The GDS Group CMO Digital Insight Summit sales pitch is a lie

UPDATE:  This post was originally written in January 2018 and GDS hired a new CEO in November 2018. She responds to my experience in the comments below and describes actions that she has taken in response as of June 2019.

Are you planning to attend a GDS Group CMO Digital Insight Summit in North America or Europe this March? If so, you won’t see me there. However, GDS sales people are informing prospective sponsors and attendees that I will be attending and looking to network and hire service partners. Nope.

Multiple prospects have asked me about this and it’s just not true. Here’s a screenshot from a sales webinar, showing proof of the lie. No surprise, they messed up the logo.

GDS CMO Digital Insight Summit
Supposed GDS CMO Digital Insight Summit attendees, North America 5 – 7 March 2018

GDS, stop with the fake news. I have contacted your sales people about this blatant misrepresentation and they refuse to acknowledge the situation. Not surprising, as it appears that this is business as usual.

If you are considering sponsoring or attending this event, it might be worth your time and budget. But if you expect to connect with a specific attendee, it’s worth the effort to check references before committing. A simple search and inquiry on LinkedIn will give you plenty of information.

For anyone who’s been lied to by GDS and wants to hear about my digital agenda for 2018, here are some initiatives my team is working on:

If you’re visiting Austin this March, enjoy. If it’s your first visit, here are some things you might want to know.

Join the Conversation


  1. They appear to me to be a scam. I was contacted by someone today claiming to be working on behalf of PNC Bank in the area of “deep learning” research. Looking at the background, the person he then set the call up with and the speed of the response it looks to me like a boiler room scam trying to con small and medium sized companies into paying to attend a worthless B2B conference (where the delegates cancel at the last minute) or some nonsense “white paper” is distributed to a worthless list. 20 minutes on Google and Glassdoor confirms (to me at least) that GDS Group and GDS International are a bunch of con-artists.

    I am well connected with the heads of data science, CIO, CDO for AI projects at 5 USA banks. There is no way that the two cowboys from GDSGroup, who contacted me could be speaking closely to PNC Bank and not also have common connections with me in LinkedIn since in the area of AI and Machine Learning I am once of the best connected people in the world. They were both 3rd degree which means they are lying.

    Also the person that reaches out to you is a junior grunt and the person who takes the organised call is difference (more experienced at scamming people). That is classic boiler room stuff and not the modus operandi of a legitimate consulting company.

    1. We’ve been contacted by them consistently over 10 years despite our requests to not contact us. The pitch is always the same, name dropping someone who they think we might know (or in one case we did know and we contacted them to learn they had nothing to do with the event). We got pitched for an AI event and “were shortlisted” by big insurance company (in this case AIG) for “AI work of which they couldn’t even explain. I don’t know how they’re still in business and if they’re reading this PLEASE finally leave us off your contact list.

  2. Absolutely terrible company trying to sell however way they can. I was roped into (almost) going to a conference – but then upon (unfortunately) signing the agreement, looked at the vendor list and finalized speaker agenda – and realized it was totally unrelated to my job function. They just wanted someone in a seat (and the brand equity/notoriety of the company I work for is high – so great PR for them to try and draw in more vendors/sponsors). When I expressed sincere reservations about being a good prospect/lead for ANY of their vendors, they simply said “Well, maybe one will be top of mind for you or right for you in some years.” I wonder if their vendor partners know this is how they’re thinking! I then had an important half-day meeting come up with a large team and they said “Well, that means you won’t be able to attend the middle day, which means you won’t be able to meet with anyone.” Ultimately, I paid a $1,875 cancellation charge only 2 weeks after I signed the contract (1 week after I’d originally expressed my reservations on attending) and 3 weeks before the conference.) I refused to replace my slot with some other poor sucker, so cancellation fee it was! Do NOT do business with them! Smoke and mirrors all the way.

  3. My name is Tanya Thomas and I joined GDS as CEO at the beginning of November last year.

    I’d like to address the situation outlined in this post publicly having been in communication with Peter personally over the last couple of months.

    Firstly, I’d like to formally apologise on behalf of the organisation for anyone’s details appearing inaccurately as has been outlined by Peter, as well as those who have been asked not to be contacted but still have been. Clearly this should never have happened and was not condoned in any way by the business.

    The explanation of our action below is a straight forward account of what we’ve been doing to correct the misfit behaviour that occurred. We’re a pretty simple business and we’re privileged to be working really successfully with some of the most interesting partners and business builders on the planet. We recognise the responsibility that comes with that privilege and we take that very seriously.

