I hate to say you’ve lost

The most difficult stage during any system evaluation exercise for user organizations is to communicate the decision to loosing software vendors. Not because organizations are not fair in their evaluation or want to be opaque about their assessment. But because vendors find it very difficult to digest the decision. And why not? A deal represents acceptance, reward, passion, growth, continuity…. and so on…. especially for small vendors and their people. And so, even after a deal is closed, vendors keep coming back to user organizations in various forms, shapes and sizes. Some want them to take a 2nd look. Others express their caution and alarm at the choice that user organizations make. Unfortunately, a deal cannot be awarded to more than 1 vendor most of the time and out of the 10 vendors that you evaluate, 9 need to be communicated the unpleasant news during some stage of the system evaluation process.

At times I wonder whether vendor organizations have complete understanding of IT environments and issues within user organizations. For example, when we evaluated BPM & Imaging system, we not only looked at the functionality & technology being offered, but considering that infrastructure systems such BPMS require huge amount of implementation efforts, we also rated system on Implementation Partner, their implementation approach and post sales support. So our objective was not to choose the best product but rather a product that could be implemented and run in our environment without glitches. You may have the capability to buy a Mercedes, but what’s the use of that vehicle if you don’t have the necessary skills to drive & maintain the vehicle in your environment. And believe me I had a tough time explaining this to vendors and that our decision was not a statement on the quality of their product.

Here are some simple rules that vendors can follow while selling enterprise software to make customers’ as well as their life better:

1. Understand customer requirements (not just business or functional requirements) and drivers for the initiative. Address them and probably you will have the deal.

2. Sell what customer wants. Don’t sell features and functionalities of your product that are irrelevant in customer environments.

3. Note that, “Customers are not in the business of evaluating systems & vendors”. Gartner is. So organization’s customer choice is not a statement on your product.

4. Respect your customer & the choice she makes. Do not make assumptions and pass judgment on the customer choice. Instead, find the evaluation criteria. Probably you’ll find answer as to why customer choice went against you. More importantly it may help you better your offering and sales pitch to other prospects.

5. In case you lose the deal, draw your learnings and move on.

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