Last year I attended a conference held by a research software company. It was quite an event, featuring celebrities, writers, and well-known thought leaders. The massive conference hotel was somehow able to pack 3,000 attendees into a single room for the general sessions. During breaks, the hallways were teeming with bodies, all swimming in different directions, some swarming to the coffee stations, while others were headed to a quiet corner to make a call, catch up on email, or see an old friend. It seemed that everyone was abuzz with excitement on that 1st day.

The morning session on the 2nd day was more muted for marketing research firms (like mine) who have relied on this software platform for many years. As the CEO bounced around the stage like a child, extolling the virtues of the platform’s latest interface updates, he managed to say that there really was no need to work with an outside research firm or expert — just bring the software in-house. Hand the tasks over to a staffer: there’s really nothing to it. As someone with extensive research and methods expertise, I was disheartened. I immediately asked myself: why am I here?

I had flown a thousand miles on my own account, and fully intended to evangelize the product message upon returning home. After all, I had used this platform for nearly a decade, and suggested many feature improvements and bug alerts that made it a better product. The goodwill that I had extended to this company, in the spirit of partnership, was obviously misguided. I never realized that the company’s ultimate goal was not to support my business, but to take my business away.

More recently, I began to notice that when I added client seats to my license (so that they could provide survey changes directly, or have access to online reporting), they would begin to receive marketing materials, including email invitations for product trials and attend conferences. This is totally unethical, violates privacy laws, and is effectively spamming. I never gave this company permission to contact, or market to, my clients directly. Many of my clients have been cultivated over years, and some are at the highest levels of their companies. But apparently, this software company believes that they own all of the data in their system – even if that includes the names and contact info of people who never opted in. I have heard the same complaint from other users of this software platform.

Yet clearly, this is an effective strategy: the company does not need to scour for prospects. The email addresses are simply there for the taking; it’s just too tempting not to. And recently, after aggressive direct marketing, one of my clients decided to bring their software in-house. After all, how hard could it be? And this software company’s ever-growing consulting arm could certainly use some extra billable hours. Well done!

You might want to check with your research software vendors and ask them: are you marketing directly to my clients by accessing my account? Are you harvesting email addresses from my contact list? If so, fire them immediately.

In the world of software, you have many great alternatives. Most of them are ethical, too.

Surveys & Forecasts, LLC