When dealing with vendors, you’re probably your own worst enemy.
In a recent Peer-to-Peer, I wrote about unscrupulous sales tactics. From the flood of responses it seems many of you have had experiences that make you cry, “Foul!”
Some sales professionals do stretch an ethical point past its reasonable limits. Many get tarred with that brush unfairly. Whenever someone pushes every button available trying to make a sale, the button-owner may feel put-upon.
Nobody subordinates their own best interests to mine when our goals don’t match perfectly. Not my employer, not my wife, not my kids. Maybe our dog, Mrfe (I’ll explain that sometime), an airdale with a nice temperament and the IQ of burnt toast.
But I digress.
Don’t you make the mistake of confusing conflicting goals with a breach of ethics. People in sales don’t have your best interests at heart. That’s not their responsibility. They get paid to make the cash register ring. Helping their customers succeed should be an excellent way to make that happen, but it’s a tactic – a means to an end – not the end itself.
When achieving your goals doesn’t also benefit the vendor – when it’s not a win-win – guess whose fault it is. Hint: it isn’t the salesperson.
That leads us to the First Rule of Vendor Relations: The Responsibility for Creating a Win-Win Situation Belongs to the Customer.
You thought that was the vendor’s responsibility? Maybe from some notion of idealized, non-capitalist ethics. Not in any realistic business sense.
B.F. Skinner described the reality more than a century ago in his theory of behaviorism. Translated to sales it goes like this: sales professionals try a bunch of stuff. When something works, they do it again. When something doesn’t work, they stop doing it and try something different.
Over time, it’s the stuff that works that covers the landscape like behavioral kudzu.
Who’s responsible for deciding what works? You are! If you want salespeople to only sell you what actually helps move your business forward, then you have to buy only from the ones who exhibit that behavior, proudly showing the others the outside of your door.
Like pigeons in Skinner boxes, salespeople do what they’re rewarded for doing, and you get to play Skinner.
In interacting with sales people you have all the advantages. You define what you’re looking for – they have to find out. You define what you’re willing to spend to get it – they have to guess. You create the rules of interaction (and if you’re smart, you’ll enforce them) – they have to persuade you within those rules. Most importantly, you write the check and they want it, probably more than you want their merchandise.
Salespeople have to be polite to you. Your good manners are a matter of choice (and believe me, many customers see little need for exhibiting good manners to salespeople). Salespeople have to return every phone call and run down information as you ask for it. Most prospective customers put salespeople at the end of their return-phone-messages list.
And so on.
When you’re selling, your goal is to sell. When you’re buying, your goal is to obtain maximum value. These goals may conflict. Don’t take it personally. Recognize the situation and turn it to your advantage.
As a business tactic, sellers routinely create the appearance of a win-win situation. The vendor’s goal is to describe its products and services so as to create the perception of value in your mind, and to then deliver the specified products and services.
Do those products and services create real, as opposed to perceived value? That’s up to you.
Your vendor has to make sure its products and services do what they’re supposed to do. You (and your end-users) are responsible for defining clear business goals, attaching a dollar value to achieving them, and making sure the vendor’s products and services will actually change your business for the better.
And, it’s up to you to choose the right vendors and products. We’ll cover that subject next week.

It’s Halloween, so Christmas can’t be far away, and you know what that means. Yes, it’s Bah Humbug season again! So here’s my list of the 10 worst trends in computing.
10. Consultants are now the source of all wisdom.
If you need to make an investment, you first add 10 percent in overhead by bringing in an independent consultant to tell the key decision-makers what you want them to hear.
Instead, let’s be each others’ experts. So if you need me to come in and tell your executives how much money they’ll make with computer-telephone integration — no problem! I must be an expert: after all, I wrote a book!
Let’s say you’re an expert too. If you say we should abandon our leased-line systems network architecture network and replace it with frame-relay-based LAN internetworking, so be it.
9. Emergence of the Internal Customer
This is the most idiotic notion in the history of business. Here’s the theory: If my outbasket empties into your inbasket, you’re my customer. You can make the same kinds of demands on my time and complain just as bitterly as a real customer when I don’t deliver on time.
Here’s a clue: Customers pay money for service!
IS groups exist not to provide assistance to their internal customers, but to work with their internal partners to provide better products and services to the company’s real customers.
8. Microsoft has become the new Japan.
Remember when American managers whined about Japan and how you couldn’t compete with it? Well, guess what? Now we have Microsoft.
Microsoft is a formidable competitor, largely because Bill Gates sticks with a product until it becomes a tough product to beat. As IS professionals take over the process of specifying software, many repeat their old mantra but replace IBM with Microsoft, as in “I won’t get fired for buying Microsoft.”
Now there’s a great reason for picking a product.
7. Evolution of client/server, part II: It’s soooo complicated.
Novell succeeded because once you set up your PC with a 50KB pair of drivers, the LAN looked just like a local hard drive and printer.
Look what they’ve done to the simple, elegant client/server model. It’s heartbreaking. Think about the simplicity of the LAN model, folks, and emulate it.
6. Evolution of client/server, part I: SQL.
Do any of you still think SQL was the right choice? I didn’t think so.
When you figure that Codd has 13 of his 12 rules of relational whatever, and that relational purists still flinch at the idea of an index, you get some notion of just how bad life has become. Add to that the underestanding that the power of relational databases comes from your ability to define tables independently and relate them as needed and you understand the power of mythology in our lives.
Face it, folks, SQL is a crying shame. Here’s an industry secret: To define a database, you have to analyze data relationships anyway. In a hierarchical or network database model, you maintain pointers. In a relational model, you maintain indices. The only difference: Pointers give you faster performance.
5. App is now a word.
Presumably because the cost of paper has risen over the years, several publications decided to save space by calling applications “apps,” as in “killer apps” or “great new app.”
I have a hard time deciding which is more noxious: over use of the word “cool” or trying to sound cool by calling applications “apps.”
4. Architect has become a verb.
Did you mean to say “design”? Maybe you meant to say “engineer.” The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees your right to say that you “architected a great system.” Say it to someone else. I think it makes you sound like a dweeb.
3. Free support now costs money.
Do me a favor. Print one number for use when your product doesn’t work as advertised. Print a different number for me to use when I need consulting support about how to use your product. Charge for calling that number.
2. GUIs are ushering in the end of the PC.
I have one DOS-based application I still use on a regular basis. Even when I don’t really need it, I sometimes launch it anyway, just to remember what snappy response time looks like.
Any semi-educated adult with an IQ in three digits could buy a DOS-based PC and puzzle out enough of the basics in an hour or two to get it running. DOS was simple enough for everyone.
You need at least a Ph.D., and probably a Nobel Prize to figure out OS/2 or Windows, and the problem is obvious: They have syntax, and syntax isn’t user-friendly. Bill Gates may be a genius, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out: One quick glance at SYSTEM.INI would tell anyone with an ounce of sense that this is a Rube Goldberg contraption just waiting to break.
GUIs certainly could have been great. Instead, we have huge, bulky, god-awful slow, multitasking behemoths on our desks so we can do one job at a time but have the rest sitting in open windows. It didn’t have to be this way.
1. Operation systems have replaced religions.
These are operating systems, not religions. I picked Windows despite my loathing for it because everyone writes for it! Got that? Windows and DOS have more than 80 percent market share, so the war is over! Let’s all agree that NextStep and QNX should have all of the market if there was any justice, and that if IBM had any brains they would have adapted Unix to the desktop instead of inventing OS/2. And then let’s get over it.
And I like this industry.