    We have spent the last 6 months exploring, quick fixing, planning and structuring the business for the best value delivery we can create for our customers. This work has been based fundamentally on developing our delegate customer experience and, as well as improving our program, we have also worked to weed out any undesirable practices which have sometimes appeared from individuals around the business. I have loved the challenge, we have an exceptional team and a straight forward valuable proposition which is strengthening every day. Our summit attendees are our first priority and the value of their experience is critical for our growth. We’ve implemented more explicit processes across the last 6 months that ensure to the best of our ability the practice no longer occurs. Any report or indication of this has strict disciplinary consequences for the employee who violates it, and a proactive reach out to the executive. Happily, we have had no reports of this since I’ve started.

    Our senior leadership team, with new and exciting hires in multiple departments has implemented a new production and program process which we’d love to share with anyone who is interested. We’re always interested in a dialogue, and I’m happy to speak directly to anyone who reaches out.

    Thanks for reading.
    Tanya Thomas

  4. Back in December we were contacted by the GDS group. They started with pitch of we “have this opportunity and we think your company might be a good fit”, do you want to discuss in more detail? According to them this was a project with the CMO of Starbucks, who we know.
    The next call was a total sale pitch for their conference. I asked the CMO about this project it didn’t even exist, nor was he working with GDS at the time.
    Yesterday we got contacted again, same pitch, same strategy to get us on the phone. Not sure how much the company has really changed then.

  5. As a CIO I have joined GDS event for the past 8 years.
    After the sping event, I noticed a significant change – also heard that the management changed.

    GDS events have been very unique in many ways …
    – in the first years they managed to get the european CIOs of many well know companies to join the event. I remember meeting the CIOs of Ferrari, Europcar, Bonduel, Leo, BASF, Boeing, Toyota, etc.
    Unfortunately in the past years, these CIOs have no longer jointed the event. As an alternative more smaller and companies from eastern Europe are present.
    – GDS has in the past 8 years tried many locations, with very mixed success. The best received location where the places in Turnberry, St.Andrews, Powerscourt, etc. – Scotland and Irland made the difference.
    – Especially as it allowed the participants to extend 1-2 days to play some golf – remember that the first time I joint, even a golf play was part of the programm – great social networking.
    – Over the past years the importance of the IT to align with the business is a key statement. Looking at the sponsoring vendors and many topics, that does not match that. Data Center services, Cyber security, basic SW development are to basic – nothing the business really cares.
    – at last, as a company representative/ CIO, our schedules are fully booked. We receive 1-3 event offers every week. In the past the GDS events where very special and everything organized and taken care. Now, as outlined, the event quality has propped, and at last as a participant, most costs are on the participant. With the event offers on the market, it will be difficult for GDS to stay competitive.

  6. I worked for this company and I can confirm 100% unequivocally it is a scam. Run for the hills.

  7. So even with a new CEO that has not changed. I have contacted by them a week ago, the guy on the phone acted like he has a real AR/VR project for Sam’s club with $1m budget. I told him as the CTO I do not participate in pre-sales, he insisted on having me on the next call.

    I have organized then the meeting (3 members from our team) and “surprise” – I got a different person on the call. She started to show us 5-8 different projects she has “right now” – Marriott, other big names, budgets $1m – $20m, then she presented us a list of clients they’re working with. There are few brands in their list we’re working with. So she was very happy to hear that we already work with some of “their customers”. Then she praised us, then she said we have so many synergies – so we have to explore the opportunity working together.

    Then she carefully and slowly pitched us the summit. The conference where the magical stuff happens.

    Not a single word about Sam’s club AR/VR potential project 🙂 during the total duration of the call.

    I checked their glassdoor reviews – and it does not look like a credible business model. Get you money, and that is their model. With 90% turnover ratio – don’t expect they will help establish a working relationship with any names they claim they are working with.

    Also there is a reason why they say they only work with $1m+ projects. Because the cycle to close them is much longer than $100k project. 7 months to a year minimum. During that time a lot of things may happen.

    So they still lie to get you on the call. And if they lie from the very first step, how you can trust them going forward?

  8. GDS Group recently contacted me about joining a virtual round table saying directors of reputable companies would be there, like from Nike, Walmart and more. Virtual round table rolls around and of course none of those brands are there.

    They hosted another summit and had me join 4 days ahead of it. They pimped me out to technology vendors and texted/called me nonstop to attend even though I couldn’t. The next week, they tried to give me a $650 cancellation fee and said I could waive the fee if I attended another conference or find another sucker to go in my place.

    I threatened to go to the press with the news that they’re taking advantage of small businesses during COVID, write a blog post like you and alert my LinkedIn of this scam. They backed off thankfully and I want nothing more to do with them.

  9. Tanya Thomas was never the CEO. The CxOs at GDS group do not do anything and leave it to their directors and VPs to scam people into going to events. certainly, all is true but disregard all updates including and following Tanya Thomas. She doesn’t even work at GDS and there’s lawsuits in place all around once GDS loses a senior executive to a competitor.

  10. Hi Guys,

    Let me reveal some of the innerworkings on how GDS Group operates, as someone who was employed there.

