How to take back control

Vendor salespeople work on a number of fronts. They sometimes seek out enthusiasts within the buyer's IT department, who can add an air of objectivity to the vendor's pitch and help recruit a fellow enthusiast with budgetary authority.

Vendor salespeople work on a number of fronts. They sometimes seek out enthusiasts within the buyer’s IT department, who can add an air of objectivity to the vendor’s pitch and help recruit a fellow enthusiast with budgetary authority.

If they work for the market leader, they may also use the “You won’t get fired for buying ...” approach or emphasise longevity or market size over product fit. Smaller vendors may stress more bang for the buck and a more intimate approach.

International vendors may emphasise their solidity and product breadth, while local vendors may stress the patriotic angle.

Analysts say that some vendors structure their products and pricing to prevent incremental deployments, stressing the possibility that budgets may be cut in future, preventing further purchases of modules and companion products.

Here are ways to offset the vendors’ advantage when evaluating major software packages like CRM.

Knock the vendors off balance. Vendors have a script. Weeding out the posers can be as simple as asking unexpected questions that get them off the presentation slides. Ask things like, ‘What have you learned from your other clients?’ and ‘What have they tried to do that failed?’

Learn from history. The more one knows about landmark projects like the early ERP systems of the larger New Zealand companies and how they eventually affected their companies, the better. But this means homework. There’s no easy way for executives to acquire the expertise, short of hiring a consultant. But with a long view, you’ve got something the sellers don’t want you to have: leverage. If you can cite five massive implementations that failed, they’ll have a hard time selling you one.

Multiply the cost by three. Several analysts recommend doubling or tripling whatever dollar number you hear in the evaluation stage to avoid constantly having to reaffix your jaw.

Seek out cynics or “realists”. This may mean putting technology agnostics in charge of projects, who are more concerned with budgets and user need.

Pay for independent advice. The cost may seem prohibitive, but consultants are paid well for a reason.

Be wary of consensus. With all these voices in the evaluation process — enthusiasts, cynics, consultants — it might seem impossible to reach a decision. Surprisingly consensus often comes too easily, and you should fret if the evaluation committee arrives at a unanimous opinion. It means either they’re going with the easy, safe choice or a clique within the committee has taken over, and everyone who’s miffed about it is sulking.

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