Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Dealing with Idiot Vendors

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“Have I got a great deal for you!”

As I considered the exclamation from the sales woman, who was hawking the latest whiz-bang software product, I was wondering how much of a deal this really was.

We had a parade of vendors that responded to our request for information about their products. After narrowing our choice to two, we received the elaborate dog and pony show with demos that included various fireworks and promises of spectacular product roadmaps that would solve all our problems.

Not one of the vendors had everything we required. So we flipped a coin. Okay, no we didn’t, but frankly maybe we should have. Both were very close in features (and promises). But one vendor put a “deal” on the table that we couldn’t refuse, considering how all the other selection criteria were close to even.

You know what they say – if it sounds too good to be true…

And in hindsight my gut feeling in dealing with this vendor wasn’t a very good feeling. Seemed to me they had more bluff than stuff. The problem was that the other vendor didn’t light a fire that would burn off remaining doubts. What sealed the deal was that one of the gentlemen on our executive team had worked with the CEO of the lower cost vendor and they were golfing buddies. Their relationship on the links tipped the scale in their favor. As I have learned, most close decisions are made based on relationships. Frankly, many not-so-close decisions are made on relationships.

Is this a bad thing? Let’s hold that thought and see how it played out for us.

One good feeling I had was about the brilliant engineer they brought in for the demo. This guy knew his stuff (no bluff) and he seemed to really understand the challenges we faced.

The fun started after we had signed on the dotted line. The vendor promised to get started right away. After a week with no response from the vendor’s implementation team, our technical team lead called the “great deal” sales person. She was all apologetic and said she would have someone get back to us that day. Two days later, an implementation manager called and said they were unexpectedly booked through the following month.

Even though we had a verbal commitment for a start date, we didn’t include that in the contract.

Shame on us.

Six weeks after signing the deal, the implementation finally began. The vendor sent an engineer to get started. Not only did they send an engineer that looked like he was still in high school, but the engineer that we all liked from the sales demo was nowhere to be seen. After promising to include him on the implementation, we fell for the typical bait and switch. And yes, it wasn’t in the contract.

Shame on us again.

The baby faced engineer spent the first two days just trying to get our environment set up. The vendor had not provided a pre-install checklist, so although we knew what supporting software versions were needed, we didn’t know about specific service packs and settings required for the operating system, application server, database and various security configurations.

By day three the install was complete in our test environment. The challenge was that we couldn’t just willy-nilly change settings and perform software upgrades in our production environment without going through a strict configuration management process. So we had to schedule another visit a few weeks later to migrate everything to production.

Now we were over a month behind schedule and the business line managers were getting antsy.

Luckily the migration to production went smoothly. At least we thought it did. About a week into the implementation, weird things started happening. Turns out the vendor didn’t fully support an open standard that we assumed they did.

Actually, we thought they said the product was in full compliance of the standard. But going back and looking through their documentation, it was apparent that they only support the “intent” of the standard. Kind of like ordering Maryland “style” crab cakes, which are mostly filler and not much crab meat. Well, turns out the product had a lot of filler too and not much meat.

Shame, shame, shame.

(Perhaps this article should have been entitled “How idiot customers enable idiot vendors.”)

Of course the “great deal” sales person said they never claimed full support of the standard, only that they promised it by end of year. Yes, what a great deal.

How were we going to explain this set back after making promises to our now very, very antsy business line managers? Before we cried uncle, there was a fortunate change in events.

Remember the golfing buddies? Well, here is where it paid off. Our exec went golfing with their exec and just like magic, the vendor dramatically moved up their compliance date with this standard.

So there you have it, the relationship that got us into this mess, helped rectify it. But does that make our initial decision a good one?

Perhaps the other vendors would have provided different challenges. And without a solid interpersonal relationship there would have been a bumpy road to resolution – or everything could have fallen apart.

Granted, we should have done a more thorough job with our contract and drilled down further into the soft areas of their product. But at the end of the day, having high level relationships established with a vendor is extremely valuable. It simply makes good business sense to heavily weight the quality of relationships before selecting a vendor.

When all is said and done, if a vendor decision comes down to the wire it may make sense to find time to play the back nine after a hard day’s work..

Like execs need another reason to golf.

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