has a very familiar business model to address a simple truth – we live in the world of instant information gratification, and before virtually all IT purchases, people perform research online. Often it's the architect, scouring for solution to a problem. Sometimes it's the manager, digging for insights she can exploit. Other times its the IT executive, looking for confirmation that the approach being recommended has weight in the marketplace.

As anyone can testify, some of that research is credible, some is not. The hard part is to determine which is which and how credible is that which is credible.

I met on the phone with the CEO of, Rick Schaefer earlier in May 2008. The company/site had been live only in the past 10 weeks. Although now the site is in beta, it offers a few impressive features that enhance its usefulness in the vendor research or vendor consideration process.

First of all, all analysis comes from individual assessments of actual users who must have an account in the service. Vendors are not allowed to rate themselves or their competitors.

Once authenticated, users complete short online surveys that are used to rank one or more vendor on these 10 attributes: How strongly would you recommend this company, Integrity, Communication, Timeliness, Usability, Reliability, Customer Service, Budget, Expertise and Effectiveness.

Users also can offer comments and direct-to-other users, a few 'words of wisdom' and choose their level of anonymity. Some may choose to flag only their employer, only themselves or neither. Aggregate results of these 10 features are presented free to users. However, to get the more detailed analysis and to compare one vendor against another, or over time, can only be done with the paid subscription. 

Annual subscriptions are only $149. 

vendorrate-lifesize Typical vendor reports look like this graphic on the left. Thermometer scores each of the 10 critical features, while a summary is available on the left near the invitation to rate button. This is useful to validate where a company may be lacking investment or where negotiations ought to focus attention on.

I would expect that vendors would use this to flag opportunities to improve their complete customer value proposition – beefing up communications, or services or usability for example – as appropriate. is gaining new users every day, and is working hard to assure a higher degree of credibility. Of course, some of that will come with time, as the number of ratings of vendors climbs into the 100s. Rick has confirmed that the company does not plan to accept web advertising, keeping the site clean and not competing with the news sites and blogs.

The model and approach has certainly caught my attention, mostly because it is so close to the Brockmann & Company and its a great complement to the work we do on customer insights. is a brand-specific insight platform.

This is a refinement of the 'User Forum' model that is often associated with un-official user-based sites of major vendors. NetworkWorld's community following the Cisco subnet for example, is a solid example of this. Only Cisco-oriented discussion happens there, including product reviews by users. Usually these 3rd party vendor-specific sites offer problem-solving services, are captured by Google for high search engine scoring, but may not reflect a standardized view of the user's feedback, or comparison to other solutions/vendors/products. This is precisely where fits in.

vendorrate-compareFor a limited time, the annual subscription fee is waived and users can participate in the vendor-by-vendor analysis such as shown  at left.  Now with so few respondents in the ratings table, the usefulness of the precise result may not be apparent, but given a few months, when this table is full of dozens of ratings and includes a full complement of vendors, it's value to users and to marketers will increase exponentially. The trick in the short term, will be to get the volume of ratings up so that it can be truly useful to IT decision makers.

Unlike the Gartner magic quadrants which are really only useful for leadership vendor bragging rights, the approach assess aggregated scores to standard attributes across the vendor's portfolio. reports have the promise of delivering what really matters to decision makers.

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