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Analyst says vendors offer pretend reference customers

Microsoft's 'Contoso' may be more real than some users

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Gartner senior research analyst Jarod Greene has alleged vendors sometimes suggest he call reference customers that may not exist.

In a blog post, Greene offers the following three examples of odd things that happen when he asks for customer references:

  • ”I’ve been sent emails from Analyst Relations people that brag about recent wins for companies we cannot verify exist;
  • I’ve spoken to customers who did not have the tool set up in production;
  • I’ve spoken to vendor-provided references who turned out to be resellers of that tool.

Greene says he has also “... run into situations that were a bit 'fishy' There is always the possibility that the person on the other end of the line isn’t who they say they are. It’s possible that I could be thinking I’m talking to Earl in North Carolina on his recent implementation of Vendor X’s product, when in reality I’m talking to an intern in Vendor X’s office.”

“I also find it strange that a vendor will claim to have hundreds of customers, but can’t get a single one to speak to us,” he adds.

But he is sufficiently suspicious that he feels he must “... vet every single customer reference a vendor gives me make sure the person on the other end of the phone is who they say they are.”

Fake customers aren't entirely new or entirely suspicious: Microsoft famously uses a fictitious company, “Contoso”, as the setting for numerous demos. The company, and wonderfully-named employee “Misty Shock”, even pops up on TechNet.

Contoso is even sufficiently well-known beyond Microsoft that Google bought an April Fools' day ad suggesting the company had ditched Microsoft Office and adopted Google Apps.

Whatever the source of a customer reference, Greene advises those relying on them do so with great care, as “there is usually an incentive for the vendor-provided reference to say good things about the product they use.” ®

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