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1/22/2009
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Tech Buyers Vent About Vendor Satisfaction

Find out what IT buyers hate and love about their vendors -- and what they can do to build better relationships.

Politicians rely on poll numbers to see if constituents are happy with their performance. Now we've polled nearly 350 IT professionals to find out what they think of their tech vendors. The results are mixed.

Respondents are quite positive when talking about some vendors--virtualization and smartphone providers, for instance. And follow-up interviews reveal that business technology professionals often develop strong working relationships with vendors, particularly ones that shoot straight and pay close attention to their needs.

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But it's also clear that vendors disappoint their constituents in key areas. We got an earful about their annoying, disappointing, and irresponsible practices. Promised features don't show up in products, the hype doesn't match reality, phrases like "ease of use" and "simple integration" are bandied about like campaign promises.

But when things don't go well, tech buyers also deserve a chunk of the blame. They do a poor job communicating requirements. They fail to bring the right people to sales presentations and don't ask the right questions. They don't always allocate sufficient resources to deploy and operate products. And business technology executives have been known to opt for products they used at previous jobs, without accounting for the idiosyncrasies and complexities of their current employer.

There's enough blame to go around, but there also are ways both sides can help make the vendor-buyer relationship work better. While we can't stop some vendors from driving their customers crazy, we can provide steps for building more constructive relationships.

Those Empty Promises
The warning "caveat emptor" certainly applies to IT. Only 28% of the IT pros responding to our survey say key features a salesperson promised were actually available in their last major product rollout (see chart, "Key Features Promised In Your Organizations Last Major Product Rollout Were ..."). Another 24% say key features turned out to be fictitious. Twenty percent say promised features showed up within two quarters. Clearly, these aren't statistics vendors can be proud of.

chart: What Should Vendors Stop Doing?
When we asked about vendor practices customers can't stand, the top response (19%) was "promising capabilities that aren't there" (see chart, "What Should Vendors Stop Doing?"). Close behind were "misrepresenting integration issues" (17%) and "low-balling deployment time and complexity" (15%).

Where is all the misinformation coming from? Salespeople appear to be the major culprits.

"What sales told the higher-ups vs. what I'm truly able to deliver are two entirely different balls of wax," says a senior IT analyst at a multibillion-dollar financial services company. She's been struggling with governance, risk, and compliance software her company bought around the time she was hired. "There are things that don't work as advertised," she says.

The vendor said "we'd never need a developer, but we're getting a developer," the senior analyst says. "And I'm doing coding that was never part of my job description."

The GRC product isn't her only experience with vendors that bend the truth. Another vendor "completely lied" about its database monitoring software, she says. "They said it would monitor Microsoft SQL Server databases. It does no such thing," she says. "It's designed for Unix, and anything else is a mind-blowing concept for its CPU."

Other tech pros tell similar stories. "We get a lot of salespeople who don't know their own products and technology," says Kim Tracy, executive director of university computing services at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. He oversees a $10 million IT budget and about 80 full-time staff. "If I know more about their technology than they do, I'm ready to kick them out."

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Much of Tracy's frustration comes from vendors that won't take the time to understand his requirements. They say, "We've got a hammer to sell, so that's what you need," he says.

The analyst at the financial services company shares that frustration. The GRC vendor she worked with tried to force a match between the product's capabilities and her company's requirements. "They were trying to make us fit the cookie cutter they use," she says, "but we're as far off their cookie cutter as we can get."

chart: Key Features Promised In Your Organizations Last Major Product Rollout Were ...

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