Please Do Not Feed The Data Scientists Product Pitches
Data Scientists are interesting bunch of people – they’re generally bright, curious and technically savvy. To have acquired the skills they need, they’ve been around for a while so they’re world-wise. They like ideas, technologies and solutions, but hate waffle and half truths. So if your going to present to a bunch of Data Scientists, do NOT give a product pitch – it will not end well.
I recently sat in on an O’Reilly webinar that’s part of a series in the lead up to the Strata Conference in Santa Clara. This particular one was sponsored by SAS and was delivered by two people from SAS. The title was “Predictive Analytics, Machine Learning, and Recommendation Systems on Hadoop” which was a great title and sounded really interesting so a lot of people turned up.
Unfortunately it rapidly became clear that the talk was a fairly standard product pitch and live demo for a set of SAS tools, not a talk about predictive analytics, machine learning, and recommendation systems on Hadoop. The reaction from the audience was not good, and the term “bait’n’switch” was being used in the webinar chat. That was followed by the deafening sound of virtual doors being slammed as people left the talk.
I was curious so I hung around, and was glad I did. What saved this webinar and actually made it very useful for those who stayed, was the live chat that all the attendees could participate in while the webinar was running. Freed from the constraints of listening to the presentation, the chat started ranging over a wide variety of Data Science related topics. A rapid sense of community developed with more experienced people helping the less and supplying answers, web links and book recommendations in response to questions. I’ve already added a new book on Data Science to my bookshelf as a result of having been on this chat (Data Smart by John Foreman if your interested). When the presentation finished, there were a lot of people in the chat saying how valuable it (the chat) had been.
I felt quite sorry for the people from SAS. Their job titles were Marketing Manager and Product Manager which doesn’t suggest they were particularly technical people. I think they’d been given a standard SAS pitch and demo script to present, that SAS had successfully used many times for talking to it’s customers. It would have work perfectly well on a normal audience, but it was never going to work for a group of Data Scientists. They have different expectations. They’re not being interested in being told that your tool will solve all their problems, largely because they know that not all tools work in all situations.
Things to take away from this when presenting to a group of Data Scientists
- Do make sure your title matches the content and is not marketing double-speak.
- Do present a technology pitch to a group of Data Scientists , not a product pitch.
- Do present in generalities and then throw in the odd point where your products can solve a particular problem, but don’t belabour it.
- Do have a live chat running so people can talk about the presentation as it’s running.
- Do have a techie monitoring the chat who can pick up questions immediately.
Of course you can do a product pitch to Data Scientists – you just have to make sure they understand that is what you are doing before you start 😀