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.

Does anyone else find The Gartner Group annoying?

I’m reviewing its “PC Cost/Benefit and Payback Analysis.” The good news: I now understand the “Productivity Paradox.” It comes from Gartner’s inflated cost numbers.

The bad news: If Gartner is right, a lot of companies are spending far too much on some very basic items.

Example: Gartner’s average hardware cost per system totals nearly $5,000. I compared that with our costs. We use name-brand items: IBM ValuePoint 33-MHz 486 computers, SynOptics Communications Inc. concentrators, Compaq Computer Corp. file servers, and Novell Inc. networks. I can’t get our per-system cost above $3,500 no matter how hard I try.

Another example: Gartner uses a per-system average software cost of $1,000 for four applications per system. Companies with LANs load software from the file server on a concurrent-use basis. All in all, I think we spend about $300 per user on software. (I guess Gartner has never heard of discount software vendors — the Borland International Inc. Office bundle gives you word processing, spreadsheet and database applications for $300.)

So far, I’ve saved $2,200, or about 37 percent off Gartner’s estimate.

In the world according to Gart, the single biggest expense comes from “End-user Operations” — a total of $22,693 over a five-year period. (As an exercise to the reader, how do they know it’s not $22,695 or $22,536? This kind of phony precision looks impressive, but what does it mean?)

If you look at Gartner’s breakdown of this monstrous expense, you’ll find that more than $3,000 goes to “Data Management.”

This translates, I suspect, to filing, which translates to filing paper, which translates to doing your job.
Another $3,400 goes to “Application Development.” Given that without a PC the same people would be developing manual ways of doing the same chores, this also translates to doing your job.

Gartner assigns $6,700 to formal and casual learning — about $1,350 per year. But isn’t this actually time invested in learning to be more productive?

About $7,000 goes to the “Futz Factor,” which I guess means fiddling around making things work right. Without a PC, this time (50 hours per year) would probably be spent sharpening pencils, rearranging the furniture, and otherwise fiddling around. People are like that, with or without computers.

My absolute favorite expense: $1,500 over five years in supplies. Are we talking about the paper needed to print out memos and spreadsheets? Without computers we would still use the paper. Yes, we use more with computers, but this still translates to doing your job.

So in total, nearly $8,000 of the $23,000 goes to doing your job, a lesser amount goes to learning how to do your job better, and about $7,000 represents truly wasted time. My, how problems diminish when you look at them more closely.

Here’s the problem: Gartner has a point, and the point is that we can all improve the ways in which we manage PCs. Gee, what a surprise. Just like everyone else, we should be expected to do a better job next year than we did this year.

Because Gartner is so influential, we’re all going to be hearing about the huge burden we’re imposing on our employers with this life-draining technology. After all, who will our executives believe, The Gartner Group or their own employees?

The definition of an expert here in Minnesota is “a guy from the East Coast with slides.” So I’m expecting Gartner to win without even a chance to debate the issues. Never mind that no employee accustomed to having a PC on the desk would ever give it up. After all, what do they know?