I love the term ‘evangelist’! I spent half my life as a technology evangelist – first at Microsoft and then at Amazon. Even before I could flash an official business card with the title of a ‘Technology Evangelist at Microsoft’, I was evangelizing Microsoft technologies. After spending a couple of decades in the industry, I became more neutral to the brands, companies and specific platforms. I transformed into a customer advocate to represent the demand side of the IT world. The reason why I am sharing this is to establish the fact that I am still an evangelist and carry tremendous respect for this role.
Technology evangelists are commonly found in platform companies like AWS, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Red Hat and Salesforce.com. What differentiates technology evangelists from the rest of the folks in the organization?
First let me start by listing out what doesn’t qualify to be called evangelism
1) Sales – Evangelism is never about closing a sale. Sales folks are shrewd business people with a single-minded focus on clinching the deal. They are less emotional and sentimental about the product that they are selling. They can pretty much sell anything to anyone. On the other hand, an evangelist would go to any lengths to convince the customer about the value proposition and focuses less on the transactional outcome. Organizations should never treat evangelists as pre-sales resources. They always help the company acquire and retain loyal customers who will be the advocates of the brand in the long term.
2) Marketing – Evangelism is perceived as a marketing technique by many. Marketing is all about accelerating the sales cycle. It involves running the right campaign involving the customers, partners and the company with a goal to create a ‘pull’ for the product. A typical marketing campaign has a defined lifetime and the success metric is always the market share. Evangelism is a long term investment and goes much beyond the time lines of a fiscal year. The success metric of evangelism is qualitative than quantitative. If the effectiveness of a marketing campaign is measured through the market share, the real impact that evangelism brings is the positive mind share for the product. Marketing managers cannot replace passionate evangelists. Period.
3) Consulting – This is another common misconception. Few companies project the evangelist as the best-in-town technical expert and will put him through the scariest fire-fighting exercise. Not a good idea! Evangelists are generally good at a breadth of technologies and great at articulating the value proposition. Evangelists are at their best when put in front of 100 audiences and they walk out leaving the hall thoroughly impressed and completely convinced. They need not have the technical depth of a consultant who focuses on one and only one technology. Evangelists are not billable resources. They need their own space and the freedom of speech to excel!
4) Training – No doubt! Evangelists are the best storytellers in the town. They simplify complex terminologies and explain the concepts in a lucid and easy manner. But that doesn’t mean evangelists are the best trainers. Evangelism is all about influencing and not hand-holding the customers. They hate spoon feeding and delivering ‘courses’ based on a fixed curriculum. They paint the big picture and are great at instigating the desire to use a product. They are too impatient to stand up and deliver a day-long lecture.
5) Program management – Sure! Evangelists are disciplined enough to run their mission like an independent business. They love to strategize, plan and execute to achieve their goal. But that doesn’t turn evangelists into program managers. The force that constantly keeps the evangelists on the move is the passion for the product and not the milestones, strategy meetings and long conference calls. I have seen some program managers at Microsoft who are the best evangelists for their product or feature. But it is an exception! Evangelists who are forced to be program managers will lose the sight of the long term mission and end up being glorified coordinators.
So, if you are a product startup or even an established platform company, how do you go about hiring the right individual as your technology evangelist? What traits do they need to possess?
Here are 5 attributes of a rockstar technology evangelist
1) Passion – Passion is the # 1 trait of an evangelist! It’s hard to contain their passion. But if channelized into the right form, it can do wonders. The best thing about passion is that it cannot be mocked or forced. It’s easy to judge if the other person is genuinely passionate or not. Carefully observe the evangelists when they talk about their favorite technology and you would notice a spark in their eyes. Their tone changes to become more assertive. The voice modulation becomes pleasant and they turn rhythmic!
2) Articulation – Evangelists are naturally the best storytellers. They ensure that every discussion, presentation and demonstration has the right beginning, enough twists and a thrilling finish. They also simplify complex technologies and make them look like child’s play. Throw a customer scenario to the evangelist and see how he navigates the whole path. You would notice that the whole discussion is interesting and engaging.
3) Conviction – Evangelists carry tremendous conviction and belief. It shows when they articulate and position their favorite technology to the audience. At the same time, true evangelists do not go overboard. They don’t build their stories on false and misleading facts. They clearly know the boundaries of the product and technology they believe in.
4) Enthusiasm / Zeal – An evangelist who cannot demonstrate his product or technology is never an evangelist. Real evangelists slog to learn everything about the product and try to highlight the coolness. They carry boundless energy to learn new stuff and showcase it to the audience. An evangelist’s energy is directly proportional to the number of audience in the hall. The more the better for them. They feel like rockstars with a mike when thrown in front of hundreds of audience.
5) Empathy – Evangelists are never ‘militant’ about their mission. They are honest and open about the strengths and weakness of their product. Evangelists listen carefully before they speak. They empathize with the customers before pushing something down their throat. This trait makes an evangelist an evangelist and not a marketing representative.
Finally, technology evangelists are the new generation software magicians. Give them the right tools, products and platforms, and watch them mesmerize the customer community!