies that follow this model lose touch with users of their product?

Now, the opposite are vendors that cultivate community and work to help their users grow.  Grow through the use of their products and services, and helping build capacity within the user base.  Some vendors find ways to form communities that congregate and share face to face or through online communities.  Regardless, the best in class vendors bring engineers, marketing, sales, and “evangelists” to the user community to help users of their product succeed.

Now, the cultivation and support of community by vendors is not a process that is done totally unselfishly.  Through this process they are able to give the sales pitch, but when done appropriately – it is a just-in-time delivery of a sales pitch.  More important for the vendor, successful communities provide a valuable feedback loop to the vendor for market and product research that could not be obtained any other way.

So, who is best in class?  Is there a definitive answer?  Probably not.  From my experience professionally and in my personal life, I would nominate:TechSmith located in my home state – Michigan.  Trivantis, a neighbor to the south.  Apple, Inc. a company that I have a long personal and professional consumer relationship with.  Finally, I would add Articulate, a company I have only participated in their online community building – but I hear many positive things from regular users of their product.

Worst in class?  Not to point fingers, but I have got to say that I feel that Adobe has lost touch with their user base.  Adobe does have some community building initiatives, however many of them fall flat.  There are other vendors as well, but if I could pick one vendor that I wished appreciated and supported community more… it would be Adobe.

The reason for this post is not to call anyone out, or to pat anyone on the back.  It is a reflection of an eco-system that you buy into when purchasing a product or service.  All too often companies forget that eco-system will help to sustain and grow the customer base, as well as drive future purchasing decisions.