I’m not a Guy kind of Evangelist

You know, my title (technical evangelist) bugs me. It bugs others too (especially in Europe, where people give me very strange looks when they see my business card). Why? Cause of its religious connotations. I didn’t realize why it bugged me until I read Guy Kawasaki’s “Art of Evangelism” post today (he was the tech industry’s first evangelist, worked for Apple).

See, he looks at the products he’s evangelizing as a “cause.” I don’t look at the world that way. If I have a “cause” it’s the digital lifestyle. That’s what I’d like to get people into. Wanna know when the next bus is coming? Here in Seattle you can visit a Web site and see exactly where the bus is (thanks to GPS, servers, the Internet, Web browsers, and such). Did that require any Microsoft stuff? No. (Although it’s easier to use a Tablet PC at a bus stop while standing up instead of a more traditional laptop).

But, go even further. I really don’t want religious customers. I want skeptical, educated, pragmatic customers. This is why I talk about my competitors so much and let you know what they are doing right (just last night I pointed out that the MacBook has a better power cord design than a PC, even if I did it in a snarky way). By the way, business schools teach that you should NEVER talk about your competitors cause your customers might like their products better and leave.

I’d rather have customers who go and seriously consider Linux and Macs first. If I lose them as customers, that’s OK. They weren’t mine to begin with (and they’ll stay my friends). Why? Cause it’s more important to me that they be happy.

But, if they come back and say “you know, that Tablet PC is more useful for me than anything I’ve seen on the other side of the fence” then that customer will be 100x more excited about the products I’m offering than if he or she felt “forced” to use them due to some marketing lockin or scheme or some cultish attitude.

This is why I’m not bothered by what’s bothering BusinessWeek today (that the press hypes up Apple). I find I have more fun with customers who’ve done their homework too and can explain exactly why they bought the machine they’ve bought. That’s exactly what I am asking my son to do. I don’t mind if he buys a Mac as long as he’s done his homework and has considered all the choices on the market. Some people who buy into the “technology is religion” meme think that’s heresy. I’m bringing him a Lenovo Tablet PC tomorrow to take notes on so he’ll know exactly what the pros and cons of owning either machine will be.

Some other things. There’s another reason for an evangelist never to tell a lie. Credibility. Who will listen to an evangelist who tells you something that you already know isn’t true. If, for instance, I told you that the iPod isn’t cool, wouldn’t you stop listening to me? So, when I have something that is worthy of your attention (say a new Xbox, or a new phone) will you have unsubscribed and written me off as a religious jerk?

Not to mention that even if you buy a competitor’s product (like a Mac) we probably will have something else to sell you. Like, say, a new keyboard.

Oh, and Guy says to demo demo demo. Damn straight! I’m taking his advice. I’ll be demoing Windows Vista at the Northern Voice conference in Vancouver on February 10. I’m looking for a few skeptics to be there!

By the way, what Microsoft’s Evangelists mostly do is help software developers build software for the next version of whatever we’re selling. Imagine if Bill Gates says “today we’re shipping Windows Vista but there’s no software that works on it.”

An evangelist in that role needs to be up on the latest technology (for instance, we know that Windows Vista doesn’t run in administrator mode anymore, so that’ll break some applications that software developers wrote for OS’s where they could assume most users would be in administrator mode. That’s why we talk to developers a lot about what that means and how to make their apps take advantage of Windows Vista).

It also means that we need to be great relationship experts. If a developer is having trouble with getting their app to run, for instance, we need to find the right person inside Microsoft who can fix their problems (or, who can explain why that problem is happening and how to fix it).

If you ask around the folks on my hall they are usually very pragmatic and know the market very well. We regularly have engineers here from SAP, Siebel, Adobe, Google, Yahoo, and Apple. You think they put up with religious attitudes? Yeah, right.

So, what do you want from your technology evangelist?