In preparation for next year’s budgeting, most companies are more or less involved in a formal technology review cycle. They’ve been doing this for decades, and it’s interesting to me that companies share about three of the top five priorities in each year. More interestingly, more than three-quarters of companies have inherited at least two of the top five priorities over multiple years. Why aren’t they dealt with? They say their biggest problem is the “information gap.”
Buyers are embracing network technology to improve their business, not just the network. They need to justify spending, especially on some new technologies proposed by someone inside or outside. In short, you need to understand how to improve operations, how to deploy them, and how much they will cost. To do this for a new technology, we need information about how that improvement will be made. And they say it hasn’t been obtained.
Let’s look at another expectation. Companies are not planning how to adopt the concept of abstract technology. We are planning to adopt and deploy the product. The network vendor that provides the product is the usual source of information and can be distributed through news stories, vendor websites, or sales agreements. Companies expect sellers to explain why their products and services are the right idea, and sellers almost agree. It’s just a matter of which particular sales process is supposed to provide that important information.
Technology salespeople, like all salespeople, make money primarily on commissions. They call prospects, market their products / services, and hopefully get orders. Their goal is a quick transition from prospects to customers, and almost every salesperson will tell you that they are most afraid of “educational selling.” This happens when a prospect can’t make a decision at all and has to teach the basics because they know very little about the products / services they sell. The salespeople who teach haven’t created commissions and their company hasn’t met their revenue goals.
What do you think sales reps should do to resolve this issue? marketing. Most sales organizations work from leads developed by one or more marketing processes. Historically, these leads have been created by promotional materials that provide prospects with basic education on relevant value propositions and technology. Those very sales reps tell me they aren’t working well these days.
Marketers agree, but their view is that sales organizations need to weigh more. It is difficult to create promotional material related to the business case of a particular prospect’s technology and educate them on the basics of that technology. Your website can become very cluttered and users can find nothing on your website. My own experience of looking at vendor websites confirms this. Often I can’t even find the topic I’m trying to study. Sales reps can go through the options to guide prospects on the right path and get to what’s relevant to them. “Isn’t that sales?” Marketing asks.
It would be nice if vendors could put the sales and marketing processes together on the same page, but buyers have less control over it. As a purchaser of enterprise network technology, what can you do to fill the information gap? The answer is to push a process like an RFP into the first contact with a new technology provider under consideration.
Don’t think of this as a formal RFP. Save it for when you really have enough information to buy something. All you need to do is seek the collateral you need from both the marketing (meaning you visit the company’s website) and the sales organization. To direct the process, get answers to four specific questions from both sources.
1. How does this technology improve my business operations? Specifically, be sure to provide a reference to others you can contact in my industry who have applied the technology and have seen improvements. The goal here is to direct a detailed assessment of the points that need to be defended to create a business case and help quantify the benefit set.
2. What are the three main features of the product that make these improvements possible? Please provide product documentation for each and explain why these features are important and their role. It aims to link features to specific benefits from a business operational perspective, allowing you to prioritize reviews of vendor documentation and avoid long slogans that may not be an issue.
3. How will your product be deployed on my network? Is it a layer above and below parallel functionality that replaces existing technology? Vendor-provided costs rarely address the potential for current gear write-downs or issues related to integration and interoperability. The relationship between new and existing equipment also defines areas where vendor pointing excursions are most likely to bite.
4. What do you need from me to provide me with a quote about what I need? The answer is essential for properly preparing an RFP, or simply requesting a quote from a particular vendor, but it also has other values. The biggest point is that the answer to this question can be evaluated by comparing it with the answers to the previous three questions. If there are inconsistencies, the vendor may not have carefully prepared the response or know the details and you need to resolve them.
It’s a good idea to first look at your company’s website, write down how you think your question is answered, and note where the answers are inadequate or missing. Then ask your sales representative for an answer. Perhaps highlight areas where your research did not find what you needed.
What if I still can’t answer this last question? Go back to the vendor who answered things best, ask for explanations and extensions as needed, and continue drilling down until you get at least one completely satisfactory response. If it is not available, the technology / product under consideration may not be ready for prime time. If you get a good answer, use it to create an RFP and tell it to the vendor who gave you at least some confidence in your answer. If you do it all, you can run a deadlocked technology project.
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