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.
Your Recourse
What options does IT have when dealing with missing features, inoperable products, and poor service? Not many. Once a company has purchased and deployed a product, removing it may disrupt business operations. Budget's another constraint, as few companies can just walk away from an IT investment they're less than thrilled with. "We're a nonprofit, so when we buy a product, we can't just back off and go in another direction," Williams says.

Internal politics also plays a role. IT has to work hard to make a case for getting rid of a product that's already been purchased, the analyst at the financial services company says. "You have to prove it's actually aggravating the situation," she says. Junking a product makes the leaders who backed it look bad. "Once upper management has gotten approval, we'll roll it out if it kills us," she says.

The company's chief security officer signed off on the GRC product soon after he joined the company in part because his previous employer had used the same software. "He should've had people who were closer to the issues come to the dog-and-pony show," says the analyst.

With the financial services company's problematic database monitoring product, IT put together a strong case against it, she says, and it will be replaced once the company has completed an audit.

But IT isn't completely at the mercy of its vendors. One IT director who requested anonymity says his organization withheld a million-dollar payment to its ERP vendor because it wasn't living up to its contractual obligations. That got the attention of the vendor's CEO, who promised to address the issue, the IT director says.

Firefly's Hultquist, who works primarily with SaaS vendors, says his most extreme option is to simply take his data and leave. "One of the things I negotiate early is that the data is mine, and the data format is my definition," he says. However, he says a service provider would have to cause severe problems before he would take that step.

Developing Trust
It's possible for IT and tech vendors to develop strong working relationships, and in hard economic times like these, business technology teams lean more on their closest and most effective vendors. But the obligation is mostly on the IT group to build those tight ties.

IT has to do its homework when investigating a product or service. Hultquist says that when he was searching for an ERP vendor, he hired consultants to help him understand the technology and ask highly technical questions of the vendors. It's this sort of up-front preparation that can save IT from becoming entangled with a vendor that's the wrong fit.

IT also has to commit the appropriate resources to choosing a product or technology and making it work. The analyst at the financial services company admits that part of the problem she's had with the GRC product was inadequate staffing on her end. "This product typically has three to seven full-time employees, and we just have me and a third of another person," she says.

Vendors also can help build beneficial working relationships. Most important, they should listen to customers' needs. That means not just nodding their heads now and then, but active listening. Hultquist says he can tell vendors are paying attention when they ask hard questions and can process the answers. "The good ones turn the question into language that reflects a benefit to my business," he says.

The analyst at the financial company was impressed by a vendor that let her test data deduplication software in her lab. "People willing to let you test in your own environment--that gets my attention," she says.

Another way to win customers over is with superior service. Northeastern Illinois' Tracy points to a company from which the university made a large SAN purchase. The SAN fell over when it was delivered to the loading dock. While the university got it up and running and didn't detect any problems, the vendor replaced the entire product anyway, even though the original ran for several weeks without failures. Tracy says that experience makes him far more likely to buy additional products from the company.

Our survey demonstrates that tech vendors must make significant changes to some business practices to earn IT's trust. And the message from our follow-up interviews is clear: IT wants and needs trustworthy partners to help them run their businesses. IT and tech vendors will always clash over time, money, and technology, but vendors that respond honestly to their customers' needs will forge the strongest--and most profitable--relationships.

Photo illustration by Ryan Etter

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Editor's Choice
Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer