Seven Ways Technology Vendors Blow the Sales Pitch

Every decision-maker is the target of a salesperson with a monthly quota and a PowerPoint presentation. But most of those pitches fail. IT leaders share the mistakes salespeople make when trying to get their business.

The relationship between IT managers and vendors has always been fraught with conflict. Each party's divergent interests and motivations make it hard to find common ground. Despite the effort IT vendors and buyers put into patching their seemingly irreconcilable differences, the relationship still doesn't always work out. Sometimes, it's the little things vendors do-the things they're least aware of, such as bickering with their own tech support people during pitches-that make IT leaders lose confidence. Here's a list of common mistakes vendors make when pitching to CIOs.

They're arrogant. A vendor's haughty attitude is the biggest turnoff for Charlene Barnes, the executive VP and CIO of mid-market wealth management firm JBHanauer & Co. She once worked with a telecom provider that thought so highly of itself it couldn't fathom any reason why a customer would not want to do business with it. Particularly troubling was the company's "our way or the highway; we don't need your business" attitude.

Barnes didn't put up with that shtick for long, and she ended her company's relationship with the telecom. "I don't care what kind of monopoly there is in the market, you [as a buyer] have a choice," she says.

They arrive late. Punctuality is Sales 101. It's common courtesy. So when a vendor is late for a meeting with a busy CIO, it's a huge demerit. "We had a meeting scheduled with a vendor, and they were like 25 minutes late," says Joe Miller, senior director of IT at Xoma, a bio-pharmaceutical company based in Berkeley, Calif. What made the delay especially egregious was that it did not just disrupt one person's day; it inconvenienced many Xoma employees. "We had 30 people sitting in the [conference] room waiting for the vendor," Miller recalls.

There's no excuse for being late even if the salesperson is meeting a client in the San Francisco Bay area. You know the traffic is awful, so get on the road early.

They're too aggressive. No one likes a pushy salesperson, whether they're peddling shoes, cars or software. Rey Arellano, CIO of the city of Tacoma, Wash., has had his share of experiences with overly persistent vendors. A consulting company that had been on his tail in previous jobs reconnected with him when he joined city government. Whenever he had a conversation with one of the vendor's reps, he says, the rep would ask, "When can we follow up with you? Is next week OK? If not next week, how about the week after that?" Arellano didn't like the way the vendor constantly tried to pin him down. "Sometimes they just see us as a sale," he says.

After a while, constant follow up begins to feel like harassment. It can also make a vendor look desperate. Message to high-tech salespeople: Lighten up and lay off. But not too much.

They don't follow up. The opposite of being too aggressive is just as problematic for IT managers. Vendors should be chomping at the bit when prospective buyers ask them for additional information about their product or service. After all, those questions indicate interest-a hot prospect! Unfortunately, vendors often drop the ball when it comes to following up on prospective customers' inquiries, and their inability to provide interested parties with the information they're seeking in a timely manner can indicate that the vendor's service is shabby.

Xoma's Miller says a systems integrator bidding to help his company with an Oracle upgrade nearly lost the opportunity when the integrator left Miller's questions hanging. "Though they had the best price quote and excellent references from Oracle, we were having difficulty getting timely responses to inquiries," he says. "I kept wondering, If we can't get them to respond pre-sales, will they be responsive post sales?" Though this particular integrator, which Miller declined to single out, won the business, not every vendor is so lucky.

They turn the meeting into a domestic dispute. A nontechnical salesperson who wishes to answer all of a prospective buyer's technical questions often brings one of his support people along on the call. That strategy is good in theory, but it can rapidly head south if the salesperson starts bickering with-or worse, disparaging-the technical support person. JBHanauer's Barnes has seen this happen, and it's not pretty, she says.

"I had one particular situation where the salesperson, who was very aggressive, came in with a technical person. The technical person was great, but the salesperson degraded him," she says. Denigrating an IT professional in front of another IT professional who's a CIO to boot is not the way into the CIO buyer's heart. Barnes says this situation was a textbook example of how not to make a good impression.

They make no attempt to tailor the pitch. Miller wants vendors to make it clear in their pitches that they're familiar with the biotech industry. "It wouldn't take someone long to customize some of the wording in the presentation or to add a bullet that speaks to 'the large volume of data associated with clinical trials that the solution is capable of storing' rather than, 'our product is capable of storing large amounts of information,'" he says. "That kind of thing makes a big difference." Indeed, Xoma chose Oracle's process manufacturing module in part because the software provider demonstrated its understanding of the biotech industry in its presentations (and because that industry knowledge is reflected in the product), says Miller.

Allyson Miller, the retired vice president of sales for Stratify (and the author's aunt; she has no relation to Xoma's Miller), a provider of electronic document discovery technology for the legal industry, says a pitch's relevance and energy has as much to do with the organization that developed it as it does with the salesperson delivering it. In a lot of companies, marketing creates the pitch, says Miller. The problem with that approach, she says, is that marketing has no exposure to customers. "To rely exclusively on marketing to build a pitch without input from the frontline groups can be disastrous. The proper pitch development has to be a collaboration between marketing, sales and--depending on the nature of the vendor's business--support," she says.

They waste your time. Vendors find many ways to suck up an IT leader's precious time. The first way goes back to overpersistence: When trying to get on a CIO's calendar, they don't take "no" for an answer, no matter how unlikely the CIO is to buy.

"I've had situations where a vendor has pushed and pushed to get some time to do a presentation even though we were a very poor prospect," says Xoma's Miller. "They would have been better served by moving on to another prospect."

Another way reps waste IT managers' time is by trying to impress prospective buyers with information that's really irrelevant to the sale, such as, "We have a million employees across the globe and a billion hours of experience under our belt." Xoma's Miller sees this a lot, especially from big, established firms. "The thing that is relevant to point out is how their company is uniquely positioned to meet my specific needs," he says.

What have technology vendors done to turn you off? Share your thoughts by posting a comment.

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