Start spreading the news
The title 'evangelist' in a tech context can be doubled-edged
Blogs | 05 Sep 2012 :
There's an interesting story on the MicroScope web site this week
about virtualisation specialist Veeam appointing an "evangelist" to work with the channel and grow the company's brand across Europe.
Hans De LeenHeer's appointment follows in the (successful) footsteps of chief evangelist and vice president of product strategy Doug Hazelman in the US.
As the article points out, Veeam is not the only company to create the position of evangelist and the term isn't really that new. Like many things in IT, Apple started it (allegedly) with the appointment of Guy Kawasaki as chief evangelist. A cursory search on LinkedIn brings up almost 1,500 results.
For my part, I remember coming across the term quite a while ago although, I must confess, I can't rightly recollect when. Maybe it was when someone told me over the phone that he needed to "check if we're all singing from the same hymn sheet".
While the term might be unfortunate given that evangelicals can be viewed by some people as slightly threatening nowadays, there is a serious point to be made. Just as evangelicals spread the ‘good news', so evangelists seek to spread the message of their chosen vendor. As De LeenHeer told MicroScope, "Having someone focused on the European brand awareness going to IT and partner events and user groups will attract more people to get to know the [Veeam] community." That's pretty much what evangelism is, with or without the religion.
Of more interest, however, is the way in which some evangelists could be deployed not merely as promoters of their employer but also as conduits that gather information about successful channel experiences and feed them back to their company's channel bosses across Europe. In other words, they might also become evangelists for their channel.
There's definitely no harm in having someone that spends a lot of time at channel events and sends back information on trends and strategies being successfully adopted by channel partners in different parts of Europe that, hopefully, can be replicated in other EU countries.
But it takes a special skill for someone to successfully balance the two parts of such a role. You don't want someone who spends so much time spreading the news about the vendor that they don't have any time or interest in hearing and learning about what's happening on the ground and feeding it back up the chain. It's also important the vendor involved buys into the notion that the role of evangelist does actually involve more than just disseminating the latest product news and marketing material from on high.
Of course, if they do go along with that definition, they are pretty much reinventing the whole meaning of evangelism. Most of us associate evangelism with spreading a message in the hope of getting converts. We don't think of those evangelicals listening patiently to people on their doorsteps and reporting back ways to improve the message in the higher echelons of their particular brand of faith.
If I was an optimist, I'd go along with the suggestion some vendors will look upon the role of evangelist in their organisations as a two-way process where the individual concerned acts as an evangelist for the company and for its channel. As a realist, I'm inclined to think the person, whoever it is, will always be far more of a promoter of the company to its channel and customer base than someone evangelising its channel.
Whatever the work actually entails, there's no getting away from the fact it's a pretty ugly job title and perhaps one that should never have been employed in the first place (thanks, Apple). I'm not sure I'd be happy telling anyone in a social setting that I was "chief evangelist" for my employer. Which means, sadly, that I don't think it's a job I could do. How could I set about wholeheartedly promoting the company I worked for if I couldn't even tell people what I did for a living?