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Red flags to look for when making a big IT purchase

Bart Perkins | July 13, 2016
If making a big buy is at all unusual for your team, you’re at a disadvantage to vendor salespeople who do nothing else. Here are some danger signs to look out for.

Few IT leaders recognize when a salesperson is exaggerating product capabilities (or omitting limitations). In practicing their craft, salespeople hone their pitches to a gleaming sharpness. They can demonstrate how their product meets a variety of needs, and they can counter virtually any objection or concern the IT team might raise.

Absent an experienced vendor management group on the IT side of the table, the two parties in a sales presentation are badly mismatched. The vendor’s representatives spend all their time doing exactly this, whereas most IT buyers send people who use technology, but don’t buy it for a living. The IT team has a distinct disadvantage.

In preparing to make a large purchase, you of course must employ the obvious due diligence. Get competitive bids. Ask current customers about product features, technical soundness and vendor responsiveness. Download and evaluate available test versions.

But even after you have narrowed down your choices and started meeting with vendor representatives, you can’t let your guard down. Fill your team with natural skeptics and prime them to spot any of the following warning signals:

  • The sales team fails to make vendor staff easily available. If vendor support seems spotty before you sign the contract, you should expect it to be even worse once you do. For the vendor and its salespeople, a signed contract is the shiny brass ring, and they will do just about anything to reach it. When you’re still in talks with the salespeople, you should expect the vendor’s product specialists to help your analysts understand product capabilities, the vendor’s technical staff to help your technical staff understand how to integrate the product with the rest of your infrastructure, and the vendor’s executives to assure your executives of their importance as a customer and of the vendor’s commitment to excellent service. If you see any hesitancy in the access your team is granted, there’s a good chance that the vendor sees your company as a customer of low importance. Good luck getting any attention after you sign the contract.
  • The salespeople quickly agree to all requests, without analysis. Suppose you make your agreement contingent on a very aggressive implementation schedule. You want the salespeople to tell you that will be accommodated, but you shouldn’t put much faith in their assurance if they do not first confer with product specialists and the delivery team. Any request that your team makes that is unusual is likely to stress the salespeople’s product expertise to the limit. If they agree to difficult requests without reviewing the options with people in their organization in a better position to know the answer, they can easily overstate product or service capabilities. You’ll be left with an empty promise.


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