Moving to the “dark side” – a personal perspective from a former user organisation executive

This is a guest blogpost by Ben Schein, from Domo, where he talks, in a very personal mode, about going over to the dark side, from a user organisation to a vendor, and has advice for other business intelligence professionals

I’ve been Domo’s VP of Data Curiosity for two years, meaning I spend most of my time helping educate our 1,500 plus customers on the importance of data innovation. While I sit in the office of the CTO, I work very closely with our marketing, sales and product teams to inspire cultural change in businesses that are independent of, but can work alongside any software. A product isn’t enough to change a company’s culture; a broader shift needs to happen, and that’s what my job has been designed to inspire. I often joke that in some ways this role means I can do whatever I want – within reason, of course!

After my time at Target, I wanted a role that allowed more time for research, curiosity and speaking opportunities – or really just more time to think.  The move to a vendor means I’m not just stuck to one problem or industry; I’m involved with so many different, complex challenges every day. Crucially, I’m not part of the hard selling process, but am of course more of a “sales guy” than when I was at Target and often being wooed by vendors.

There are actually two moments in my life – at 22 and 41 – that I’ve moved from customer to vendor and they bookend my career quite nicely. Starting out, I didn’t receive any formal data training as my college degree was in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and my MBA in Strategy and Finance. I then worked for an urban communication and research company using software from Euclid Technology, who poached me. The trick is becoming better at the software than the vendor themselves.

At Target I moved from analyst to senior director within the 10 years I was there. The first half was spent professionally “breaking” and improving tools from within the finance vertical, but I belonged in the technical side of the company. I was lucky enough to find my way to a digital analytics team where I found two influential mentors in Jason Goldberger (then President of Target.com) and Paritosh Desai (who later became Target’s Chief Data Officer). Together, we drove an 80 person team to innovate and change the way the Target.com team engaged with data.  Later, when we centralised all BI and data functions in one Centre of Excellence, it was a strange adjustment because I went from taking everything to the man to becoming the establishment itself. While in some ways it was hard to be more of the establishment, I was suddenly able to change conversations and lead data initiatives across a Fortune 50 company.

There were many changes that came with my move from customer to vendor. I don’t have a team at Domo now and I’m a bit outside of the craziness of a big company. The move also made me realise how gruelling the pace of retail is with the need to be ‘always on’: checking in with executives and being present on huge events like Black Friday. While that’s invigorating and exciting, I don’t think I realised the toll it took. My wife says that now, whenever I’m at home I’m way more ‘at home’.

Of course, there are stressful times in any job, but the pace of working for a B2B company has given me more cognitive space to research and make decisions. The most common misconception is that vendors don’t genuinely care about doing the right thing for the customer. We need to make sure it’s not just smoke and mirrors – having a genuine sense of empathy is really important for everyone from product to marketing to sales. It’s important not to lose yourself in the hard sell and part of what I do is help others see things from different perspectives.

I would advise anyone moving to the “dark side” to go in with your eyes wide open. Don’t kid yourself that there won’t be some element of sales within your role if you’re joining a vendor because that’s the reality. Join a university or a Think Tank if you’re only interested in thought leadership. But if you’re willing to balance both, you’ll have a huge opportunity to influence change across a lot of user organisations.

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