Five top gripes about vendors from IT buyers

Never underestimate the desire of IT buyers to vent about how tech vendors sell to them. Having just organized three focus groups on the challenges of buying healthcare technology products, I came to learn what a cathartic experience it was for buyers to gather and share their experiences, both good and bad, with each other.

These sessions were held across various sections of the enterprise technology market ranging from finance, big data, population health and security. Regardless of the vertical these panelists represented, virtually all shared the same frustrations with their technology partners.

The first challenge might be best summarized in the last word in the previous paragraph. There was a unanimous feeling that precious few vendors approach the sale as a partnership. They complain about many first impressions being less than impressive.

This largely had to do with how little homework vendors did about the company before they made a call. They were frustrated by sellers who “wasted time” by asking questions like “what keeps you up at night” or asked questions about products that could have easily been found on the corporate web site. Rarely did sellers review news stories, press releases or stock market reports about the company’s new products and strategies. There was a special disdain for checklists that sales reps brought to the introductory meeting which resemble those on the clipboard when you go to a doctor’s appointment.

Next was the methodology for presenting the company’s products and solutions. The buyers spoke about how their eyes glaze over by the slide decks that list dozens of products and services available to the buyer. They yearned for salespeople to take a research-based, prescriptive approach where the most applicable products were pre-vetted and the others were removed from the presentation and sent as an addendum. Those that approached the presentation as a solution to a problem got high points.

The panels were consistent in their comments about vendors always selling to the “normal suspects” and rarely making the effort to research others who had a more specific role in the purchase of the technology. CIOs, CTOs and other C-level tech executives were always huge targets for a pitch. Unfortunately, in many cases there was a team of “worker bees” that did the heavy lifting for researching and recommending products. Granted it’s difficult to smoke out these “shadow influencers” but rarely are sales made without convincing them.

These buyers loved vendors who approached the sale as a shared risk proposition designed to drive innovation in their enterprise. These sellers had a leg up on getting into the growing number of internal innovation centers/studios where the latest technology is tested without the baggage of the typical buying or procurement process.

I asked the buyers what the best communications method was to reach them to pitch products and services. If I compiled the video clips into one, there would have been a chorus singing “not email!” Many welcomed LinkedIn connections as long as accepting the connection did not trigger an immediate sales letter. Some welcomed other social media connections as long as they were used to supply insight over commercialism. All were looking for trusted partnerships based on thought leadership. None expressed a need for another company spec sheet.

Last and most important was the reliance of IT buyers on internal and external peers for decision making.

This was consistently the number one choice for insight on expensive considered purchases. Many felt that conferences and trade shows were the top way of making these connections. Others had formal and informal professional networks and communities that they tapped into for independent insight. What they were saying is that the number one communications strategy for vendors may well be related to developing advocates in these networks who have successfully deployed the product or service.

Use cases were clearly considered critical pieces of the decision making puzzle even if they had the air of being self serving. There were a few panelists who said they religiously called the users in the use case to get “the rest of the story.” But they felt that the best reference was from previous buyers who praised the vendor’s approach in their informal networks.

What would you recommend to vendors as means of building trusted partnerships in sales situations?


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