Tricks Vendors Play

This is an extract from the second chapter of my next work on what the enterprise sale looks like from the buy-side. I've stopped writing "One Big Thing" temporarily to do this, because I'm of the view that a decent guide for enterprise salespeople – not written by a salesman –is overdue. Hopefully, there's some value for people in hearing a few stories about what its like to be sold to.

In this chapter of the book, I'm covering the difficult first meeting, how to get one, and the kinds of preparation we appreciate. And, of course, I'm looking at some of the things that vendors do which we actually hate.

Unless your organisation already has a relationship with the buy-side, getting the first meeting with an organisation can be somewhat difficult. On the buy-side, everyone is deluged with requests for meetings, usually to such a degree that the only way to get any actual work done is to refuse to see any vendors at all.

In the last chapter, I explained that usually, the wares of vendors have much less value to us than they do to the vendors themselves, so unless there is a specific reason for a meeting, we are usually not all that motivated to use our time speculatively. We put up barriers to guard our ability to meet our internal objectives, because however much we might like to see new and interesting things, doing too much of it will get us fired.

So difficult can it be to get a hearing at the beginning of a relationship that vendors have resorted to a number of tricks that usually start things out on the wrong foot. Lets examine a few of these here.

Going to the Boss

One of the most effective ways to get a meeting with anyone in an organisation is to get to the decision-maker’s boss.

On the buy-side, we hate this passionately, and here is the reason. By seeing our bosses, you have essentially forced us to agree to meeting with you whether we have the time or not. We have to meet with you, because we must be in a position to report back to our bosses if they ask us whatever happened. And, of course, because the referral came top down, we are scared that if we don’t meet with you, you will go back to our bosses and complain.

It is even worse when an Account Director has somehow managed to extract some kind of agreement to do something from the boss.

The fact is most bosses don’t have the time to be across all the details of whatever the decision-maker is trying to achieve. Neither will they be aware of whatever else is presently going on that might be affected by whatever agreements the Account Director has managed to extract.

This puts the buy-side in a very invidious position. On the one hand, they want to support whatever calls their bosses have made, but on the other, they have to be able to achieve their goals by pursuing whatever direction of travel they’ve already invested in.

By extracting high level agreements, what you’ve essentially done is create an adversarial situation internally: you’ve made it likely the decision-maker will have to say “no” to their boss.

As you can imagine, this makes the buy-side nervous at best, and openly angry at worst. Not exactly a firm footing with which to start a relationship.

I was once in a situation where a vendor wrote a letter to my chief executive complaining that he’d had no success getting any meetings with any decision makers in our organisation. In this letter, he suggested that we “didn’t get it” and that we were “missing out on huge economic benefits”, and that the approach we were presently following was “just plain wrong”.

Faced with such a letter, what is a CEO to do? Naturally, the letter was immediately referred to us, and we were forced to explain – in detail – our reasons for pursuing the current direction of travel. We also had to agree to see the vendor, even though we expected the meeting to be a waste of time.

It turned out it was, of course. The product gave us capabilities we already had, and was, in fact, inferior. We explained this to our CEO, then blacklisted the vendor. Blacklisting, essentially means we’ll put up even bigger barriers to protect ourselves in the future, and the nett-nett is its unlikely you’ll ever get a meeting again.

This, by the way, is never something that happens on paper. We talk to each other, and the message gets around.  No-one on the buy side is stupid enough to write down a blacklist, but we do have our own jungle-drums that work very well, thank you very much.

The remainder of the chapter explains a number of other tricks vendors use to get first meetings (using Introducers, approaching personal networks, updating the sales pitch, and a few more). Then it goes on to explain what makes a good first meeting, and how to prepare for one. I expect the material to be available in full in about 3 months time.

4 Responses to“Tricks Vendors Play”

  1. Henry Law
    June 11, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    This book will be very valuable to the sales community, and if the extract is anything to go by could with advantage be supplied to every sales trainee in Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, HP … good news for the author!
    When I ran sales training in IBM we tried to inculcate the idea of "bring blue beads". As you may know, blue glass beads were a valuable commodity in certain native American (and Asiatic) cultures in previous centuries, but to the rapacious Europeans bringing them they were reasonably easy to obtain.
    By analogy, before asking for a meeting with a customer the sales team must be prepared to present something immediately attractive and useful (the blue beads). They can't rely on the long-term proposition for the first meeting.
    (Let's not push the analogy too far: the long-term propositions of the European traders were far from beneficial to their "customers" …)

  2. Andy
    June 23, 2010 at 8:58 pm #

    James, as a potential vendor, the trouble is that when I want to find someone in an organisation to contact, I usually start with some google searches. The board of directors is a fairly easy thing to find, while the CEO/CTO/CIO a bit harder. To find the manager of the department you want to contact is much harder, having to make phone calls and get past reception and then maybe a PA. That might be why vendors will start at the top – because their names are easier to find?

  3. June 24, 2010 at 5:32 am #

    I understand why vendors do it. My point is that *we* hate it. When you finally get to the decision maker, you're likely to find we don't want anything to do with you. Starting at the top is guaranteed to be irritating, so you have much more work to do to get the relationship anywhere. Granted, you have to find the decision maker before you can have the relationship at all.

  4. June 28, 2010 at 7:35 am #

    My first conversation with an organisation will often be the CIO/CTO or their office. The benefit is they can quickly understand what we do and give me the exact person to speak to. Sometimes they also want to vet key vendors before letting them into the castle. But we both know they aren't my buyer and all I really want from them is
    a) the name of the right person to deal with
    b) useful background information about the organisation, it's plans and the competitive landscape which I can use to tailor my pitch
    Then I'm rushing off to speak to the right person quick as I can.
    For sure I'm going to mention who's given me the contact but it would be the same if it was Kenny on the helpdesk. The idea of "extracting an agreement" from anyone who isn't the decision maker is a bit naive –
    each new person you deal with at a client has to be independently and individually persuaded of your worth whether you're navigating top-down, bottom-up or sideways.

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