Someone in my professional network once told me that his company had just declined to purchase a major enterprise software solution which, he admits, the company urgently needed. The software solution covered accounting, cash management, inventory control and procurement. All critical functions. It would have replaced their existing management software which was buggy and slow.
The worst sin of the current software system? The vendor didn’t communicate or answer his questions other than to say “no” to a feature request and refuse to explore it further. Sometimes they actually said “no” before my friend even finished his question. Those were not productive phone calls.
That vendor’s actions are a painful example of astonishingly bad service and was a source of endless frustration for the people in the company who used the software. This was an opportunity for a new vendor who could bring a solution that works. But for some reason, a new solution was never adopted.
Waiting for that selling moment that never came
Disclosure: I did not bid on this project, and I deliberately left this story ambiguous to protect the privacy of my contact and his company. And yet, what can we learn from this incident? The company from the CEO on down was dissatisfied and frustrated with the vendor. They vowed to dump it.
The purchasing decision for a new system, as with many enterprise software and SaaS solutions these days, was not based on top-down corporate control but rather was managed by mid-level staff and management. The CEO was committed to whatever decision staff made.
And that staff said “No, thanks” to several vendors, each of whose product could have reasonably replaced the current mess. I asked why.
“I wasn’t wowed by anything,” he said. “I was waiting for that burst of awesomeness that would make me sit up and take notice.”
There were product demos and conference calls from the prospective new vendors. My friend is highly intelligent with an advanced degree and has purchased enterprise software before. And yet…he couldn’t tell me what “wow” really meant. Except for this:
“No one asked me what exactly I want to see and told me ‘yes we can do that’. I’m tired of being told ‘no’ for every request we have that is really just about reproducing our own data.”
But what about those product demos? Weren’t they interactive? Didn’t the vendors ask the right questions? Did they ask “how do we win your business”? Did they say “what have we not explored so far that is important to you”?
Let’s assume the answers to those questions were all “yes”. But something was still missing. For now, his company is sticking with the current vendor. That vendor, with its average product and inferior customer service, gets to keep its client for another year.
Surely that is not the moral of the story. Instead, a more realistic takeaway from this story may be about how to manage not just the opportunity but also the relationship over time. It’s a safe bet that this conversation will come up again next year.