I spent many years meticulously avoiding offering any form of advice to technology vendors — even though they got plenty of my advice indirectly. They bought my research reports, they got feedback from my clients at the end of the procurement process, they heard me talk about the mistakes they make when I spoke at conferences and taught seminars. But lately, over the last dozen or so procurements I’ve worked on during the last year, I started making a list. It’s time I wrote it all down in one place. Tech salespeople, here’s all the ways you mess it up.

Checklist

  1. Not following directions / required format. You do not control this process, the buyer does. Many companies, especially the larger ones, require certain forms to be filled out, certain paperwork to be done, certain procedures to be completed. Stop whining. A lot of it is regulatory, due diligence, or required procedure. Yes, it takes time. But I’ve seen plenty of vendors get disqualified from procurements — especially OJEU / public sector ones in the UK — simply because they don’t follow the directions. In some cases, vendors simply don’t respond because “it’s too much work” or it’s “cumbersome”. What will you think of the actual implementation, then?
  2. Re-using too much boilerplate, regurgitated text. Clicking search and replace on that copy you used for the last proposal? Give it a read again. Personalise it, for goodness sake. Make it industry-specific. Minimise the general, get as prospect-specific as you can.
  3. Sending demo people with personalities of frogs. I’m still stunned by how so many pre-sales demo people have no people skills. Example, from a few weeks ago, let’s call him Joe: “Hey Joe, I didn’t know you were working for [vendor x] — great to see you.” Response: “Oh. Yeah. Thanks.” Uhhh…..the correct response would be: “Yes, and it’s great to see you again too. How have you been?” Even if you DIDN’T think it was great to see me, even if my presence scared you to death, learn how to have a conversation. People want to buy from people they like, who are personable, just as much as they want to buy a fit-for-purpose product.
  4. Sending in a team of all white men in suits. This is 2018. Show some diversity. Sameness, predictability, stuffy presentation styles do not go over well in the world of marketing technology.
  5. Petulant, Trump-like behaviour about criticism. Personally, I love getting feedback. I love knowing how I can improve. Macho salespeople do not. I recently was asked by a client to communicate with four vendors about a procurement process: give them a heads up that they were on the short list, let them know the RFP was coming. One vendor wrote back, and didn’t even address me personally: “We see that Theresa Regli is involved in your selection process. As she has written negatively about us, we decline to participate in this RFP.” Dude. Grow up! I’ve written about the pros and cons of every vendor I’ve ever written about. It’s my job to let potential buyers know what they’re getting into. I’ve been called a c*nt by vendor salespeople because I’ve pointed out flaws of their products to potential buyers. (Pardon the strong language, which I would never use personally, but it’s better to lay out clearly how childish some people can be.) I still got up the next day and faced those people like a professional. But some guys’ egos are too big to think their product could be any better. I know every day that I can get better. Let’s all embrace that concept, rather than the former.
  6. Unwilling to commit to a roadmap. Buyers care about roadmaps as much as they care about the current state of the product. Unfortunately, vendors aren’t very good at sticking to them on the schedule they originally lay out. Upcoming features should be committed to, and customers should be able to trust vendors to deliver as much in the future as they do on day one.
  7. Focusing more on new clients and sales rather than existing customers. Vendor-client relationships are kind of like marriages: so much thrill and excitement when you’re dating and on the honeymoon, but then a few years in, the neglect and lack of attention start to become a problem. Vendors need to cultivate existing customers better, over the long haul. Almost none of them do. This keeps me busy because I get a lot of “divorce” projects (“I’m leaving my vendor, help me find a new one”) but frankly, I’d prefer to have fewer of these.
  8. Emphasising big vision and industry insider talk, rather than solving the problems of NOW. I recall the days of Autonomy selling a digital asset management system. Their pitch started with a 15-minute ode to IDOL, their “intelligent search platform”. Buyers didn’t care. Big vision doesn’t matter if it doesn’t solve the problems of now, like ingesting assets and the most basic approaches to DAM. Usually, the big vision pitch is at the expense of explaining the basics of how a DAM even works. Salespeople often present to buyers as if they’re industry insiders — they’re not. They say, “that’s configurable”, assuming the buyer can imagine what the experience will be like, rather than showing how it will really work. These moments kill sales pitches. 
  9. Not demoing with assets and content that matter to the customers. Sure, it’s great to have a snazzy canned demo. But that doesn’t help buyers understand how they can really do their jobs using your tool. I always recommend that my clients send a set of their assets to vendors prior to any demo, to ensure they can more easily compare apples to apples. And often, vendors ignore them, and just do their canned demo. Walk in your prospect’s shoes, make an effort, or you have no chance of winning. 
  10. Thinking the sales process is about you. When I worked many years at a systems integrator leading a content management team, I had a great manager, Howard Kogan. I started working there in my late 20s and thought that my professional life was all about telling people everything I knew, expounding on all my content management knowledge. Howard sent me to a consulting-oriented listening training, and it changed me immensely for the better. I wish every technology salesperson would go to this training, because the vast majority of them don’t know how to listen, they only know how to talk, or pitch what they think needs to be sold, rather than what the customer needs or is blatantly asking for. And thus, as the sales process goes on, they become more and more disconnected from the buyer, and end up losing out.

I admit, I’m cynical about procurements because vendor salespeople aren’t getting any better. So, there it is in writing, my manifesto that I hope you’ll all embrace. Let’s make this industry better, and build better long-term relationships. It all starts with the sales process.