    They have dozens of SDRs, Business Development Executives, Sales Directors and VPs who get paid to sell C-Level Executives a dream. They pay for their reps to rain access to certain software(Lusha, Zoom Info, Sales Navigator) in order to obtain personal emails/phone numbers of these CxOs. They build leads and do brief homework of the company’s overview before they make that phone call. Each rep is divided into different markets (Supply Chain, Oil & Gas, Energy, Marketing, etc). It’s the SDRs job to study those markets and learn key terms/pin points so they sound educated on what they are selling over the phone.

    Once they get a hold of the company’s decision maker, they read off the the company’s description and specialties on their website or LinkedIn page, verbatim. Once they get the attention of the Executive, they go on and attempt to set up a demo so they can give you a virtual tour of how their events work. They place photos of top executives from enterprise companies that are tailored to what these companies think they can specialize in, or help. They then are given entail on “projects” that these enterprise brands are looking to sort out to tech companies. First off, none of those executives are attending those events, and the projects are either outdated, or simply do not exist.

    GDS will boast about their portfolio, and talk about how their clients are large conglobates like BP, Walmart, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, and so forth. They will give you this spiel about how their clients pay them a finder’s fee to go out into the market and help do all of the sales leg work for them to find them companies to implement their prjects more efficiently. The ROI….6-7 figure dollar deals if you spend money on the sponsforship packages that they sell you, which could be as low as 20k and as high as 100k+.

    Bottom lie, none of it is true.

  11. The employees there lie about their job titles, the current “projects” they have, and the executives that are attending the meetings. I actually felt guilty when I closed deals while I was working there after I realized that I was lying about everything I was pitching these CxOs. It is partially their fault for being ignorant and gullible, but that doesn’t excuse the actions of the company.

    A random call from a number that you don’t know (It could be from an area code you are familiar with when you are spoofed by them, and they have the software to get your personal info) and hearing a stranger’s voice on the other end of the phone who immediately knows your name, your company, and what your company specializes in should automatically be a red flag.

    Some of these naive executives’ pay as little at 20k for (7) “1 to 1 business meetings”, and as high as 100k+ for (14) “1 to 1 business meetings. By all means, if you have that kind of money laying around to waste to blow your budget, and you want to throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, go for it. You may get really lucky and be able to help out a company with an obscure project, or network with someone you may not have had the chance to if you didn’t drop 6 figures on a meeting!

    It’s really sad, but they’ve been able to get away with it and find loopholes in order to stay in business for 30 years; it’s mind boggling. Take a quick look at GDS’s LinkedIn page, and just scroll through the employee’s titles……there are 400 different types of Directors, 600 VPS, and hundreds of SVPs, Senior Directors, etc. There are no entry level positions listed. If there are, they are SDRs who just started in the business and don’t know better. 98% of the company is made up of either SDRs or Business Development Executives. Some are actually Sales Directors.

    Either way, the retention rate is probably 5% at the company. Plenty of turnover and you won’t see the same faces for long. Even the top dogs eventually leave because I don’t think they have a choice. It’s only a matter of time before these offices eventually get raided by the FBI and there are indictments getting dished out. 100% pyramid scheme and worse.

  12. They lie about their job titles, their existing “projects”, and which executives are attending their events. They even lie about what companies they work with, and who their clients are. I actually started to feel guilty when I was closing deals while working there after I realized that everything I was pitching these CxOs was completely fabricated. It’s partially their fault for being that ignorant and gullible in the first place, but that doesn’t excuse GDS Group’s actions.

    A random call from an unknown number (They will spoof you from an area code that you are familiar with and have the software to get all of your personal info) with a voice on the other end of the line who knows your name, position, the name of your company and specialties should automatically be a red flag.

    These executives are so naive that they are willing to spend the minimum of 20k for (7) 1 to 1 business meetings, and as much as 100k+ for (14) 1 to 1 business meetings. These poor suckers are tricked into this pyramid scheme and lose a fortune. By all means, if you have that kind of money just laying around to blow your budget, give it a shot. You can throw a bunch of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to meet a boss who you wouldn’t have been able to network with had you not spent six figures on that meeting.

    They have been good at flying under the radar and finding loopholes in order to stay in business for 30 years. Take a look at their LinkedIn page…all the job titles you’ll see are Directors, VPS, and CxOs. In reality, they are all SDRs and BDEs. There are some Sales Directors who sell their employees the dream.

    If you work for GDS, leave. If you get contacted by GDS, do yourself and your company a favor….say you aren’t interested and hang up. Save your career, money, and company! They are very persistent and are prepared for those rebuttals. You’ll continue to get contacted by them. Just avoid at all costs.

  13. Ever notice how the majority of people in the virtual audience are fakes? Just looping repeats….. crafty lol

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Being: Peter Kim